The American Dissident: Literature, Democracy & Dissidence

Osip Mandelstam—Critical Poem

This poem known as the "Stalin Epigram" resulted in Mandelstam being arrested, nearly executed, incarcerated, and gulaged.  Apparently, the poet could not resist writing and disseminating it.  Mandelstam died anonymously in the gulag transit camp near Vladivostok, probably of typhus, in 1938. In that poem, Soviet citizens dare only whisper.  The only time they dare speak louder is when they praise Stalin. 

The Stalin Epigram
Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can't hear our words.

But whenever there's a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

The ten thick worms his gingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the gleam of his boot rims.
Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses,
sycophantic half-beings for him to toy with.

One whines, another purrs, a third snivels
as he babbles and points.
He forges decrees to be flung like horseshoes,
one at the groin, one at the face, the eyes.
He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
delicacies for the barrel-chested Georgian.