Sacred Writings

Defenses of the Imagination: Jewish Writers and Modern by Robert Alter

By Robert Alter

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Osip Mandelstam was born in Warsaw in 1891, the son of a prosperous Jewish leather merchant. ” In 1904 Osip was sent to the prestigious Tenishev Commer­ cial School in Petersburg—a decade later one of its students would be Vladimir Nabokov—where he received a thorough classical education (classical antiquity was to pervade his verse) and, extracurricularly, a good dose of Social-Revolutionary Marxism (this he would outgrow). After graduating from the Tenishev School in 1907, Mandelstam traveled in Western Europe, spending some time in Paris and Heidel­ berg, studying Old French literature, and quite consciously preparing himself for the vocation of poetry he already felt he was destined to fulfill.

Com << Chapter >> Home | TOC historical chaos around him is suggestive: in a world of uni­ versal havoc, the poet insists on an elaborate traditional form that requires fine control and conciseness, a ramified syntax of words and images and ideas, thus confirming the power of poetry to make order even out of the dark night of the Western soul. The historical landscape here is what one might expect. As the end of the fourteenth sonnet renders it, man is drowning in rivers of blood, “A twilight of culture .

2 1 Mandelstam (Cambridge University Press, 1973). English readers owe a large debt of gratitude to Brown, who has done so much to uncover Mandel­ stam, and has himself translated most of Mandelstam’s prose with grace and clarity. 2 The translation is one of those done by Clarence Brown for the purposes of his critical book, and of these, one can say that they are at least quite us­ able by a contemporary reader of English. Brown has collaborated with W. Defenses of the Imagination 28 This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only.

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