If it had not been for Anna Akhmatova and Nadezhda Mandelstam, the poet Osip Mandelstam would perhaps have been wholly forgotten. To save Mandelstam from oblivion, Anna and Nadezhda memorized his poems or hid away whatever copies they could.
The mind, apparently, was one of the only safe places left during Stalin’s regime in early twentieth century Russia. Finally fed up with Mandelstam’s dissenting poems, Stalin exiled him, sending him to his death. All that was left of him was what remained in the minds of his wife Nadezhda and friends such as Anna or stashed away in secret places.
“What is poetry’s role when the world is burning?” Christian Wiman asked almost 90 years later. Both Wiman and Mandelstam found refuge in poetry through intense times of exile. For Mandelstam, the terror was Stalin’s ego. For Wiman, it was a life-threatening cancer.
Why, when life got so difficult, would these two men devote so much to poetry? And, though we may not face political exile or life-threatening illness, should we do the same?
Over the course of 4 weeks, we’ll discuss 6 themes of poetry in exile. Through a close reading of Wiman’s and Mandelstam’s poetry, and by bringing them into conversation with a handful of other poets and theologians, we’ll discover the power of poetry in life’s darkest times.