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Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) - Also: Vladimir Vladimirovich Maiakovskii


The leading poet of Russian Revolution of 1917 and of the early Soviet period, an individualist and a rebel against established taste and standards, one of the founders of Russian Futurism movement. Originally Mayakovsky planned to become an artist. His early poems have strong painterly visions and sequences in many of his works recall film techniques. Mayakovsky was deeply concerned with the problem of death throughout his life, and in 1930, troubled by critics and disappointment in love, he shot himself with a pocket pistol.

"The love boat has crashed against the everyday. You and I, we are quits, and there is no point in listing mutual pains, sorrows, and hurts." - (from Mayakovski's unfinished poem)

Vladimir Mayakovsky was born in Bagdadi, Kutais region, Georgia. He was of Russian and Cossack descent on his father's side and Ukrainian on his mother's. At home the family spoke Russian. With his friends and at school Mayakovky used Georgian. His father, who was a forest ranger, died in 1906 of septicemia, and left the family penniless.

Mayakovsky attended the gymnasium at Kutais (1902-06) and a school in Moscow (1906-08), where the family had moved after selling all their movable property. In 1908 Mayakovsky joined Moscow committee of the Russian Social Democratic Party (Boshevik faction) and began to read Marxist literature. In 1909 he was jailed for six moths for subversive activity—imprisonments followed also later. After he was arrested first time, he managed to eat his notebooks with its covers. During his solitary confinement, Mayakovsky started to write poetry. His poems were conficated. After release he joined the Russian Futurist group and became soon its spokesman. The group sought to free the arts from academic traditions.

In 1908-09 Mayakovsky studied at Stroganov School of Industrial Arts, where his sister Ludmila had started her studies a few years earlier. From 1911 to 1914 Mayakovsky studied at Moskow Institute of Painting and Sculpture and Architecture and edited Vzial and Novyi satirikon. Drawing lessons and anatomy lectures bored Mayakovsky, but luckily he encountered his first patron, David Burliuk. According to a story, upon hearing the young artist read one of his poems, Burliuk offered him fifty kopeks a day so that, in Mayakovsky's words, "I could write without starving."

In 1912 Mayakovsky moved to St. Petersburg. His arrival on the poetic scene of the city was marked by his participation in the manifesto 'A Slap in the Face of Public Taste' (1912). In it Burliuk and his friends advocated the ideas of Italian futurism and attacked on Pushkin, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoi. Mayakovsky began to wear a yellow tunic, Burliuk had a top hat. The futurists read poetry on street corners, threw tea at their audiences, and made their public appearances a great annoyance for the bourgeois art establishment. During these years Mayakovsky started to play with the images of suicide and immortality. In his play Vladimir Mayakovsky (1914) he wrote how he will lay down on a railroad track and "the wheel of a locomotive will embrace my neck."

Mayakovsky's association with the group led to his expulsion from the Institute. His first great long poem, Cloud in the Trousers, appeared in 1915. In the same year he met Lili Brik (1891-1978), wife of the critic Osip Brik, whom Mayakovsky gotacquainted through Maxim Gorky. He became a regular visitor at Briks and dedicated several of his lyrics to Lili, sometimes depressed: "I do not need you! / I do not want you!," as in 'The Backbone Flute.' Lily was annoyed by Mayakovsky's persistent adoration, his bad teeth and neglectfulness of his appearance. To please her, Mayakovsky attended a dentist and started to wear a bow tie and walk with a walking stick.

The crucial theme in Cloud in the Trousers is love. The first part is dominated by images of volcanic explosion, burning and death when Mariia tells to the hero that she is getting married. In the following parts the hero tries to find his role in the world, and he turns to revolution.

People sniff -
there's a smell of burnt flesh!
Here come some men.
All shining!
In helmets!
No heavy boots please!
Tell the firemen
to go gently when the heart's on fire.

