The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Osip Mandelstam wrote “We Shall Meet Again in Petersburg” in 1920 and published it in his collection Tristia in 1922. In the title, the persona addresses unnamed friends, vowing to meet them again in Petersburg, a former capital of Russia. (Originally Saint Petersburg, the city was renamed Petrograd during World War I, Leningrad after Lenin’s death, and Saint Petersburg again in the 1990’s; popularly, it has always been known as Petersburg.) Mandelstam spent the best years of his youth in Petersburg, publishing his first poems there and making several close friends among the poets, primarily the Acmeists; it is these poets Mandelstam addresses as “we.” During the Bolshevik revolution, Mandelstam was forced to lead a turbulent life, often changing his abode but returning to Petersburg whenever he could. After the revolution had uprooted thousands of people, the poet was confident that he and his fellow Acmeists would renew their friendship in Petersburg. “We Shall Meet Again in Petersburg” is his nostalgic anticipation of that meeting.

The poet envisions his joy at seeing his fellow poets again, but the meeting acquires the sense of a mission. It is as though they had buried their sun there and they will now do what they had always wanted: utter for the first time their “blessed and meaningless word” so that the “black velvet of the Soviet night” and the resulting emptiness will not stop the women from singing or the...

(The entire section is 472 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“We Shall Meet Again in Petersburg” is written in one of Mandelstam’s favorite forms, the eight-line stanza (vosmistishye). The poem has four stanzas of varying meters rhymed ababcdcd. Images and metaphors are the main vehicles of Mandelstam’s poetic craft, as seen in his other poems as well. From among his most striking images, a buried sun in line 2 and the night sun in the last line both refer to the great Russian poet Alexander Pushkin. The repeated image of “blessed women” engaged in artistic performances with their kindred eyes and rounded shoulders adds an almost religious quality to the poem. Immortal flowers and Aphrodite’s roses represent love and beauty expressed through arts. The poet uses all these images to emphasize the beautiful, harmonious, and healing power of the arts.

These positive images are contrasted to the negative ones culled from everyday reality. An arched cat expresses anger and the unfriendliness of life in Petersburg during the revolution. A ubiquitous patrol stands on the bridge as if inhibiting the passage from one part of the town to another, thus underscoring the loss of freedom. An angry car speeds through the gloomy night and cries like a cuckoo in eerie silence, a sign either of terror or of mourning. The “black velvet of the Soviet night” not only expresses the dark, oppressive atmosphere of Petersburg in 1920 but also symbolizes the life-threatening effects of the revolution,...

(The entire section is 499 words.)