At the age of forty-seven, he began a new, unstable career as an itinerant free-lance photographer, while the mother earned an equally meager living as a council clerk.
Joseph left his schooling at fifteen to contribute to the family’s income by working in a factory.
A Soviet Jewish exile since 1972, Brodsky has been poet-in-residence at several American universities, notably the University of Michigan and Columbia University.
is a generous collection of his essays on such Russian poets as Anna Akhmatova, Marina Tsvetaeva, and Osip Mandelstam; the Russian prose writers Fyodor Dostoevski and Andrey Platonov; the Western poets W. Auden, Constantine Cavafy, Dante, Eugenio Montale, and Derek Walcott; the cities of Constantinople, Alexandria, and Saint Petersburg/Leningrad; and two largely autobiographical memoirs serving as opening and concluding chapters: “Less Than One” and “In a Room and a Half.” In “Less Than One,” Brodsky introduces two themes that he will weave through most of his work: his conviction that poetry is man’s supreme achievement (even a writer’s “biography is in his twists of language”), and his personal sense of estrangement, isolation, solitude (“the rest of my life can be viewed as a nonstop avoidance of its most importunate aspects”).
The pieces in are arranged in the order of their writing, though they need not be read that way.
Some were written as speeches or class lectures, such as “A Commencement Address” or “On ‘September 1, 1939,’ by W. (The entire section is 880 words.) Joseph Brodsky is considered by many contemporary critics to be not only the finest poet currently writing in Russian but also one of the preeminent living poets.The son recalls frequent walks home with his father from what he regarded as the city’s most magnificent edifice.He yearns for the splendor of Russia’s naval history, poor in victories but rich in “nobility of spirit”: To this day, I think that the country would do a hell of a lot better if it had for its national banner not that foul double-headed imperial fowl or the vaguely masonic hammer-and-sickle, but the flag of the Russian Navy: our glorious, incomparably beautiful flag of St.Yet the reasons Brodsky himself gives are less flatly pragmatic: It was not out of necessity, as for Joseph Conrad, ambition, as for Vladimir Nabokov, or a wish for estrangement, as for Samuel Beckett, that he took to composing in a foreign language but out of the desire to bring himself closer to W. Auden—whom he considers “the finest mind of the twentieth century.” That is quite a claim both for Auden and his admirer, but it is typical of Brodsky—a combination of private modesty and intellectual audacity.Any imitation is a stage long since past, however, and what these essays show is an original and independent mind at work—at work on his fellow poets, on Russian literature and European culture, on his own past and his city’s.Brodsky’s parents lived in a cramped apartment, termed “a room and a half,” in Saint Petersburg (he abhors the city’s Soviet name, Leningrad); the poverty, vigor, and cleanliness of his parents constitute his first memories.His father was a journalist and photographer who became a naval officer during World War II, then served as curator of the photography department in Saint Petersburg’s Navy Museum, which the boy would visit admiringly.Stevens could never have written in a poem “We must love one another or die,” and then changed it to “We must love one another and die.” But possibly Goethe could: in fact on the evidence of the Roman Elegies and some of the poems in the Westöstlicher Divan he certainly could.For Goethe, surprisingly enough, was a poet of total humor, as of total civilization, despite all evidence to the contrary.Brodsky was well established as a poet by the time he took up prose.His work was eagerly read in the Soviet Union despite the fact that practically none of it had been published there.