Journey to Armenia Critical Context - Essay

Osip Mandelstam

Critical Context

Although Journey to Armenia might appear disjointed and elliptical even as a means of recording the author’s inner experiences, some affinities with Mandelstam’s later prose works may readily be noted. In this sense, his travel work anticipated or amplified conceptions that were realized more explicitly elsewhere. His later critical evaluations of Dante and Goethe, which were composed as short prose studies, express in a straightforward and systematic fashion the complementary qualities of subjective harmony and order that he found in their work. Mandelstam also published an essay on Darwin which adopted an outwardly appreciative tone. During the period following his return from the Caucasus, yet more consequential achievements were realized with lyrical works that came to be grouped together as his Moscow notebooks. In those poems, doubts and morbid premonitions Mandelstam felt on his return to Russia gave way in places to verses using bright, vivid imagery; some displayed a witty, mischievous inclination, while others represented unusual and breathtaking semantic feats that achieved their purpose through techniques defying the accepted conventions of poetry. Although Mandelstam was prone to misgivings in various forms, anxiety of another sort was voiced in writings touching upon political questions that arose as Stalin’s ascendancy in the Soviet government became more apparent. Nevertheless, the positive stimulus that was felt when, after a lengthy hiatus, Mandelstam returned to the writing of poetry had salutary effects on his later career; though much of the remainder of his creative life was to be spent under the shadow of government persecution, the Armenian interlude provided the poet with fresh vigor and insight.