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...

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