The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Listen!” is one of several short lyric poems of existential questioning by Vladimir Mayakovsky that appeared in the first issue of Pervyi zhurnal russkikh futuristov (First Journal of the Russian Futurists) in 1914. The poem combines youthful angst about the writer’s insignificance in the vast universe with a self-assured mastery of his idiom and technique. In the preceding year, Mayakovsky had published his first lyric collection and had produced and starred in an autobiographical play in verse, Vladimir Mayakovsky. In “Listen!” Mayakovsky entertains the possibility, somewhat perversely for a Futurist who rejected all of humankind’s past beliefs, that there is a God, arguing, from the ancient position, that God must have set the stars in the sky.

Mayakovsky makes an appeal to pure intuition for proof of the existence of God: He begins three lines of his thirty-line poem with “You know” (ved’ in Russian), a nervous, rhetorical colloquialism sometimes left untranslated and sometimes translated as “surely?” The appeal to intuition is continued in five more lines, all beginning with “That means,” another nervous colloquialism that urges causality, connection, or equivalence. Thus:

You know—if they light up the stars—That means—somebody needs them?It means—someone wants...

(The entire section is 533 words.)