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Dr. Kathleen Macfie

Associate Professor

Dr. Kathleen Macfie

The Noise of Time (The Prose of Osip Mandelstam. translated with a critical essay by Clarence Brown) by Osip Mandelstam

I wrote my Master's thesis on textual correspondences between Osip Mandelstam's poetry and his autobiographical prose. Mandelstam's autobiography is a stunning read. The imagery of his poetry is woven throughout Mandelstam's brilliant prose, but there is little common biographical information there. In addition to the Russian original, Clarence Brown's critical essay on Mandelstam had an enormous impact on me. I was particularly struck by Brown's description of his own work on the poet. In the late 1950s Mandelstam was for Brown a creature of words only. Little was known in the West at that time about Mandelstam's life...his biography, his appearance...and Brown spent years teasing out details of Mandelstam's biography and assembling a portrait of the man from the words of his contemporaries. For me, a student in the 1980s, Mandelstam was firmly established as one of Russia's greatest poets. His compelling life story and the images of the man that accompanied his work were as much a part of Mandelstam as the poetry itself. An amazing shift in what was known of this poet had taken place in the brief span of my lifetime. Brown's essay set me on a path to explore Mandelstam's life and poetry, an exploration that produced a dissertation, led me to teach Russian literature, and still fascinates me today.