In his memoirs, Ehrenburg a recognized arbiter of taste in the Soviet Union speaks enthusiastically about the Twenties. He calls that period “the era of poetry,” contrasting it with our times, which boast only “a day of poetry” (an annual event when young Moscow poets sell their autographed books in the streets of Moscow). This portfolio includes a poem by Andrei Vozneisenski, a light-hearted poet now in his early twenties. Ehrenburg considers him to be the most promising poet of the younger generation. The rest of the portfolio is devoted to poets born in the eighteen-eighties: Boris Pasternak, Anna Ahmatova, Ossip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva are represented here. (Only Vladimir Mayakovsky is excluded as many of his poems have recently been made available in translations).
Boris Pasternak needs no introduction. He is generally considered to be the best Russian poet of this century.
Anna Ahmatova is highly appreciated by lovers of Russian poetry. She is the only one still living among the members of “the era of poetry” generation. Her poetic voice, always restrained and feminine, has steadily grown in excellence and force.
Marina Tsvetaeva is the most original among the poets of that time. She created a completely new rhythmic, elliptic, sonorous style which now influences many young Soviet poets. Pasternak said of her that she was a woman with a man’s soul. She committed suicide during World War II.
Ossip Mandelstam is the least known in America among the poets presented. The poems here are part of a book of translations now in preparation. He was a refined, intensely personal poet, a member of the Acmeist school as was Ahmatova. (It was a loosely linked group of poets opposed in spirit to the vagueness of Symbolism.) Mandelstam published only four small volumes of hermetic neo-classic poems, but those poems are one of the high moments in Russian poetry. Behind the intricate personal imagery there is an acute sense of our time.
While living in Crimea, which inspired many of his poems, Mandelstam had a close personal relationship with Ilya Ehrenburg. In his memoirs Ehrenburg describes Mandelstam as he knew him: “He was small, frail. His head, topped by a tuft of red hair, was thrown back on his shoulders. He loved the image of the rooster near the Acropolis tearing the night with his cry: he himself resembled a young rooster when he recited his solemn odes in his soft bass voice.
... what is promised by the cry of the rooster
or flames on the far Acropolis?
Or why, when the lazy oxen munch
In their stable, gazing at nothing at all.
This rooster, herald of some new life
Claps his wings on the city wall...”