Voronezh Notebooks by Osip Mandelstam
translated from the Russian and with an introduction by Andrew Davis
Osip Mandelstam is one of the greatest of twentieth-century poets and Voronezh Notebooks, a sequence of poems composed between 1935 and 1937 when he was living in internal exile in the Soviet city of Voronezh, is his last and most exploratory work. Meditating on death and survival, on power and poetry, on marriage, madness, friendship, and memory, challenging Stalin between lines that are full of the sights and sounds of the steppes, blue sky and black earth, the roads, winter breath, spring with its birds and flowers and bees, the notebooks are a continual improvisation and an unapologetic affirmation of poetry as life.
Throughout Voronezh Notebooks, Mandelstam seems energized by an uncontainable joy in his dangerous disobedience. “Fear makes it beautiful,” he says of his frozen surroundings. “Something terrible might occur.“...Andrew Davis’s translation is vibrant and densely lyrical. More than his predecessors, he brings out a playful, gnomic quality in Mandelstam’s verse that calls to mind Emily Dickinson. He beautifully evokes a voice unafraid to burn itself out in the passion of creation.
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal