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Rereading the Poet's Ending: Mandelstam, Chaplin, and Stalin

Clare Cavanagh
PMLA
Vol. 109, No. 1 (Jan., 1994), pp. 71-86
DOI: 10.2307/463012
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/463012
Page Count: 16
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Rereading the Poet's Ending: Mandelstam, Chaplin, and Stalin
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Abstract

In The Life of the Poet, Lawrence Lipking speaks of the mature poet's effort to shape a summation in verse that will give meaning and wholeness to the poet's lifework. Osip Mandelstam refused to create such a summation, unlike many of his modernist contemporaries. He developed instead a complex, playful, defiantly open-ended poetics that resists all attempts to shape a definitive, fitting conclusion to his life-in-art. Seeking an appropriate poetic ending to the life of the poet-martyr-Mandelstam died en route to the gulag at the height of Stalin's terror-many critics chose to overlook the provocatively playful lyrics that accompany his more somber late verses. Through analysis of two poems on Charlie Chaplin written near the end of Mandelstam's life, this essay aims both to reopen the question of the poet's ending and to complicate the reader's portrait of the artist's final days.

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