Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The basic theme of “We Shall Meet Again in Petersburg” is the mortal clash between two worlds: the world of beauty and artistic freedom and the world of everyday reality and coercion. The poet’s firm declaration at the outset that “we shall meet again” implies certain disruption. Mandelstam summons his fellow poets, presumably Nikolay Gumilyov and Anna Akhmatova, with whom he had formed, at the beginning of the twentieth century, the powerful poetic movement known as Acmeism. Being apolitical and nonutilitarian in their poetic creed and devoting all their attention to the purely artistic aspects of poetry, they were branded by the revolutionaries as being antisocial and inimical to the revolution. (Gumilyov was executed during the revolution and Mandelstam himself was executed twenty years later.) The revolutionary chaos disrupted these poets in their favorite activity and, in effect, rendered them useless. Despite all this, Mandelstam promises his fellow poets that they shall meet again and speak “the blessed and meaningless word”—a reference to the unfounded pillorying of their poetry on the part of the Bolsheviks, who advocated engaged, useful, tendentious, and politically oriented poetry.

Mandelstam characterizes the reunion in the poem as a solemn burial of their favorite “sun” (Pushkin), who he considered to be their teacher and poetic God, since Pushkin was also wronged by the society (he was killed in a senseless duel that...

(The entire section is 492 words.)