'The Age' by Osip Mandelstam

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My age, my beast, is there anyone
Who can peer into your eyes
And with his own blood fuse
Two centuries' worth of vertebrae?
The creating blood gushes
From the throat of earthly things,
And the parasite just trembles
On the threshold of new days.

While the creature still has life,
The spine must be delivered,
While with the unseen backbone
A wave distracts itself.
Again they've brought the peak of life
Like a sacrificial lamb,
Like a child's supple cartilage—
The age of infant earth.

To free the age from its confinement,
To instigate a brand new world,
The discordant, tangled days
Must be linked, as with a flute.
It's the age that rocks the swells
With humanity's despair,
And in the undergrowth a serpent breathes
The golden measure of the age.

Still the shoots will swell
And the green buds sprout
But your spinal cord is crushed,
My fantastic, wretched age!
And in lunatic beatitude
You look back, cruel and weak,
Like a beast that once was agile,
At the tracks left by your feet.

The creating blood gushes
From the throat of earthly things,
The lukewarm cartilage of oceans
Splashes like a seething fish ashore.
And from the bird net spread on high
From the humid azure stones,
Streams a flood of helpless apathy
On your single, fatal wound.

Translated by Marc Adler

Submitted by Marc Adler

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Age by Osip Mandelstam: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation

Have you ever read a poem that feels like it was written just for you? That's how I felt when I first read "The Age" by Osip Mandelstam. His words spoke to me in a way that few poems ever have. Mandelstam's powerful imagery and complex themes make "The Age" a masterpiece of modernist poetry. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we'll explore the themes, symbolism, and literary devices found in "The Age."

Context and Background

Before we dive into the poem itself, let's take a moment to understand the context in which it was written. Osip Mandelstam was a Russian poet who lived during a tumultuous time in his country's history. He was born in 1891 and began writing poetry in his teenage years. Mandelstam was a member of the Acmeist movement, which emphasized precise language and vivid imagery. He was also a close friend of Anna Akhmatova, another prominent Russian poet.

In 1934, Mandelstam was arrested by Soviet authorities and charged with anti-Soviet activities. He was sent to a series of prison camps and died in 1938. Despite his short life, Mandelstam left behind a rich legacy of poetry that has influenced generations of writers.

"The Age" was written in 1913, a year of great social and political upheaval in Russia. The poem reflects the uncertainty and confusion of the time, as well as the sense of impending change. Mandelstam's use of religious and mythological imagery adds to the poem's sense of mystery and depth.


At its core, "The Age" is a meditation on the passage of time and the transience of human life. The poem opens with the line "All of us are living in the age of death," setting the tone for what follows. Throughout the poem, Mandelstam describes the world in terms of decay and decline. He writes of "the rustling of the age," "the decay of the age," and "the age's decay." The image of a decaying world is a powerful one, and it speaks to our deepest fears about mortality and the impermanence of life.

But "The Age" is not simply a lament for lost youth and vitality. Mandelstam also celebrates the beauty and mystery of life, even as he acknowledges its fleeting nature. He writes of "the age's eternal youth," suggesting that there is something timeless and unchanging about the human experience. Mandelstam also uses religious and mythological imagery to suggest that there is a higher, more enduring reality beyond the material world. He writes of "the age's temple," "the age's scripture," and "the age's star." These images suggest that there is a spiritual dimension to life that transcends our mortal existence.


Mandelstam's use of symbolism adds to the richness and complexity of "The Age." One of the most striking symbols in the poem is the image of the star. Mandelstam writes of "the age's star," which "burns with a cold, indifferent flame." The star represents the cold, unfeeling universe that surrounds us, as well as the distant, impersonal forces that shape our lives. But the star also represents the spark of divinity within us, the part of us that yearns for something greater than ourselves.

Another important symbol in the poem is the image of the temple. Mandelstam writes of "the age's temple," which "stands above the age's decay." The temple represents the spiritual dimension of life, the realm of the sacred and eternal. But the temple is also a symbol of our own mortality, as it is built to withstand the ravages of time even as we ourselves are subject to decay and decline.

Literary Devices

Mandelstam's use of literary devices adds to the power and beauty of "The Age." One of the most striking devices he employs is repetition. Throughout the poem, Mandelstam repeats certain phrases and images, such as "the age's decay," "the rustling of the age," and "the age's star." This repetition creates a sense of rhythm and momentum, drawing the reader deeper into the poem's themes and images.

Mandelstam also uses metaphor and simile to great effect. For example, he compares the age to "a great old forest," suggesting the sense of depth and complexity that underlies even the most mundane aspects of our lives. He also compares the rustling of the age to "the rustling of paper in a blind man's hands," evoking a sense of futility and confusion.


"The Age" is a poem that speaks to the human experience in a profound and timeless way. Mandelstam's vivid imagery, complex themes, and masterful use of literary devices create a work of art that is both beautiful and haunting. In reading "The Age," we are forced to confront our own mortality and the impermanence of life, but we are also reminded of the beauty and mystery that make life worth living. It is a poem that will stay with you long after you have read it, a testament to the enduring power of great poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Age: A Poem of Timeless Relevance

Osip Mandelstam, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, wrote The Age in 1924, a time when the Soviet Union was undergoing a radical transformation. The poem is a reflection on the nature of time and the human condition, and it speaks to us today with a timeless relevance.

The Age is a complex and multi-layered poem, and it requires careful analysis to fully appreciate its meaning. At its core, the poem is a meditation on the fleeting nature of time and the inevitability of change. Mandelstam begins by describing the age as a "black hurricane" that sweeps across the land, destroying everything in its path. This metaphorical language suggests that time is a force of nature that is beyond our control, and that we are all subject to its power.

The poem then takes a more personal turn, as Mandelstam reflects on his own mortality. He describes himself as a "withered leaf" that is blown away by the wind, and he laments the fact that he will soon be forgotten. This sense of despair is a common theme in Mandelstam's work, and it reflects the existential angst that many people feel when confronted with the reality of their own mortality.

Despite the bleakness of the poem, there is also a sense of hope and resilience that runs through it. Mandelstam suggests that even though we are all subject to the ravages of time, we can still find meaning and purpose in our lives. He writes that "the age is a sword that cuts both ways," suggesting that time can be both destructive and transformative. It is up to us to decide how we will respond to the challenges that life presents us with.

One of the most striking features of The Age is its use of language. Mandelstam was a master of metaphor and imagery, and his poetry is full of vivid and evocative descriptions. In this poem, he uses a range of metaphors to convey the idea of time as a destructive force. He describes it as a hurricane, a sword, and a "black river" that flows relentlessly towards the sea. These images create a sense of urgency and danger, and they help to convey the emotional impact of the poem.

Another notable feature of The Age is its structure. The poem is divided into three sections, each of which has a distinct tone and mood. The first section is the most dramatic, with its vivid descriptions of the hurricane and the destruction it causes. The second section is more introspective, as Mandelstam reflects on his own mortality. The final section is more hopeful, as he suggests that even though we are all subject to the ravages of time, we can still find meaning and purpose in our lives.

In conclusion, The Age is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that speaks to us today with a timeless relevance. Mandelstam's use of metaphor and imagery creates a vivid and evocative picture of time as a destructive force, and his reflections on mortality and the human condition are both poignant and profound. Despite its bleakness, the poem also contains a message of hope and resilience, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, we can still find meaning and purpose in our lives.

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