Osip Mandelshtam

The Morning of Acmeism

View Of Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour, Moscow, Mikhail Markianovich Germachev (Russian, 1868-1930)

‘View Of Cathedral Of Christ The Saviour, Moscow’
Mikhail Markianovich Germachev (Russian, 1868-1930)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2022 All Rights Reserved

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Given the emotional intensity associated with works of art, it is desirable for discussions of art to be distinguished by the greatest restraint. For the vast majority, a work of art is indeed attractive because the artist’s world-view illuminates it. At the same time, the artist’s style is merely a tool, a means to an end, like the hammer in the hands of a workman, while the only real object in sight is the work itself.

The artist’s proudest aim is to exist. He desires no other paradise than ‘being’, and when others speak of ‘reality’ he only smiles, wryly, knowing the infinitely more convincing reality of art. The mathematician carrying out a complex mathematical operation fills us with a degree of awe. But all too often we lose sight of the fact that the poet raises that complexity to the tenth power, and that a work humble in appearance often deceives us as to the enormously condensed reality that it possesses.

The reality of poetry is the word ‘in itself’. In expounding my thought as accurately as possible, but not necessarily in poetic form, I speak essentially in signs not words.  For example, the deaf, the mute, can understand one another perfectly, while railway signals perform their complex functions without resorting to the aid of words. Thus, if meaning is its true content, everything else regarding the word is merely a mechanical appendage that only hinders the rapid transmission of thought. The word ‘in itself’ was engendered slowly. Gradually, one by one, all the elements of the word have been subsumed under the concept of ‘form’, while the conscious meaning alone, the Logos, continues to be arbitrarily, and erroneously, considered ‘content’. The Logos only loses by being granted this unnecessary honour. The Logos requires to be considered in the same way as other elements of the word. The Futurists thoughtlessly ignored this, and in essence repeated the gross mistakes of their predecessors.

For the Acmeists, the Logos, the conscious meaning of the word is as beautiful a ‘form’ as its music is for the Symbolists.

If, among the Futurists, the word ‘in itself’ is still crawling on all fours, with the advent of Acmeism it assumes, for the first time, a more dignified and vertical position, and enters the Stone Age of its existence.


The blade of Acmeism is neither a dagger, nor the sting of decadence. Acmeism is for those who, possessed by the constructive spirit, do not renounce their heaviness, in a cowardly manner, but accept it joyfully in order to awaken and employ the architecturally dormant forces within it. The architect says ‘I build, therefore I am right’. The consciousness of being right is most dear to us in poetry. While contemptuously dismissing the Futurists’ game of spillikins, they for whom there is no greater pleasure than to hook a difficult word with a knitting needle, we introduce the Gothic into the relationship between words, just as Bach approved it in music.

Who but a madman agrees to build if he fails to believe in the reality of the material whose resistance he must overcome? A cobblestone in the hands of an architect turns to substance, and he for whom the sound of a chisel breaking stone is not a metaphysical proof, was not born to build. Solovyov experienced a unique prophetic terror before grey Finnish boulders. The mute eloquence of a granite block stirred him, as if under an evil spell. But Tyutchev’s stone that ‘had rolled from the mountain, to lie in the valley, broken away of itself, or consciously thrown from the hand’; there is the word. Matter’s voice, in that unexpected fall, is like the sound of articulate speech. Its challenge can only be answered by architecture. The Acmeist reverently lifts Tyutchev’s mysterious stone, and plants it at the base of his building. The stone yearned, as it were, for a different existence. It discovered the potentially dynamic ability hidden within it – as if it asked to be part of the cross-vaulting, so as to participate in that joyful interaction with its own kind.


The Symbolists were not good stay-at-homes. They loved to travel, and felt ill and uncomfortable in the cage of the organism, and equally in that world-cage Kant built with the help of his ‘Categories’. In order to build successfully, the first requirement is genuine piety towards three-dimensional space – to see it not as a burden or an accident, but as a God-given palace. Indeed, what should one of say of the ungrateful guest who lives at the owner’s expense, enjoys his hospitality, and yet despises him in his heart, and only thinks of how to outwit him? To build is only possible in the name of ‘the three dimensions’ since they are the pre-condition for any architecture. That’s why an architect has to be a stay-at-home, and why the Symbolists were poor architects. To build means to struggle with emptiness, to hypnotise space.


The uniqueness of a person, that which makes them an individual, is, by us, implied and included in the far more significant concept of the organism. We Acmeists share a love for the body and its organisation with the brilliantly physiological Middle Ages. In its pursuit of sophistication, the Nineteenth Century lost the secret of true complexity. That which, in the Thirteenth Century, seemed a natural development of their concept of the organism, the Gothic cathedral, is now regarded as aesthetically monstrous: Notre Dame is a celebration of physiology, in its Dionysian revelry. We no longer wish to entertain ourselves by wandering among its ‘forest of symbols’ because we possess a denser, virgin forest – spiritual physiology, the infinite complexity of our own dark organism.

The Middle Ages, defining the specific gravity of a person in its own way, felt them, and gave them recognition amongst others, regardless of their rank. The title of master was applied willingly and without hesitation, while the humblest craftsman, the lowest clerk, possessed the secret of solid importance, pious dignity, so characteristic of that era. Yes; Europe has passed through a labyrinthine, finely-latticed culture, where abstract being, an unadorned personal existence, was valued as a feat. Hence the aristocratic intimacy, binding the people together, so alien in spirit to the ‘equality and fraternity’ of the Great Revolution. There is neither equality nor rivalry, only a complicity of beings in a conspiracy against emptiness and non-existence.

Love the existence of a thing, more than the thing itself, and your own being more than your own self; that is Acmeism’s highest commandment.


X=X, what a beautiful theme for poetry. Symbolism, languishing, failed to discover the law of identity that Acmeism takes for its slogan, offering it in place of Symbolism’s dubious ‘a realibus ad realiora’ (Ivanov’s ‘from reality to a greater reality’). The ability to be surprised is the main virtue of a poet. How then can one not be surprised by that most fruitful of laws, the law of identity? Whoever is imbued with an astonished reverence before this law, is undoubtedly a poet.  In recognising the sovereignty of the law of identity, poetry receives a lifelong entitlement to all that exists without condition or restriction. Logic is a realm of surprises. To think logically is to be endlessly surprised. We love the logical proofs of music. For us, logical connection is not a song in the street, but a symphony with choir and organ, so inspired and so challenging that the conductor has to exert all his skill to keep the performers in hand.  

How persuasive Bach’s music is! What powers of proof! Proof after proof to the end: to take anything on trust is unworthy of an artist; facile and boring…

We cannot fly, we can only climb the towers we build for ourselves.


The artists of the Middle Ages are dear to us, because they possessed, to a high degree, the sense of boundary and separation. They never confused different planes, and so treated the otherworld with great restraint. Their noble mixture of rationality and mysticism, and their sense of the world as a living equilibrium allows us to relate to their era, and draw strengths from the Romanesque that arose on their soil, around the year 1200.

Let us prove our case in such a way that the whole chain of cause and effect from alpha to omega shudders in response to us.

Written 1912 or 1913, First published 1919