Although during his lifetime the reputation of Osip Emilievich Mandelstam (muhn-dyihl-SHTAHM) was subject to attack that was later, for some time, followed by official silence and suppression of his works in his native country, his stature as a leading Russian poet of the twentieth century subsequently came to be acknowledged by many writers and specialists. Mandelstam’s father, Emil Veniaminovich Mandelstam, was a leather merchant, and his mother was a pianist and came from a family that included members of the intelligentsia. A problematical attitude toward his Jewish background was reflected in some of the author’s works, and impressions of St. Petersburg, where the family moved shortly after his birth, were recorded in later writings. Along with his two brothers, Mandelstam spent much of his early life in the imperial capital. He was educated at the Tenishev Commercial School, which he attended between 1899 and 1907, and he also traveled widely in Europe; in 1909 and 1910 he enrolled for two semesters at the University of Heidelberg. Upon his return to Russia, Mandelstam entered the University of St. Petersburg, but he did not apparently receive a degree. Far more than academic pursuits, poetry and other forms of creative writing began to command his attention; by 1908 he had composed some verse, and in 1913 the collection Stone appeared. Critical essays from this period manifested his affiliation with the Acmeist movement, and, in keeping with the tenets of that group, he upheld the aesthetic integrity of the word as a means of achieving in a precise manner the direct evocation of emotional experience. In stating his opposition to the rival Symbolist school, he maintained that semantic and philological consciousness lay at the center of their differences. Mandelstam’s views on literature led to a prolonged friendship with the distinguished poet Anna Akhmatova. At the outset of his career, his poetry displayed lilting optimistic qualities that celebrated the possibilities for lyrical achievement he had discovered.
For medical reasons Mandelstam was excused from military service during World War I. After working for a public relief organization, he traveled for some time in the Crimea, where he came to know the writer Marina Tsvetayeva. During the Russian Revolution of 1917 he was in Petrograd, and he became employed in the Soviet commissariat of education; by 1918 he had moved to Moscow, still working for the government. In southern Russia he was arrested briefly by Soviet and then by White officials. While in Kiev he had met Nadezhda Yakovlevna Khazina, and in 1922 they were married in Moscow. In addition...
(The entire section is 1077 words.)