Vladimir Mayakovsky

Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Mayakovsky’s father was an impoverished nobleman who worked as a senior forester in the Caucasus. As a boy, Mayakovsky would climb into a huge clay wine vat and read poetry aloud, trying to swell the power of his voice with the vat’s resonance. Mayakovsky was not only Mayakovsky, but the powerful echo of his own voice: oratorical intonation was not just his style, but his very character.

While imprisoned in Butyrka prison in Moscow in 1909, when he was only sixteen, Mayakovsky became engrossed in the Bible, one of the few books available to him there, and his early thunderous verses are strewn with biblical metaphors whimsically tied to boyish blasphemies. He intuitively perceived that “the street will convulse, tongueless, with no means to cry out and speak”; and so he gave the word to the street and thus revolutionized Russian poetry. His brilliant poems “A Cloud in Trousers” and “Flute and Spine” towered above the verses of his poetic milieu, just as the majestic peaks of his native Caucasus towered above the little houses that clung to their sides. While calling for the ejection of Pushkin and other gods of Russian poetry from the “steamship of modernity,” Mayakovsky actually continued to write in the classical tradition. With his companions Mayakovsky founded the Futurist movement, whose early collection was called, significantly, A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (1912). Gorky was right when he remarked that while Futurism perhaps did not exist, a great poet did: Mayakovsky.

There was no question for Mayakovsky about whether to accept the October Revolution. He was himself the revolution, with all its power, its excesses, its epic vulgarity and even brutality, its errors and tragedies. Mayakovsky’s revolutionary zeal is evident in that this great love-lyric poet committed his verse to the service of ideological limericks, to the advertising billboards of politics. In this zeal, however, lay his tragedy, for he consciously stood “on the throat of his own song,” a position he once underscored brilliantly: “I want to be understood by my native land, but I won’t be understood — Alas! I will pass through my native land like slanting rain.”

His despondency in personal affairs as much as his disillusionment with politics led him to shoot himself with a revolver he had used as a prop in a movie twelve years earlier. Because he was both revered and reviled, his death held profound though various meaning for everyone. Tens of thousands of people attended his funeral. Mayakovsky was canonized by Stalin, who said about him: “Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our time. Indifference to his poetry is a crime.” This was, in Pasternak’s view, Mayakovsky’s second death. But he died only as a political poet; as a great poet of love and loneliness he survived.

1912

1913

1914

1915

1916

1918

1920

1922

1926

1928

1929

in spanish

Vladímir Mayakovski, poemas (español)

1913

1914

1920

in scots

Vladimir Mayakovsky, dàin (scots)

1913

in hungarian

Vlagyimir Majakovszkij, versek (magyar)

1913

1916

1922

in romanian

Vladimir Maiakovski, poezii (română)

1912

1913