(from Cloud in Trousers)

Mayakovski served at the Petrograd Military Automobile School as a draftsman from 1915 to August 1917. He was editor of Gazeta futuristov in 1918 and involved in the magazine Iskusstvo kommuna and Iskusstvo. Between the years 1919 and 1921 he designed posters and wrote short propaganda plays and texts for ROSTA, the Russian Telegraph Agency. He also produced political verses, poem-marches, children's poetry, and commercial jingles for state enterprises. Mayakovsky used in his texts slogans, mixed rhythm patterns, different typesetting styles, and neologism. In Mystery-Bouffe (1918), a religious mystery play which mocked religion, the poet described a struggle between two groups, the "Unclean" working class and the "Clean" upper class. The earth has been destroyed by a flood, the survivors seek refuge at the North Pole. The "Unclean" defeat the "Clean" and create a workers' paradise on Earth, where people "will live in warmth / and light, having hade electricity / move in waves." When Mayakovsky later tried to make a film of the play, the project was rejected by the Moscow Soviet because of its "incomprehensible language for the broad masses."

In the spring of 1919 Mayakovsky returned to Moscow, where the hectic atmosphere of Russian Revolution inspired him to write popular poems which supported the Bolsheviks—earlier her had felt attraction to anarchists. His support to the Bolsheviks separated Mayakovsky from a number of his friends, who emigrated or were silenced. Eventually Bolsheviks became intolerant about avant-garde movements. Among others Lenin did not like futurism. Tatlin's art studio was closed down on party orders and Kandinky and Chagall both returned to Europe.

Mayakovsky made in 1922 a trip to Berlin and Paris, where he visited the studios of Léger and Picasso. Although Mayakovsky worshipped Lily Brik, he had other affirs, too. While in New York in 1925 he had an affair with a Russian emigree; they had a child. From France bought himself in 1928 a new Renault. Mayakovsky's love for Lili led to the publication of the lyric poem Pro Eto (1923), in which the central theme is the tension between the history, hopes for a new life, and personal love. Christ appears as a Komsomol member. The poem ends with the cry: "Resurrect me!" Another love in his live was the 18-year-old Tatyana Jakovleva, a friend of the writer Elsa Triolet, who had lived in France from 1918.

Mayakovsky co-founded with Osip Brik in 1923 the Dadaistic journal LEF , which published Pro Eto, and Novyi LEF in 1927—both magazines did not live long. In 1924 Mayakovsky composed elegy on the death of Vladimir Lenin, which finally made him known all over Russia. He travelled in Europe, the United States, Mexico and Cuba, recording his impressions in My Discovery of America. Mayakovsky was one of the few writers, who was allowed to travel abroad freely. Moreover, Lily Brik had good connections with the Communist secret police, Cheka. From his journeys he brought suitcases filled with books, periodicals, reproductions of art works, posters, and distributed the materials to his friends, who thus had an immediate contact to the daily affairs of the Western art world.

Frustrated in love, alienated from Soviet reality, attacked by unsensitive critics in the press, and denied a visa to travel abroad, Mayakovsky committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest by a Mauser pistol, in Moscow on April 14, 1930. At the time of his death, he was dressed in a light blue collar shirt, a bowtie, and well cut good quality trousers. The weight of Mayakovsky's brain recorded in the autopsy report was 1700 grams; it was 360 grams more than the weight of Lenin's brain. Mayakovsky had condemned a few years earlier the suicide of the poet Serge Yesenin in a poem, but in 1929 he had said to a friend at a poetry-reading at the Dynamo Stadium: "To write an excellent poem and read it here—the one can die." In his suicide note Mayakovsky wrote: "Mother, sisters, friends, forgive me—this is not the way (I do not recommend it to others), but there is no other way out for me. / Lily - love me."

Later Mayakovsky was eulogized by Stalin, who proclaimed indifference to his works a crime. Nikolay Aseev received a Stalin prize in 1941 for his poem Mayakovsky nachinaetsya, which celebrated him as a poet of the revolution. However, Mayakovsky's plays, The Bedbug (1928) and The Bathhouse (1930), were banned temporarily because they dealt critically with the Soviet officials. In The Bathhouse a time machine is invented; it is suggested that it is used for speeding up boring political speeches. The Phosphorescent Woman, a delegate from the year 2030, arrives. She is disappointed. The opportunity to travel through time is turned to Pobedonosikov, a Soviet party official, who believes that Michelangelo was Armenian. However, this Philistine is rejected by the future and he asks: "Do you mean by any chance that communism does not need the likes of me?" After Lily Brik's letter to Stalin, who supported her idea to publish Mayakovsky's collected works, Mayakovsky's poetry was printed in huge editions in the Soviet Union. Pasternak, who knew Mayakovsky well, later said that he inflated his talent and tortured until it burst. After the USSR ceased to exist, Mayakovsky was labelled as a representative of totalitarianism.

