Vladimir Mayakovsky
Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (Влади́мир Влади́мирович Маяко́вский) ( – April 14, 1930) was a Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

n and Soviet poet
A poet is a person who writes poetry. A poet's work can be literal, meaning that his work is derived from a specific event, or metaphorical, meaning that his work can take on many meanings and forms. Poets have existed since antiquity, in nearly all languages, and have produced works that vary...

 and playwright
A playwright, also called a dramatist, is a person who writes plays.The term is not a variant spelling of "playwrite", but something quite distinct: the word wright is an archaic English term for a craftsman or builder...

, among the foremost representatives of early-20th century Russian Futurism
Russian Futurism
Russian Futurism is the term used to denote a group of Russian poets and artists who adopted the principles of Filippo Marinetti's "Manifesto of Futurism"...


Early life

He was born the last of three children in Baghdati
Baghdati is a town of 4,800 people in the Imereti region of western Georgia, at the edge of the Ajameti forest on the Chanistskali River. From 1940 to 1990, it was called Mayakovsky after the Russian poet who was born there.-History:...

, Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

 (now in Georgia
Georgia (country)
Georgia is a sovereign state in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. Located at the crossroads of Western Asia and Eastern Europe, it is bounded to the west by the Black Sea, to the north by Russia, to the southwest by Turkey, to the south by Armenia, and to the southeast by Azerbaijan. The capital of...

) where his father worked as a forest ranger. His father was of Ukrainian Cossack descent and his mother was of Ukrainian
Ukrainians are an East Slavic ethnic group native to Ukraine, which is the sixth-largest nation in Europe. The Constitution of Ukraine applies the term 'Ukrainians' to all its citizens...

 descent. Although Mayakovsky spoke Georgian
Georgian language
Georgian is the native language of the Georgians and the official language of Georgia, a country in the Caucasus.Georgian is the primary language of about 4 million people in Georgia itself, and of another 500,000 abroad...

 at school and with friends, his family spoke primarily Russian at home. At the age of 14 Mayakovsky took part in socialist demonstrations at the town of Kutaisi
Kutaisi is Georgia's second largest city and the capital of the western region of Imereti. It is 221 km to the west of Tbilisi.-Geography:...

, where he attended the local grammar school. After the sudden and premature death of his father in 1906, the family — Mayakovsky, his mother, and his two sisters — moved to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

, where he attended School No. 5.

In Moscow, Mayakovsky developed a passion for Marxist
Marxism is an economic and sociopolitical worldview and method of socioeconomic inquiry that centers upon a materialist interpretation of history, a dialectical view of social change, and an analysis and critique of the development of capitalism. Marxism was pioneered in the early to mid 19th...

 literature and took part in numerous activities of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
Russian Social Democratic Labour Party
The Russian Social Democratic Labour Party , also known as Russian Social Democratic Workers' Party or Russian Social Democratic Party, was a revolutionary socialist Russian political party formed in 1898 in Minsk to unite the various revolutionary organizations into one party...

; he was to later become an RSDLP (Bolshevik
The Bolsheviks, originally also Bolshevists , derived from bol'shinstvo, "majority") were a faction of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Labour Party which split apart from the Menshevik faction at the Second Party Congress in 1903....

) member. In 1908, he was dismissed from the grammar school because his mother was no longer able to afford the tuition fees.

Around this time, Mayakovsky was imprisoned on three occasions for subversive political activities but, being underage, he avoided transportation. During a period of solitary confinement in Butyrka prison
Butyrka prison
Butyrka prison was the central transit prison in pre-Revolutionary Russia, located in Moscow.The first references to Butyrka prison may be traced back to the 17th century. The present prison building was erected in 1879 near the Butyrsk gate on the site of a prison-fortress which had been built...

 in 1909, he began to write poetry, but his poems were confiscated. On his release from prison, he continued working within the socialist movement, and in 1911 he joined the Moscow Art School where he became acquainted with members of the Russian Futurist
Futurism (art)
Futurism was an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century. It emphasized and glorified themes associated with contemporary concepts of the future, including speed, technology, youth and violence, and objects such as the car, the airplane and the industrial city...

 movement. He became a leading spokesman for the group Gileas (Гилея), and a close friend of David Burlyuk, whom he saw as his mentor.

