In Osip Mandelstam’s poem numbered “300”, and in Marina Tsvetaeva’s poem “you loved me” both speakers are struggling with a loss of love. For Tsvetaeva’s speaker, the loss stems directly from a love built in a relationship and partner and the sudden feeling of betrayal and loss. For Mandelstam’s speaker however, the loss of love is in that of his friends and family, and not in that of an intimate relationship. They have betrayed his trust, and left him in a life of solitude and loneliness.
Both speakers are encountering a powerful loss of something they care about and in their poems they are showing their resiliency and rebuttal towards that loss. This rebuttal comes from a place of isolation and understanding. It is only through recognition of what has happened that the speakers are able to push past the loss and move forward. It is this theme of recognition and resilience that is found most commonly between both poems. To begin this comparison an explication of both Tsvetaeva and Mandelstam’s poems must occur.
In Mandelstam’s poem numbered “300”, the speaker is speaking offhandedly towards subjects he once had a relationship with. Whether friend or family, it is unclear. What is clear, however, is the speaker’s complete dissociation, and complete need of distance, from the subjects. This is seen in the last stanza of the poem with the lines, “How’s the subway these days? Don’t tell. Anything / Don’t ask how the buds are swelling. / You strokes of the Kremlin clock,” (76). In these lines the speaker is directly addressing his past comrades.
They have failed him and have turned him in for writing, or speaking, disapprovingly of the Soviet Government. After his recognition of what has happened, the speaker has moved to completely eliminate these people from his life. This is seen in the speaker’s efforts to directly control any, and all, information that the subjects might gain about himself. The speaker then goes on to insult the subjects and call them “strokes of the Kremlin clock,” (76). This line is interesting due to the connotations and images associated with time. Most primarily is the idea that they are only but a small part of the soviet machine.
A primarily non-important part, they aren’t even responsible for the turning of the clock hands, but rather, they are a product of the motion of the clock. This motion is important because it insinuates that the moment of their “stroke” is momentary and fleeting. They are no more important as the simple motion of the clock hand, a moment in time that lasts but an instant. This emotional response towards loss of relationship is found also with Tsvetaeva’s poem. In Tsvetaeva’s poem, “you loved me”, the speaker is seen to have just endured a sudden break up.
The suddenness of the breakup seen in the second stanza is juxtaposed nicely with past tense images of their love affair. This is seen primarily in the last two lines of the first stanza with, “Your love went far beyond any possible / boundary as no one else’s could. ” (53). In this line the speaker is acknowledging that something substantial has been lost. Their relationship was considered to be something extraordinary, something unachievable by anyone else ever again. It is at this point that some light should be shed on Tsvetaeva’s structural choices.
In the quoted line above, the large pause in the last line is noticeable, jarring, and forces the reader to visibly, and literally pause. Because of this pause Tsvetaeva is pushing meaning onto the reader through something other than her words, something otherwise unachievable. By implementing this pause, Tsvetaeva is separating the meat of the line, “as no one else’s could. ” (53) from the rest of the stanza. It stands alone as a statement, a lament at what they once had. This break gives a great glimpse into the mind frame of the speaker.
The speaker has not succumb to the pain of the situation, but rather has moved past it, and is look back onto it from a place of understanding and growth. This use of white space on the part of Tsvetaeva is doing more for the poem than words could ever possibly could. However, these structural stylings are not found within Mandelstam’s poem numbered “300”. Staying on the more traditional route, Mandelstam is utilizing, just as Tsvetaeva, a short, two stanzas with four lines, structure. His structural choices, or lack thereof, are still working to drive the theme of his poem.
By maintaining a rigid, traditional, structure, the poems tone shifts to that of a militaristic attitude. It comes from a place of full disapproval and disappointment. It is rigid, straightforward, and blunt, in an effort to continually push meaning. By maintaining the simple structure, Mandelstam is showing a resiliency and complete lack of compassion towards the subjects of the poem. They are not even worth the effort of stylization, but rather, only deserve the bare minimum. Inside these slight similarities, these poems are also incredibly different.
This comes from a difference in tone. In Tsvetaeva’s poem, for example, the tone of the speaker is that of reminiscent growth. This differs greatly from the tone of the speaker in Mandelstam’s poem. The speaker of “300” is fueled by his betrayal and has an air of near unstoppable rage. He shows no remorse in his actions, but instead a level of joy in the revelation of truth of the relationship. This revelation is not seen with “you loved me”. Instead, Tsvetaeva’s speaker brings a tone of reminiscent growth, as well as an air of distain for the past life.
While as the above quoted passage about their love says, “as no one else’s could. ” (53) the idea that the speaker is wanting to return to that moment is hinted at. However, this is not true. Due to the use of past tense, this moment can be interpreted as reminiscence. Coupled with the implications of the title, “you loved me”, the speaker is showing a level of disconnect with the past. While the relationship did in fact exist, it has instead changed from the most important part of the speaker’s life, to a simple memory and accusation of past character.
Each of these poems are grappling with the idea of loss and isolation. The isolation, rather than being crippling, is instead uplifting and motivating. It allow the speaker’s a chance to grow from their loss, and in that growth, fight back and resist the perpetrated wrongs. By recognizing what has happened to them, and the relationships they have lost, the speakers are growing and shifting from a place of victimhood, to that of power. By comparing both poems to each other through an examination of structure, tone, and imagery, a greater understanding of each poem’s speaker, and ultimately each poet, is found.