For further reading: Maiakovskii - dramaturg by A.B. Fevral'skii (1940); Maiakovskii et le théâtre russe d'avant-garde by Mario Rossi (1965); Russian Futurism by Vladimir Markov (1969); The Life of Mayakovsky by Wiktor Woroszylski (1970); Mayakovsky: A Poet in the Revolution by Edward J. Brown (1973); Mayakovsky: A Poet in the Revolution by Edward J. Brown (1973); Mayakovsky and His Circle by Viktor Shklovsky (1974); I Love: The Story of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lili Brik by Ann and Samuel Charters (1979); Vladimir Mayakovsky by Victor Terras (1983); Verse Form and Meaning in the Poetry of Vladimir Maiakovskii by Robin Aizlewood (1989); Imia etoi temy liubov': sovremennitsy o Maiakovskom, ed. by V.V. Katanian (1993); Vo ves' logos: religiia Maiakovskogo by Mikhail Vaiskopf (1997) - See also: Arkady Strugatski, Jack London (Mayakovsky wrote the script and played the main role in the film Ne dlja deneg rodivshijsja (1918), which was based on Jack London's novel Martin Eden); Yevgeni Yevtushenko. Futurism: Giovanni Papini, Apollinaire, Aaro Hellaakoski (Finnish poet).  In Finnish: Majakovskilta on suomennettu Eläinten kirja (1986), Kenenä olla? (1939), Miksi aion (1955), Mikä on hyvää ja mikä on pahaa (1957), lisäksi valikoimat Pilvi housuissa ja muita runoja. Kuinka säkeitä valmistetaan (1959), Runoja ja runoelmia (1958), Valitut runot (1984), Vladimir Iljitš Lenin (1947), Vladimir Iljitš Lenin (1970), suomennoksia myös antologioissa 20 Neuvostoliiton runoilijaa (1960)  ja Neuvostolyriikkaa 2 (1979).

Selected works:

