Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky

Владимир Владимирович Маяковский

1894- 1930


«I shake the world with the might of my voice, and walk- handsome, twentytwoyearold.»
Cloud in Trousers

Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky was born in Bagdadi, Georgia, on July 7th, 1894, at a time when revolution was beginning to spread in Eastern Europe. Though he was just 11 at this time, the events of the 1905 revolution had already begun to shape his life. Spurred by their sister Lyudmila, who brought home propaganda posters and revolutionary slogans from the young revolutionary movement in Russia, he and his sister Olya became interested in the Socialist Democratic Party.

By 1908 the family moved to Moscow, hoping to find better work upon the father's death in 1907 from an infected wound. It was then that Mayakovsky officially joined the Social Democrats, being elected to the Moscow Committee at 14 years old. In the following year he would be arrested three times in suspicion of revolutionary activity, being let go for the first two offenses. The third time, however, landed him in solitary confinement for 6 months, as he was thought to have been connected with a plot to break female political prisoners out of jail. This period seemed to be a turning point for Mayakovsky: at 15 years old, he was already viewed as a leader by his fellow prisoners, and was the one who fought with the guards for their needs, causing disturbances as to not show complacency, and it was here where he made his first attempts at poetry.


Upon his release, Mayakovsky decided that he needed to take time and study. He had never had a proper education, and much of what he had learned came from other people, and not from his own understanding. Understanding the problem of his youth, he said «Shake me out of everything I've read, and what's let? The Marxist method. But hadn't that fallen into childish hands? It's easy to use as long as you only deal with he ideas of your own side. But what happens when you meet the enemy?» Thus, in 1911 he joined the Moscow Art School, studying painting and drawing. It is here that he met David Burliuk, and avant-garde artist who would become a defining influence in his life, someone who Mayakovsky called his «real teacher.» Burliuk introduced him to the futurist movement, and together the two formed the group «Gileya» (Гилея), with Velimir Khlebnikov and Aleksey Kruchenykh. In 1912 they published their Futurist «manifesto», A Slap In the Face of Public Taste (Пощечна общественному вкусу), which was their call to throw out all past literary traditions, Puskin, Dostoevsky, and the like, and instead find new forms of expression and language to go along with the new and dramatically changing times.


It was also in this period, 1915, when Mayakovsky met Lilya and Osip Brik. Although they had known of each other earlier, it was only at this time, when Mayakovsky came and read his first long poem, A Cloud in Trousers (Облакo в штanax) in their home, that the Briks became enamored with him. Lili became Mayakovsky's longtime muse and love- an arrangement her husband, Osip, welcomed and accepted. He himself was enamored with Mayakovsky's writing, publishing Cloud at his own expense. This triangle would be an important fixture throughout Mayakovsky's life, a «family» situation that they always tried to hold together, even at the expense of other lovers.

However, by 1917 Russia began to descend into civil war as the Bolsheviks began to struggle for power against the Provisional Government that was put into place after the abdication of the tsar. Mayakovsky's poetry at this point began to switch from futurism to works inspired by soldiers, revolutionaries, and the October Revolution. He also began working for ROSTA, the Russian State Telegraph Agency, creating posters and jingles. Apparently present in Petersburg on the day the Bolsheviks seized power, he recalls hearing one such ROSTA jingle, «Bolt your pineapple, stuff your face with quail/ Your last day, bourgeois, has come without fail!» being recited by Bolsheviks as they marched on the Winter Palace. His poetry from here continued to express his political ideas, especially his criticism of the bourgeoisie. His second play, «Mystery Bouffe», is one such example: a sort of utopia work, where the «clean» bourgeoisie get overthrown by the «unclean» workers of the revolution.


In 1922, Mayakovsky traveled abroad for the first time, going to Riga, then Berlin, and then to Paris. There, the idea of the «revolution abroad» seemed to be confirmed, as there were strong Communist parties and leftist movements in both Germany and France, and he largely spent his time visiting writers and literary circles. Upon returning home, he began lecturing about his time abroad, talking primarily about European art movements. This time would also be important for Mayakovsky because in 1923, he became editor of the journal Lef (ЛЕФ), or «Left Front of the Arts.» The journal served the purpose of uniting the many avant-garde and leftist artists in Russia and discussing how their works could further the socialist message. This period also saw many of his most important verses: «About That», another verse which deals with his feelings for Lilya Brik, and «Vladimir Ilich Lenin», a tribute to the socialist leader after his death in 1924. 1924 also saw Mayakovsky make another trip abroad, this time succeeding in getting to Mexico and New York, chronicling his thoughts in his prove travel narrative, «My Discovery of America.»