Literary life

The 1912 Futurist publication A Slap in the Face of Public Taste (Пощёчина общественному вкусу) contained Mayakovsky's first published poems: Night (Ночь) and Morning (Утро). Because of their political activities, Burlyuk and Mayakovsky were expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914.

His work continued in the Futurist vein until 1914. His artistic development then shifted increasingly in the direction of narrative and it was this work, published during the period immediately preceding the Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, which was to establish his reputation as a poet in Russia and abroad.

A Cloud in Trousers (1915) was Mayakovsky's first major poem of appreciable length and it depicted the heated subjects of love, revolution, religion and art, written from the vantage point of a spurned lover. The language of the work was the language of the streets, and Mayakovsky went to considerable lengths to debunk idealistic and romanticised notions of poetry and poets.

Your thoughts,

dreaming on a softened brain,

like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,

with my heart's bloody tatters I'll mock again;

impudent and caustic, I'll jeer to superfluity.

Of Grandfatherly gentleness I'm devoid,

there's not a single grey hair in my soul!

Thundering the world with the might of my voice,

I go by – handsome,

Вашу мысль

мечтающую на размягченном мозгу,

как выжиревший лакей на засаленной кушетке,

буду дразнить об окровавленный сердца лоскут:

досыта изъиздеваюсь, нахальный и едкий.

У меня в душе ни одного седого волоса,

и старческой нежности нет в ней!

Мир огромив мощью голоса,

иду – красивый,


(From the prologue of A Cloud in Trousers.)

In the summer of 1915, Mayakovsky fell in love with a married woman, Lilya Brik
Lilya Brik
Lilya Yuryevna Brik is known best as a muse of Vladimir Mayakovsky. She was an older sister of Elsa Triolet and wife of Osip Brik. Pablo Neruda called her "muse of Russian avant-garde"...

, and it is to her that the poem "The Backbone Flute" (1916) was dedicated; she was the wife of his publisher, Osip Brik
Osip Brik
Osip Maksimovich Brik , , Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian formalist school, though he also identified himself as one of the Futurists....

. The love affair, as well as his impressions of war
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 and revolution, strongly influenced his works of these years. The poem "War and the World" (1916) addressed the horrors of World War I and "Man" (1917) is a poem dealing with the anguish of love.

Mayakovsky was rejected as a volunteer at the beginning of World War I, and during 1915-1917 worked at the Petrograd Military Automobile School as a draftsman. At the onset of the Russian Revolution
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, Mayakovsky was in Smolny
The Smolny Institute is a Palladian edifice in St Petersburg that has played a major part in the history of Russia.The building was commissioned from Giacomo Quarenghi by the Society for Education of Noble Maidens and constructed in 1806-08 to house the Smolny Institute for Noble Maidens,...

, Petrograd. There he witnessed the October Revolution
October Revolution
The October Revolution , also known as the Great October Socialist Revolution , Red October, the October Uprising or the Bolshevik Revolution, was a political revolution and a part of the Russian Revolution of 1917...

. He started reciting poems such as "Left March! For the Red Marines: 1918" (Левый марш (Матросам), 1918) at naval theatres, with sailors as an audience.
His satirical play Mystery-Bouffe
Myster-Bouffe is a socialist dramatic play written by Vladimir Mayakovsky in 1918/1921. Mayakovsky stated in a preface to the 1921 edition that "in the future, all persons performing, presenting, reading or publishing Mystery-Bouffe should change the content, making it contemporary, immediate,...

was staged in 1918, and again, more successfully, in 1921.

