Translated from the Russian by Peter France
Osip Mandelstam has become an almost mythical figure of modern Russian poetry, his work treasured all over the world for its lyrical beauty and innovative, revolutionary engagement with the dark times of the Stalinist era. While he was exiled in the city of Voronezh, the black earth region of Russia, his work, as Joseph Brodsky wrote, developed into “a poetry of high velocity and exposed nerves, becoming more a song than ever before, not a bardlike but a birdlike song … something like a goldfinch tremolo.”
Peter France—who has been brilliantly translating Mandelstam’s work for decades—draws heavily from Mandelstam’s later poetry written in Voronezh, while also including poems across the whole arc of the poet’s tragically short life, from his early, symbolist work to the haunting elegies of old Petersburg to his defiant “Stalin poem.” A selection of Mandelstam’s prose irradiates the poetry with warmth and insight as he thinks back on his Petersburg childhood and contemplates his Jewish heritage, the sunlit qualities of Hellenism, Dante’s Tuscany, and the centrality of poetry in society.
"Black Earth brings me closer to Mandelstam the poet than to Mandelstam the mythic figure, and his "ancient language" is rendered into real contemporary poetry in English that succeeds in speaking eloquently to the inner eye and ear. This is all to the good." -J. Kates, Arts Fuse
"It seems almost impossible to pay adequate homage to the poetic genius and personal courage of Osip Mandelstam, manifested during a time in the Soviet Union of tyrannical repression and terror. These spirited and meticulous versions drawn from his poetry and prose, however, by the masterful translator Peter France, bring us considerably closer to achieving that goal. They attest to the extraordinary range and depth of Mandelstam's complex artistic sensibility and intellect. Let us, simply enough, gratefully welcome them." - Michael Palmer
Black Earth: Selected Poems and Prose by Osip Mandelstam
New Directions 2021