xii ‘Vladimir Mayakovsky’ and Other Poems of About This, and the seventy-eight pages of his elegy Vladimir Ilich Lenin. In general, I think that by limiting myself in the main to poems of no longer than four or five pages, I have been able to give an idea of the kind of poet Mayakovsky was, the writer as I think it is helpful to see him.
And what kind of writer is that? Going all the way back to 1826, Goethe has an interesting letter to the Grand Duke Carl August about his idea of what a useful kind of poetry might be. Talking about a young poet who has written to him for advice, Goethe says that
Until now he has remained inside the circle of modern, subjective, self-concerned and self-absorbed poetry. Insofar as he has to deal with anything concerned with inner experience, feelings, disposition and reflection, he does it all very well, and he will cope well with any theme in which these things are dealt with; however, as far as anything objective is concerned he has not yet fully developed his abilities, for he feels, like young writers of our time, a desire to flee from that reality on which everything imaginative must be built and to which every ideal must return. I set him the following task: to describe Hamburg as if he had just recently returned to it. He seized on the sentimental ideas of his mother, his friends, their love, patience and assistance. The Elbe remained some generic stream of silver, the port and the town were unimportant, he did not mention the crowds, and one might as well have been in Naumburg or Merseburg. I spoke to him openly about this and said that if he could add the panorama of a great northern merchant town to his feelings for home and family, then he might achieve something truly worthwhile. Mayakovsky’s is never a truly personal verse – as he writes in ‘I Love’, ‘I grew up speaking / to buildings’, an overly-literal view of domesticity – and Goethe’s description is a useful way of thinking about how he writes. The external elements, the houses and villages, nature and the city, are always present in what Mayakovsky produces, even when he is describing his own heartache and despair. The ‘Mayakovsky’ of Mayakovsky’s poems is not the