After moving back to Moscow, Mayakovsky worked for the Russian State Telegraph Agency (ROSTA
Rosta or Rustah was the name of a district in Isfahan area in Iran attested in historical sources. The Persian explorer Ibn Rustah was a native of Rosta....

) creating — both graphic and text — satirical Agitprop
Agitprop is derived from agitation and propaganda, and describes stage plays, pamphlets, motion pictures and other art forms with an explicitly political message....

 posters. In 1919, he published his first collection of poems Collected Works 1909-1919 (Все сочиненное Владимиром Маяковским). In the cultural climate of the early Soviet Union, his popularity grew rapidly. From 1922 to 1928, Mayakovsky was a prominent member of the Left Art Front and went on to define his work as 'Communist futurism' (комфут). He edited, along with Sergei Tretyakov
Sergei Tretyakov
Sergei Mikhailovich Tretyakov was a Russian constructivist writer, playwright and special correspondent for Pravda. He graduated 1916 from the department of law at Moscow University...

 and Osip Brik
Osip Brik
Osip Maksimovich Brik , , Russian avant garde writer and literary critic, was one of the most important members of the Russian formalist school, though he also identified himself as one of the Futurists....

, the journal LEF
LEF (journal)
LEF was the journal of the Left Front of the Arts , a widely ranging association of avant-garde writers, photographers, critics and designers in the Soviet Union. It had two runs, one from 1923 to 1925 as LEF, and later from 1927 to 1929 as Novy LEF...


As one of the few Soviet writers who were allowed to travel freely, his voyages to Latvia, Britain, Germany, the United States, Mexico and Cuba influenced works like My Discovery of America (Мое открытие Америки, 1925). He also travelled extensively throughout the Soviet Union.

On a lecture tour in the United States, Mayakovsky met Elli Jones, who later gave birth to his daughter, an event which Mayakovsky only came to know in 1929, when the couple met clandestinely in the south of France, as the relationship was kept secret. In the late 1920s, Mayakovsky fell in love with Tatiana Yakovleva and to her he dedicated the poem "A Letter to Tatiana Yakovleva" (Письмо Татьяне Яковлевой, 1928).

The relevance of Mayakovsky's influence cannot be limited to Soviet poetry. While for years he was considered the Soviet poet par excellence, he also changed the perceptions of poetry in wider 20th century culture. His political activism as a propagandistic
Propaganda is a form of communication that is aimed at influencing the attitude of a community toward some cause or position so as to benefit oneself or one's group....

 agitator was rarely understood and often looked upon unfavourably by contemporaries, even close friends like Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Russian language poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language...

. Near the end of the 1920s, Mayakovsky became increasingly disillusioned with the course the Soviet Union was taking under Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was the Premier of the Soviet Union from 6 May 1941 to 5 March 1953. He was among the Bolshevik revolutionaries who brought about the October Revolution and had held the position of first General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union's Central Committee...

: his satirical plays The Bedbug (Клоп, 1929) and The Bathhouse (Баня, 1930), which deal with the Soviet philistinism
Philistinism is a derogatory term used to a particular attitude or set of values perceived as despising or undervaluing art, beauty, spirituality, or intellectualism. A person with this attitude is referred to as a Philistine and may also be considered materialistic, favoring conventional social...

 and bureaucracy, illustrate this development.

On the evening of April 14, 1930, Mayakovsky shot himself. The unfinished poem in his suicide note read, in part:
And so they say-

"the incident dissolved"

the love boat smashed up

on the dreary routine.

I'm through with life

and [we] should absolve

from mutual hurts, afflictions and spleen.

The Soviet officials announced that Mayakovsky shot himself directly in his heart, because of his breakup with actress Veronika Polonskaya (hardly a reason for Mayakovsky to commit suicide). Ten days after Mayakovsky's death the criminal investigator of the Mayakovsky's case was also shot dead fueling arguments about Mayakovsky's death.
Mayakovsky was interred at the Moscow Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery
Novodevichy Cemetery is the most famous cemetery in Moscow, Russia. It is next to the 16th-century Novodevichy Convent, which is the city's third most popular tourist site. It should not be confused with the Novodevichy Cemetery in Saint Petersburg....



