Joseph Brodsky

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The essays and reviews of Joseph Brodsky (BROD-skee), some of which have been collected in Less than One: Selected Essays (1986), are valuable in their own right; brilliant, arrogant, and idiosyncratic, they establish Brodsky as one of the finest poet-essayists of the twentieth century. Among Brodsky’s subjects are Osip and Nadezhda Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetayeva (unlike most of his prose, his two essays on Tsvetayeva, one brief and one extended, were written in Russian, the language Brodsky normally reserves for his poetry), W. H. Auden, Constantine P. Cavafy, and Eugenio Montale. The essay “Less than One” is an extraordinary meditation on the city of Leningrad, part memoir and part cultural history.


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Joseph Brodsky is generally recognized as one of the most gifted poets writing in Russian in the twentieth century; for many, there is little question of his having any rivals. Perhaps Brodsky’s most remarkable achievement was his ability to continue writing poems in Russian despite the hardships of political persecution within the Soviet Union and, later, the alienation from the everyday rhythms of the Russian language imposed by his exile to the United States. Brodsky matured as a poet in a Leningrad devoid of poetic movements; indeed, the sense of being alone as a poet pervades his work to an unusual degree. It is difficult to assess Brodsky’s generation of poets. The work of contemporaries whom he has praised, poets such as Evgeni Rein and Anatol’ Naiman, is available only sporadically in the West, and then in the limited distribution of the émigré presses.

Brodsky’s poems have been translated into many languages, including French, German, Italian, Swedish, Czech, and Hebrew, but it is the English translations that won him high regard and a rather wide audience in the West. Brodsky’s participation in the translation process, given his own fine skills as a translator, ensured high-quality versions that sound like anything but adaptations from another language. Brodsky was accorded many honors, including Guggenheim and MacArthur Fellowships, an honorary doctorate from Yale University, membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. He served as the United States poet laureate consultant in poetry in 1991-1992.


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Bethea, David M. Joseph Brodsky and the Creation of Exile. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1994. A critical analysis that compares and contrasts Brodsky to the poet’s favorite models—John Donne, W. H. Auden, Osip Mandelstam, and Marina Tsvetayeva—and analyzes his fundamental differences with Vladimir Nabokov. Various critical paradigms are used throughout the study as foils to Brodsky’s thinking. Includes a bibliography and index.

Brodsky, Joseph. Interviews. Joseph Brodsky: Conversations. Edited by Cynthia L. Haven. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2002. Contains numerous interviews with Brodsky in which he talks about life in exile and his poetry.

Grudzinska-Gross, Irena. Czesaw Miosz and Joseph Brodsky: Fellowship of Poets. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010. Examines the relationship between the two poets and how their work was influenced.

Jason, Philip K., ed. Masterplots II: Poetry Series. Rev. ed. Pasadena, Calif.: Salem Press, 2002. Contains analysis of two of Brodsky’s poems, “A Part of Speech” and “Elegy for John Donne.”

Loseff, Lev, and Valentina Polukhina, eds. Joseph Brodsky: The Art of a Poem. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999. These essays concentrate on individual poems and on purely aesthetic aspects of Brodsky’s poetry. The essays, written in both Russian and English, analyze the most significant of Brodsky’s poems, using citations in Russian and English.

MacFadyen, David. Joseph Brodsky and the Baroque . Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1998. A thorough analysis of the baroque elements...

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in Brodsky’s poetry and of the affinities with, and influence of, philosophers Søren Kirkegaard and Lev Shestov and the poet John Donne. The comparison of Brodsky’s poetry before and after exile is especially poignant.

_______. Joseph Brodsky and the Soviet Muse. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2000. An assessment of Brodsky’s significance as a shaper and remaker of Soviet poetry in his early years. The contact with, and influence of, the writings of James Joyce, John Dos Passos, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost, Boris Pasternak, and Marina Tsvetayeva are chronicled, with suitable citations, in Russian and English, from Brodsky’s poetry. Very useful for the understanding of Brodsky’s development as a poet.

Polukhina, Valentina. Brodsky Through the Eyes of His Contemporaries. Rev. ed. 2 vols. Boston: Academic Studies Press, 2008. A leading Russian expert examines the poet as his fellow poets saw him.

Rigsbee, David. Styles of Ruin: Joseph Brodsky and the Postmodernist Elegy. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1999. Rigsbee examines Brodsky’s contribution to postmodernist poetry, particularly through his pronounced trend toward elegy. A poet himself and a translator of Brodsky, the author adds to his analyses a personal touch as well as that of an expert of the craft.

Turoma, Sanna. Brodsky Abroad: Empire, Tourism, Nostalgia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2010. This biography of Brodsky focuses on his life as an exile.


Critical Essays