Other Literary Forms
Vladimir Mayakovsky, a versatile artist, is best known for his poetry, which ranges from the epic to the satiric and from the grandiose to the mundane. His poem Chelovek (1916; man) explores cosmic themes in the form of a parody. Parodying the stages in the life of an Orthodox saint, Mayakovsky moves from his own nativity to his resurrection and finally to his reappearance on earth. Mayakovsky, the martyr-saint, does battle with divine forces, undergoes the terrors of “the bullet and the razor,” ascends into a lifeless heaven, and returns a lonely man alienated from the universe. In 150,000,000 (1920; English translation, 1949), Mayakovsky pits the giant Ivan, a symbol for 150 million cold, hungry, desperate Russians, against the grotesque capitalist warrior Woodrow Wilson, who sinks to the bottom of the sea. In Pro eto (1923; About That, 1965), Mayakovsky transforms a story of rejected love into an agon on his own martyrdom and his resurrection into a futuristic world. Finally, in his magnum opus, Vladimir Ilich Lenin (1924; English translation, 1939), he mixes comic and epic styles to re-create the glories of the Russian Revolution. The use of cosmic imagery, the parody of Christian themes, the creation of futuristic worlds, and the techniques of propaganda seen in these poems are also found in Mayakovsky’s dramas.
Mayakovsky also wrote screenplays, most of which were unsuccessful. In Ne dlya deneg rodivshiisya (1918; not born for money), he adapted Jack London’s novel Martin Eden (1909), rewriting the ending to have Eden feign suicide, renounce the bourgeois world, and become a worker; Mayakovsky himself dismissed this script and many of his earlier ones as too bourgeois. He felt more comfortable, however, with his later film scenarios. His most innovative work, Serdtse kino (1926; heart of cinema), recounts the love story of a painter and film star who leads one life on film and then steps off the screen to lead another. Mayakovsky’s experimentation with montage, accelerated motion, and angled views carried over into his dramas, which are cinematic in style.
Mayakovsky not only wrote manifestos and started literary journals but also designed posters, composed advertising jingles, and produced children’s literature, much on the level of sheer propaganda.