In 1930, his birthplace of Bagdadi in Georgia was renamed Mayakovsky in his honour. After his death, Mayakovsky was attacked in the Soviet press as a "formalist" and a "fellow-traveller" (попутчик) (as opposed to officially recognised "proletarian poets", such as Demyan Bedny
Demyan Bedny
Demyan Bedny, was the pen name of Soviet Russian poet, Bolshevik and satirist Yefim Alekseevich Pridvorov .-Life:Efim Pridvorov was born to a poor family in Gubovka, in what is now Kirovohrad Oblast in Ukraine. He attended the village school followed by a feldsher training college in Kiev. This...

). When, in 1935, Lilya Brik
Lilya Brik
Lilya Yuryevna Brik is known best as a muse of Vladimir Mayakovsky. She was an older sister of Elsa Triolet and wife of Osip Brik. Pablo Neruda called her "muse of Russian avant-garde"...

 wrote to Stalin to complain about the attacks, Stalin wrote a comment on Brik's letter:
"Comrade Yezhov
Nikolai Yezhov
Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov or Ezhov was a senior figure in the NKVD under Joseph Stalin during the period of the Great Purge. His reign is sometimes known as the "Yezhovshchina" , "the Yezhov era", a term that began to be used during the de-Stalinization campaign of the 1950s...

, please take charge of Brik's letter. Mayakovsky is still the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch. Indifference to his cultural heritage is a crime. Brik's complaints are, in my opinion, justified..."

These words became a cliché
A cliché or cliche is an expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. In phraseology, the term has taken on a more technical meaning,...

 and officially canonized Mayakovsky but, as Boris Pasternak
Boris Pasternak
Boris Leonidovich Pasternak was a Russian language poet, novelist, and literary translator. In his native Russia, Pasternak's anthology My Sister Life, is one of the most influential collections ever published in the Russian language...

 noted, they "dealt him the second death" in some circles.

In 1938 the Mayakovskaya Metro Station was opened to the public, demonstrating various innovations in architecture and design, among them the display of ceiling mosaics that resemble a "fish-eye
Fisheye lens
In photography, a fisheye lens is a wide-angle lens that takes in a broad, panoramic and hemispherical image. Originally developed for use in meteorology to study cloud formation and called "whole-sky lenses", fisheye lenses quickly became popular in general photography for their unique, distorted...

" view from the underground to the Moscow sky.

Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Yevgeny Yevtushenko
Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko is a Soviet and Russian poet. He is also a novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, actor, editor, and a director of several films.-Early life:...

 once said, "As a poet, I wanted to mix something from Mayakovsky and Yesenin." Mayakovsky was the most influential futurist in Lithuania and his poetry helped to form the Four Winds
Keturi vejai
Keturi vėjai was a Lithuanian literary movement and literary journal, active from 1924 to 1928.Keturi vėjai movement began with the publication of The Prophet of the Four Winds by Kazys Binkis...

movement there. He was also an influence on the writer Valentin Kataev
Valentin Kataev
Valentin Petrovich Kataev was a Russian and Soviet novelist and playwright who managed to create penetrating works discussing post-revolutionary social conditions without running afoul of the demands of official Soviet style. Kataev is credited with suggesting the idea for the Twelve Chairs to his...

. Andrey Voznesensky
Andrey Voznesensky
Andrei Andreyevich Voznesensky was a Soviet and Russian poet and writer who had been referred to by Robert Lowell as "one of the greatest living poets in any language." He was one of the "Children of the '60s," a new wave of iconic Russian intellectuals led by the Khrushchev Thaw.Voznesensky was...

 called Mayakovsky a teacher and favorite poet and dedicated a poem to him entitled Маяковский в Париже (Mayakovsky in Paris). In 1967 the Taganka Theater staged the poetical performance Послушайте!, based on Mayakovsky's works. The role of the poet was played by Vladimir Vysotsky
Vladimir Vysotsky
Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky was a Soviet singer, songwriter, poet, and actor whose career had an immense and enduring effect on Russian culture. He became widely known for his unique singing style and for his lyrics, which featured social and political commentary in often humorous street...

