I agree with Jonathan about blind spots, anyway. But all I can say is, "give the guy a break." Do you really think literature & poetry fit into neat academic summations & the pat judgements suitable for MFA PROGRAMS? Brodsky's accomplishments & horizons are large, messy, complicated. His relationship with English & the battles over what is contemporary style were complicated. I wouldn't be surprised if he had a love-hate relation with English which he couldn't even acknowledge, which involved his dependence on that language from the day he stepped off the plane in London & under Auden's paternal umbrella. & that mixed feeling may have come out in these kinds of doggerel-songs. They may also be regarded as some kind of slap at what was considered contemporary American "high style" (Merwin, let's say). I don't know. Brodsky was a subtle and oblique poet - many of his poems in Russian depend on allegory & allusion & comic irony. His writing is steeped in estrangement, & feelings of frustration, spleen, loneliness, guilt.

The whole approach starting from "Brodsky doesn't deserve his fame - I'm going to show you why based on these poems..." - this ungenerous attitude guarantees there will be no encounter with Brodsky's strengths as a poet, essayist, human being. But this argument could go on forever, because there's no shared grounds for evaluation.

Here's an early poem, translated by George Kline, from the Penguin selected volume:


On Washerwoman Bridge, where you and I
stood like two hands of a midnight clock
embracing, soon to part, not for a day
but for all days - this morning on our bridge
a narcissistic fisherman,
forgetting his cork float, stares goggle-eyed
at his unsteady river image.

The ripples age him and then make him young;
a web of wrinkles flows across his brow
and melts into the features of his youth.
He holds our place. Why not? - It is his right.
In recent years whatever stands alone
stands as a symbol of another time.
His is a claim for space.
So let him gaze
into our waters, calmly, at himself,
and even come to know himself. The river
is his by right today. It's like a house
in which new tenants have set up a mirror
but have not yet moved in.


The poem exhibits an almost perfect balance between the thought of what poetry can and cannot be; between thought and (elegiac) feeling; between private emotion & a sense of a particular time (late Soviet Russia). The last image is perfectly subdued, an undertone. (Pushkin : "my sadness is luminous".) I can see why Auden was impressed with young Brodsky.

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