Vladimir Mayakovsky Poetry: World Poets Analysis
Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poetry can be divided into three general categories. In the first group are the poems with political themes, often written on ephemeral occasions as everyday political exigencies demanded. These poems represent the weakest and indeed some of the silliest verses in his opus and are, for the most part, forgotten. The second group contains his serious revolutionary poems, in which he expressed his loyalty to the Revolution as a way of life and as “the holy washerwoman [who] will wash away all filth from the face of the earth with her soap.” There are some excellent poems in this group, for they reflect Mayakovsky’s undying faith in, and need for, an absolute that would give him strength to live and create, an absolute that he found in communism. Undoubtedly the best poems from the aesthetic point of view, however, are those from the third group, in which Mayakovsky writes about himself and his innermost feelings. These poems, which are more revealing of his true personality than all the loudly proclaimed utterances that made him famous, are the most likely to endure.
Mayakovsky’s development as a poet parallels closely his life experiences. As he was growing into a fiery young revolutionary, his early poetry reflected his ebullience and combative spirit. His first poems, contained in Futurist publications, revealed his intoxication with the enormous power of words, a spirit that informs his entire oeuvre. The Futurist movement offered Mayakovsky a suitable platform from which to shout his messages. Indeed, it is difficult to say whether he joined Futurism for its tenets or Futurism embraced his volcanic energy, both as a poet and an activist, for its own purposes. The Futurists conceived of art as a social force and of the artist as a spokesperson for his age. To this end, new avenues of expression had to be found in the form of a “trans-sense” language in which words are based not so much on their meaning as on sounds and form.
Ya and A Cloud in Pants
Much of Futurist dogma found in Mayakovsky an eager practitioner and an articulate spokesperson. His first serious work, a collection of four poems under the title Ya, already shows his intentions of “thrusting the dagger of desperate words/ into the swollen pulp of the sky.” His most important prerevolutionary work, the long poem A Cloud in Pants, begins as a lamentation about an unanswered love but later turns into a treatise on social ills, punctuated forcefully with slogans such as “Down with your love!” “Down with your art!” “Down with your social order!” “Down with your religion!” Such pugnacity corresponds closely to the irreverent rejection of the status quo in the Futurist manifesto “A Slap in the Face of the Public Taste”:The past is stifling. The Academy and Pushkin are incomprehensible hieroglyphs. We must throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc. from the boat of modernity.
The title of the poem reveals Mayakovsky’s predilection for a striking metaphor: The cloud symbolizes the poet flying high above everything, while the trousers bring him down to Earth.
The poems Mayakovsky wrote during the Revolution bear more or less the same trademarks. The most characteristic of them, 150,000,000, was inspired by the American intervention in the Russian Civil War on the side of anti-Bolsheviks. It was published anonymously (the ruse did not work, though), as if 150 million Soviet citizens had written it. The central theme, the struggle between the East and the West, is depicted in a typically Mayakovskian fashion. The East is personified by Ivan (the most common Russian name), who has 150 million heads and whose arms are as long as the Neva River. The West is represented by President Woodrow Wilson, who wears a hat in the form of the Eiffel Tower. Undoubtedly the poet believed that the more grotesque the expression, the more effective the message. He sets the tone at the very beginning:
150,000,000 are the makers of this poem.Its rhythm is a bullet.Its rhyme is fire sweeping from building to building.150,000,000 speak with my lips.This edition is printedwith human stepson the paper of city squares.
The protagonist of the poem is in reality the masses, as in another work of this time, the play Mystery-bouffe, and in many other works by Mayakovsky. This tendency of the poet to lose himself behind the anonymity of collectivism runs alongside an equally strong tendency to place himself in the center of the universe and to have an inflated opinion of himself, as shown in “An Extraordinary Adventure,” where he invites the sun to a tea as an equally important partner in the process of creativity.
Supporting the Revolution
After the Revolution, Mayakovsky continued to help the regime establish itself, to contribute to the new literature in his country, and to feud with other literary groups. With the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP), however, which allowed a return to a modified, small-scale capitalism, Mayakovsky...
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