Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439
At the Top of My Voice is divided into two parts. In a subtitle, the poem is called a “First Prelude to a Poem on the Five Year Plan,” which suggests that the poem is about Stalin’s controversial economic plan. It might more accurately, however, be called a defense of the life and work of Vladimir Mayakovsky. Part 1 describes the survival of Mayakovsky’s work after the “petrified s——t” of the centuries has been removed. The speaker describes his poetic function as a “cesspool cleaner” who has been “mobilised and drafted/ by revolution.” His poetry has not been lyrical, but “my pages of fighters;/ pass in review.” He uses military metaphors rather than ones drawn from nature. His poetry is rooted in the triumph of the revolution. He learned “dialectics” not from Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel but from actual conflict.
As in the Lenin poem, he rejects any statues of himself, calling them “marble slime.” Instead, he is to have a “common monument” with all the “brothers and mates” who fought for the revolution. The first part of the poem ends with a demand to “step hard on the throttle” for the five year plan. The poet is content with “clean-laundered shirts,” no greater honors are necessary. In a defiant final declaration he offers a defense of his life: “I’ll lift up high,/ like a Bolshevik party-card,/ all the hundred volumes/ of my/ Com Party books.” Mayakovsky did not possess a Communist Party card; that honor was given to the bureaucrats who served Stalin. Mayakovsky’s works, however, will entitle him to a higher and truer honor.
Part 2 of the poem is unfinished, fragmentary, and very different in tone. It was as if Mayakovsky had given up the possibility of winning favor from such a corrupt government. He hopes only that “shameful common-sense” does not ever come to him. He will no longer badger his colleagues in the party with “express telegrams.” The struggle no longer has meaning, “The love-boat of life/ has crashed on philistine reefs./ You and I/ are quits.” In the last section, he declares his faith in the power of his poetry. “I know the power of words.” Words can make “coffins” burst from the earth and stride forth. The powerful may “reject” him and he may remain “unpublished, unprinted.” The power of his words, however, will live on in the centuries to come. The last line and sentence of the poem, however, were not completed. Mayakovsky had, apparently, given up his belief in the power of words to alter his situation in the Stalinist Soviet Union. He would soon commit suicide.