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This is 1985 Alla Pugacheva’s performance of Osip Mandelstam’s poem Leningrad. Background music was written by Alla Pugacheva. When Alla Pugacheva read a poem, she felt that it would make a good song. Actually, witnesses had described that Mandelstam did not just recite but sang his poems.

This poem, though titled Leningrad, appeals to “Petersburg”. It speaks to the history of the name changes it has gone through in the 20th century-from St. Petersburg, to Petrograd in 1914, to Leningrad in 1924 and back to St. Petersburg in 1991. This poem was written in 1930, when Mandelstam returned from Armenia to the city where he had grown up and attended the prestigious Tenishev School and the university when it was still called Saint Petersburg. The nostalgia in this poem is inspired by longing to return to the place that still holds imagery of Saint Petersburg. The poet “only rarely” had a room of his own in which to work and write–that he usually composed his poems in his mind “while walking the streets and wrote or dictated them only at the end of the poetic process.” Perhaps the scents and colors of the city remind him of passed times, when it still bore the name Petersburg, his friends had not been arrested yet, and he was not tormented by emotionally violent atmosphere. Given the time and place in which it was written, constant intimate confession of expecting the worst became repeated in his late poetry.

Mandelstam was appreciated and read by contemporaries, but after his death in 1938 he was totally forbidden and remained essentially inaccessible to most readers in Russia.

Ленинград
Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез,
До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез.

Ты вернулся сюда, так глотай же скорей
Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей,

Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек,
Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.

Петербург! я еще не хочу умирать:
У тебя телефонов моих номера.

Петербург! У меня еще есть адреса,
По которым найду мертвецов голоса.

Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок
Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок,

И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих,
Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.

Декабрь 1930

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