Osip Emilyevich Mandelstam was a Russian Jewish poet and essayist of the times of the October Revolution and the rise of the Soviet Union. Mandelstam was one of the leading members of the Acmeist school of poets.
Mandelstam visited Armenia in 1930. During the eight months of his stay in the country, he rediscovered his poetic voice, which inspired him to write an experimental meditation on Armenia and the Armenians’ ancient culture.
“Armenia brought him back to his true self, a self-depending on the “inner ear” which could never play a poet false. There was everything congenial to him in this country of red and ochre landscape, ancient churches, and resonant pottery,” said Henry Gifford.
Mandelstam was arrested by the order of Joseph Stalin’s government during the 1930s repressions. He was sent into internal exile along with his wife Nadezhda. Their sentence would soon be lessened to banishment from the largest Soviet cities. Given a relative freedom of movement, Mandelstam and his wife moved to Voronezh in southwestern Russia.
In 1938, Mandelstam was arrested again for “counter-revolutionary activities” and sentenced to 5 years in Siberian correction camps. However, Mandelstam didn’t make it to the camps: he died from cold and hunger in a transition camp near Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East. Prior to his passing, he had sent a note out to his wife asking for warm clothes, but he would never receive them.
Mandelstam’s peerless apologia for poetic freedom had been closely tied to his journey in Armenia. One of his poems immortalizes his farewell to Armenia:
I will never see you,
A near-sighted Armenian sky,
And will not squint
Looking at Ararat’s tent,
Nor will I ever open
In the library of clay authors
A hollow book of a wonderful land,
From which the first people learned.
Я тебя никогда не увижу,
Близорукое армянское небо,
И уже не взгляну прищурясь
На дорожный шатер Арарата,
И уже никогда не раскрою
В библиотеке авторов гончарных
Прекрасной земли пустотелую книгу,
По которой учились первые люди.