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Osip Mandel’stam is coming to be recognized as one of the major poets of our century. He is also one of the most enigmatic. Kiril Taranovsky’s erudite knowledge of Russian poetry and his mastery of textual analysis are here combined to produce the most successful interpretation of Mandel’stam’s verse yet published.
Individual poems are read on three levels: the text itself; the historical and poetic context of the poem; and its “subtext,” the motifs, images, and patterns Mandel’stam appropriates for his own purposes from the work of other writers. Verses analyzed are quoted in the original. The author demonstrates how the meaning and imagery of the poems relate to a context of personal experience and poetic tradition. In this discussion he draws on his extensive comprehension of European traditions; yet his revelation of literary connections never obscures the linguistic expressiveness and imagistic vividness of Mandel’stam’s work. By correlating the text and a suggested subtext he isolates a specific procedure in Mandel’stam and also a fundamental principle in modern poetry. Thus his contribution is to the broader theory of poetics as well as to specific study of this one great poet.