, who also was inspired by Mayakovsky's poetry.

In 1974 a Russian State Museum of Mayakovsky was opened in the center of Moscow in the building where Mayakovsky resided from 1919 to 1930. Vladimir Mayakovsky and his works were a major influence on the work of Italian actor, film director and screenwriter Carmelo Bene
Carmelo Bene
Carmelo Bene was an Italian actor, film director and screenwriter. He appeared in 20 films between 1967 and 2002...

, who interpreted Mayakovsky on the stages of theatres in Italy and on TV from the early 1970s until his death in 2002. Frank O'Hara
Frank O'Hara
Francis Russell "Frank" O'Hara was an American writer, poet and art critic. He was a member of the New York School of poetry.-Life:...

 wrote a poem named after him, "Mayakovsky" in which the speaker is standing in a bathtub, a probable reference to his play "The Bathhouse". O'Hara also mentions Mayakovsky in his poem "A True Account of Talking to the Sun at Fire Island," which is modeled after Mayakovsky's "An Extraordinary Adventure Which Befell Vladimir Mayakovsky in a Summer Cottage." In 1981 Brazilian singer Gal Costa
Gal Costa
Gal Costa is a Brazilian singer of popular music.-Early life:...

 recorded "O Amor" a Portuguese version of one of Mayakovsky's latter poems in her album Fantasia. In 1986 English singer and songwriter Billy Bragg
Billy Bragg
Stephen William Bragg , better known as Billy Bragg, is an English alternative rock musician and left-wing activist. His music blends elements of folk music, punk rock and protest songs, and his lyrics mostly deal with political or romantic themes...

 recorded the album Talking with the Taxman about Poetry
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry
Talking with the Taxman about Poetry is the third release by Billy Bragg, released in 1986. With production by John Porter and Kenny Jones, Talking with the Taxman about Poetry featured more musicians than Bragg's previous works, which were generally little more than Bragg himself and a guitar....

, named after a namesake Mayakovsky's poem. In 1991, City Lights
City Lights
City Lights is a 1931 American silent film and romantic comedy-drama written by, directed by, and starring Charlie Chaplin. It also has the leads Virginia Cherrill and Harry Myers. Although "talking" pictures were on the rise since 1928, City Lights was immediately popular. Today, it is thought of...

 published Listen! Early Poems, a collection translated by Maria Enzensberger. The well-known phrase "Lenin lives, lived and will live" comes from his elegy "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin".

In 2005 the north exit of the Mayakovskaya Metro Station was opened, referencing the architecture of the underground station with ample sculpturing of marble, stainless steel and another group of ceiling mosaic works, accompanied by the artist's poems. In 2009, Italian alternative rock band, Il Teatro Degli Orrori, released a song entitled "Majakowskij". The lyrics of the song are the Italian translation of his 1916 poem To His Beloved Self, the Author Dedicates these Lines (Себе любимому посвещает эти строки автор). In 2010, in collaboration with Found Reality Theatre, students at the University of Glamorgan
University of Glamorgan
The University of Glamorgan is a university based in Pontypridd, Rhondda Cynon Taf, Wales with campuses in Treforest, Glyntaff, Merthyr Tydfil, Tyn y Wern and Cardiff...

staged a physical theatre piece entitled The Mayakovsky Project in the Atrium, Cardiff. Using Mayakovsky's life as template, the performance posed the question, "Why do they kill the artists?"

In 2007 Craig Volk's stage bio-drama "Mayakovsky Takes The Stage" (based on his screenplay "At The Top Of My Voice") won the PEN-USA award for Best Stage Drama.

External links

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