Although throughout his career Mayakovsky continuously restated his commitment to communism, his works played host to many contradicting insecurities. He spoke of the greatness of the new Soviet system in his 1927 work Homewards! (Домой!). He desired the politburo to give him literary assignments, and how he wished Stalin would proclaim in a Party Congress meeting that «The understanding of verse/ now tops/ the prewar norm…» At this time, Stalin had introduced his first Five Year Plan, enrolling for the first time the use of writers to create posters and other propaganda displaying proper and improper ways to go about industrialization, much like the work Mayakovsky had done in ROSTA. This would seem to be everything Mayakovsky had asked for, but yet his poetry time after time still speaks of how there is no place in the world for him, and, like in Conversations with a Tax Collector About Poetry, he continuously tries to reassure himself, as well as others, that the poet is as useful to society as anyone else.


The final three years of Mayakovsky's life proved to be a spectacular descent into isolation. In 1928 in Paris, he fell madly in love with a young émigré, Tatiana Alekseeva Yakovleva. This is perhaps the only love in his life comparable to that of Lili Brik, and Mayakovsky's correspondences with her prove that Tatiana seemed to be a replacement for Lili. Tatiana refused to go back to Russia with him, and instead he planned on marrying her in Paris. However, for reasons still debated, he never made it to Paris, and within two months Tatiana had married someone else. This was a devastating blow to Mayakovsky, though shortly thereafter he began another intense love affair with Veronkia Polonskaya, whom he would mention in his suicide note as being a member of his family, along with Lili Brik. She too, however, like the women before her, could not put up with Mayakovsky's demand for constant love, and especially refused to give up her career as an actress just to become his wife.

These final years also saw his increasing alienation in the literary world. In 1928, Mayakovsky broke with Lef, believing its members to be too concerned with formula and theory in poetry. He soon thereafter started Ref (Реф, Revolutionary Front of Art) with Osip Brik, but this, too, proved to be too small of a platform for him, as he desired higher prominence and connections. Hex joined the Federation of Soviet Writers in 1929, which effectively alienating himself from those who supported him from the beginning of his career by joining the mainstream writing establishment. He also joined RAPP (Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) in 1929, where he was not warmly welcomed, as the organization felt he needed to be «re-educated» in the party line. His final play, «The Bathouse,» was also poorly received.

Faced with failed love affairs and almost complete isolation in the literary world, in the note he left behind, Mayakovksy said that there was, indeed, «no other way out» for him. In his office on Lyubyansky Street, on April 13, 1930, Mayakovsky shot himself through the heart. Due to the alienation he had amassed leading up to his death, he was not immediately mourned to any great affect. However, by 1935, perhaps at the encouragement of the Briks, Stalin made the announcement that «Mayakovsky was and remains the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch,» likening ignorance to Mayakovsky a crime.

After Stain's announcement, Mayakovsky was made into a hero of the revolution, a «true patriot,» and his works were continuously forced upon the population. Stations, machinery, parks, and public works soon bore the name «Mayakovsky.» The writer Boris Pasternak famously said that he was «introduced by force, like potatoes under Catherine the Great. This was his second death: he had no hand in this.» In this, it seems his legacy following his death has the same tragic qualities of his life: Mayakovsky, oppressive and larger than life, yet in little control of his own self and destiny.

To all of you:
Don't balme anyone for my death, and please don't gossip about it. The deceased hated gossip.
Mama, sisters, comrades, forgive me. This not a good method (I don't recommend it to others), but for me there's no other way out.

Lili, love me.
Comrade Government, my family consists of Lili Brik, Mama, my sisters, and Veronika Vitoldovna Polonskaya.
If you can provide a decent life for them, thank you.
The verses I have begun to give to the Briks. They'll figure them out.
As they say, «The incident is closed.»

Love boat
washed on convention.
I don't owe life a thing
and there's no point
In conting over
Mutual hurts,
and slights.
Best of luck to all of you!
Vladimir Mayakovsky
Comrades of the Proletarian Literary Organization, don't think me a coward.
Really, it couldn't be helped.
Tell Yermilov it's too bad he removed the slogan; we should have fought it out.
In the desk drawer I have 2,000 rubles. Use them to pay my taxes. The rest can be gotten from the State Publishing House.

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