Mayakovsky’s rhythmical roar
In the last section of his autobiographical work, Safe Conduct, written shortly after Vladimir Mayakovsky’s suicide in 1930, Boris Pasternak recalls the extraordinary power of the man and poet in his youth: “whenever Mayakovsky appeared it seemed miraculous . . . . He was gigantic”. The anarchic futurist genius was soon to be displaced by the “drummer of the Revolution”, a poet harnessing his gifts to the cause, and Pasternak began to turn away. But Mayakovsky’s revolution was not exactly the Bolshevik revolution, and he did not easily find a place in the congealing orthodoxy of Soviet culture. It was only after his death that Stalin proclaimed him the poet laureate of the regime, adding that “indifference to his memory and his works is a crime”. Canonized in this way, it is not surprising that with the end of Soviet power Mayakovsky too was toppled, replaced by poets who had been less committed to the Revolution, including Pasternak himself. By 1993, the newspaperLiteraturnaya Gazeta could ask a previously banned poet: “What is there in Mayakovsky’s writing that does not leave you indifferent?” The poet answers by aligning Mayakovsky with Beethoven and Michelangelo; he remains a powerful presence in spite of all the justified ideological debates about his legacy.