  • Poshchochina obshchestvennomu vkusu, 1912 [A Slap in the Face of Public Taste]
  • Ia: Futur-almanakh vselenskoi samosti, 1913 [Me: Futuro-Miscellany of Universal Selfhood]
  • Vladimir Maiakovskii: Tragediia, 1914 (play, prod. 1913)
    - Vladimir Mayakovsky: A Tragedy (translated by Guy Daniels, in The Complete Plays, 1968)
  • Oblako v shtanakh, 1915 (rev. ed. 1918)
    - A Cloud in Trousers (translators: Max Hayward and George Reavey, in The Bedbug and Selected Poetry, 1975; Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1986; G.M. Hyde, in How Are Verses Made With a Cloud in Trousers and to Sergey Esenin, 1990)
    - Pilvi housuissa ja muita runoja (suom. Arvo Turtiainen, 1959)
  • Fleyta pozvonochnik, 1916
    - The Backbone Flute (translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey, in The Bedbug and Selected Poetry, 1960)
    - Selkärankahuilu (suom. Arvo Turtiainen ja Modest Savtschenko, in Parnasso, 1963)
  • Prostoe kak mychanie, 1916 [Simple as Mooing]
  • Voina i mir, 1916
    - War and the World (translated by Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1986)
  • Chelovek, 1918
    - Man (translated by Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1986)
  • Oda revolyutsi, 1918 [Ode to Revolution)]
  • Misteriia-buff, 1919 (play, prod. 1918, rev. version 1921)
    - Mystery-Bouffe (translators: G.R. Noyes & A. Kaun, in Masterpieces of the Russian Drama, 1933; Guy Daniels, in The Complete Plays, 1968)
    - Mysteerio Buffa (suom.)
  • Levy marsh, 1919
    - Left March (translated by Alec Vagapov)
    - Vasemmistomarssi (suom., in 20 Neuvostoliiton runoilijaa, 1960)
  • "150,000,000", 1920
  • Liubliu, 1922
  • Pro eto, 1923
    - It (translated by Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1986) / About This (translated by Herbert Marshall, in Mayakovsky, 1965) / Pro eto = That’s What (photomontages by Alexander Rodchenko; translated by Larisa Gureyeva & George Hyde; introduced by John Wakeman, 2009)
  • Lirika, 1923
  • Vladimir Il’ich Lenin, 1924
    - Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (translated by Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1968; Herbert Marshall, in Mayakovsky, 1960)
    - Vladimir Iljitš Lenin (suom. Armas Äikiä, 1947; Arvo Turtiainen, 1970)
  • Mayakovsky and His Poetry, 1924
  • Pariz, 1924-25
    - Essays on Paris (tr. 1975)
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 1925 (4 vols.)
  • Kak delar stikhi?, 1926
    - How Are Verses Made? (translated by G. M. Hyde, 1970)
    - Kuinka säkeitä valmistetaan (suom. Tuomas Anhava, teoksissa Pilvi housuissa ja muita runoja, 1959, Valitut runot, 1984)
  • Moye Otkrytiye Ameriki, 1926
    - My Discovery of America (tr. 2005)
  • Khorosho!, 1927
    - Fine (translated by Dorian Rottenberg, in Selected Works, 1986
    - Hyvin: lokakuu-runoelma (suom. A. Äikiä, 1955)
  • Kon'-Ogon', 1928
    - Timothy's Horse (adapted from the Russian by Guy Daniels)
  • Kem byt'?, 1928 (4th ed. 1932)
    - Kenenä olla? (suom. 1939) / Miksi aion? (suom. N. Laine, 1955)
  • Klop, 1929 (play, prod. 1929)
    - The Bedbug (translators: Max Hayward, in The Bedbug and Selected Poetry, 1960; Guy Daniels, in The Complete Plays, 1968)
  • Banya, 1930 (play, prod. 1930)
    - The Bathhouse (translated by Guy Daniels, in The Complete Plays, 1968)
    - Sauna (suom. Esa Adrian, 1967)
  • Vo ves' golos, 1930
  • Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 1934-38 (13 vols.)
  • Kino, 1937
  • Mayakovsky and his Poetry, 1942 (compiled and translated by Herbert Marshall, rev. ed. 1945, 1955)
  • Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 1939-49 (12 vols., edited by N.N. Aseev)
  • Polnoe sobranie sochinenii, 1955-61 (13 vols., ed. V.A. Katanyan)
  • Pis'ma, 1956 (ed. Lili Brik)
  • Novoe o Maiakovskii, 1958
  • The Bedbug and Selected Poetry, 1960 (edited by P. Blake, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey)
  • Maiakovskii— khudozhnik, 1963
  • Mayakovsky, 1965 (translated by Herbert Marshall)
  • The Complete Plays of Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1968 (translated by Guy Daniels)
  • Poems, 1972 (translated by Dorian Rottenberg)
  • Sobranie sochinenii, 1973 (6 vols., edited by L.B. Maiakovskaia)
  • Semya Maiakovskii v Pismakh, 1978
  • Sobranie Sochinenii, 1978-79 (12 vols., edited by F.F. Kuznetsov)
  • Selected Works, 1985-87 (3 vols., translated by Dorian Rottenberg)
  • V.V. Maiakovskii i L.IU . Brik, perepiska, 1915-1930, 1982
    - Love is the Heart of Everything: Correspondence Between Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lili Brik, 1915-1930 (edited by Bengt Jangfeldt, translated by Julian Graffy, 1987)
  • Stihkotvoreniia: Poemy, 1986
  • V. Maiakovskii detiam: stikhi, 1986  
  • Listen! Early Poems, 1987 (translated by Maria Enzensberger)
  • Poemy, 1989
  • Stichi, Poemy, Materialy o Zhiznii i Tvorchestve, 1988
  • Dorogoi diadia Volodia, 1990
  • Mayakovsky--plays, 1995 (translated by Guy Daniels; introduction by Robert Payne)
  • Liubliu: stikhi, poe?my, p'esy i pis'ma Maiakovskogo, 1998  
  • Maiakovskii plakat, 2007
  • Maiakovskii: okna ROSTA i GlavPolitProsveta, 1919-1921, 2010

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