I Have Forgotten the Word I Wanted to Say Analysis

Osip Mandelstam

The Poem

“I Have Forgotten the Word I Wanted to Say” is a poem of six stanzas, each composed of four lines. Its rhythm is created by the placement of a regular number of accented syllables before and after the caesura, the pause in the middle of the line. This style of tonic verse is called dolniki in Russian and was the verse form preferred by some innovative Russian poets of the early twentieth century.

The poem, as is frequently the case in Russian lyric poetry, depends very much on its form to convey the poetic content. By writing in dolniki instead of a stricter accentual-syllabic meter, Osip Mandelstam enjoyed greater flexibility in the number of unaccented syllables he could use in a line. As a result, the lines vary in length from nine to thirteen syllables while echoing consistently in four beats. This irregularity in the line length allows the poem to assume a more individual nature where shorter lines add tension and longer lines develop the thought. The caesura, while helping to organize the sound pattern by dividing the lines into two sound groups with two accents each, also inserts a pause into the often rather long line. Since the poem is philosophical and laden with profuse symbolism, the caesura gives the reader/listener some extra time to visualize or reflect on the poem’s meaning.

The persona begins relating his experience using a phrase very much like one used by everyone at some time: “I have forgotten the...

(The entire section is 482 words.)

Forms and Devices

Mandelstam wrote during a period very heavily influenced by Russian Symbolism, a type of writing in which profuse images that take on the aspect of symbols are greatly instrumental in conveying the artistic designs of the poet. Some of Mandelstam’s images may appear strange, and their sheer density with respect to the content of the poem makes for difficult reading. To the reader uninitiated in classical poetry, the repeated evocation of swallows and shadows may seem quite foreign, but other images may be more akin to the reader’s experience, such as singing absentmindedly, which conveys the mental destitution the poet feels at his powerlessness.

The entire poem revolves around an extended metaphor laden with symbolic imagery. “The word” represents expression, which, particularly to a poet but also to every mortal, is life itself. When the persona says he has “forgotten the word,” he is saying figuratively that he has lost his ability to create or express and, thus, the power to live in a human sense.

The word in this metaphorical sense is symbolized by the swallow. Thus, either the word (in stanza 5) or the swallow (in stanza 1) must “fly back” to the “palace of shadows”; the symbol for “the word” becomes interchangeable with what it symbolizes.

Flying would seem to be a mixed metaphor used with “the word,” but since “the word” has been clearly identified with the swallow, the figure transfers...

(The entire section is 478 words.)