5 most poignant poems by Joseph Brodsky about love

The youth of Joseph Brodsky had a difficult post-war period, and the future poet had to choose between education and financial assistance to his family. Deliberately choosing the latter, he dropped out of school and got a job as an apprentice miller at the Arsenal plant. Then Brodsky lit up a dream of a medical career and managed to get a job as an assistant projector in the morgue at the regional hospital. But this work did not live up to his expectations, and Joseph Alexandrovich continued to change specialties: he worked as a fireman in a boiler room, participated in Far Eastern geological expeditions and even served as a sailor at the lighthouse. At the same time, Brodsky read philosophical and religious works, as well as poetry. He was fascinated by literature, and by the end of the 1950s he became a member of the creative associations of young poets and became acquainted with such great writers as Eugenia Rein, Bulat Okudzhava and Sergei Davlatov.


In the early 1960s, Brodsky himself began to reveal himself as a talented and remarkable poet. But after his brilliant performance at the “tournament of poets” in the Leningrad Palace of Culture named after Gorky, Joseph Alexandrovich became a target for the Leningrad KGB. According to the secret services, the work of the novice poet was too individualistic and even pessimistic, which contradicted Soviet ideology. As a result, Brodsky was expelled from Leningrad for five years with compulsory labor, but even in exile he continued to write his brilliant poems. Soon the work of Joseph Alexandrovich spread beyond the USSR and was highly praised in the West. The first collection of his works was translated into English and published in 1965, and five years later “Desert Stop” was published in New York – Brodsky’s first authorized edition.


Thus, Joseph Alexandrovich went into exile at twenty-three as a young man, and returned to the already famous poet. But now his personality, full of fame and foreign recognition, worried the KGB even more than before. In 1972, Brodsky was summoned to the Interior Ministry and urged to consider moving. Iosif Alexandrovich understood perfectly well that the Soviet authorities would never leave him alone, and on June 4 he left his homeland forever.


In the United States, Brodsky taught students at the University of Michigan as a guest writer and, of course, continued to write poetry and essays. In 1987, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and four years later he served as a consultant to the Library of Congress and launched the American Poetry and Literacy program to promote literature and distribute poetry. On the night of January 28, 1996, Brodsky’s heart stopped due to a heart attack. But the memory of this great man is still alive thanks to his rich literary heritage, which never seems to lose its relevance.


“I loved you”

Brodsky based his poem on immortal lines created by Pushkin. But reworked them in tune with his soulless era. It is a bitter mockery of how sublime and wonderful feelings have given way to selfish and carnal love.

I loved you. Love still (maybe

that just pain) drills my brains.

Everything crumbled to hell to pieces.

I tried to shoot myself, but it was difficult

with weapons. And further: whiskey:

which hit? Spoiled not chills, but

thoughtfulness. Damn! Everything is not humane!

I loved you as much, as hopelessly, as God will give you to others – but will not!

He, being capable of much, will not do – according to Parmenides – twice

this passion in the blood, a broad-boned crunch to make the fillings in the mouth melt with thirst

touch – “bust” crossed out – lips!



“Penultimate floor”

This poem was written by Brodsky on the eve of the link and is dedicated to Mariana Basmanov – the beloved poet. They were bound by a difficult relationship, which at one point grew into a love triangle and brought suffering to all its sides.

penultimate floor

feels darker than the surrounding landscape;

I’ll hug you

and wrapped herself in a cloak because in the window

rain is conscious crying

for you and for me.

It’s time for us to leave.

dissecting glass

silver thread.

forever over

our time is long gone.

Let’s change the mode.

It is destined to live on

on breget stranger.

Card by Mariana Basmanov



The protagonists of the poem enter “adult” life, but take this important step very inappropriately, guided only by selfish impulses and the desire to assert themselves. In “Debut” there is a taste of bitterness and disappointment.

Having passed all her exams, she

to herself on Saturday invited a friend, it was evening, and clog up anxiously

there was a bottle of red wine.

And Sunday started with rain,

and the guest, on tiptoe crept in between

creaking chairs, took off his clothes

with a loose nail in the wall.

She took the cup from the table

and splashed in his mouth the remnants of tea, the apartment at this hour was already asleep.

She lay in the bath feeling

The whole skin peeled off the bottom, and the void, smelling of soap, crept into it through another

a hole that introduces the world.

The door was quietly closed by a hand

was – he shuddered – soiled, hiding

her in his pocket, he heard the surrender

of wine splashed in the bowels of his jacket.

The avenue was empty. From gutters

pouring water, sweeping cigarette butts

he remembered the nail and the trickle of plaster, and for some reason suddenly out of his swollen lips

broke the word (God’s sheep

from everyone saved it),

And by the way, if there was no taxi, he would be stunned.

He undressed in his room, despite the plowing sweat

a key suitable for a multitude of doors, stunned by the first turn.




In exile, Brodsky was especially anxious for his ex-girlfriend. She betrayed him with his best friend, refused to leave the country with him. But the poet could not forget her.

I woke up twice that night

and reached for the window, and the lanterns in the window, a snippet of a phrase said in a dream, reducing to nothing, like a colon

did not bring comfort to me.

You dreamed I was pregnant, and here, I lived so many years with you in separation, I felt my guilt, and hands, feeling with joy the stomach,

in practice layered pants

and switch. And walking to the window, I knew I was leaving you alone

there, in the dark, in a dream, where patiently

you waited, and did not blame, when I returned, a break

intentional. After all, in the dark –

there lasts that which has failed in the light.

We are married there, married, we are the ones

double-backed monsters, and children

just an excuse for our poverty.

One coming night

you will come again tired, thin, and I will see a son or daughter, not yet named – then I

no turf to the switch and off

hands will not extend already, no right

leave you in that realm of shadows, dumb, before the fence of days that fall into dependence on revelation, with my unattainable in it.



“Honey, I left home late tonight…”

The poem was written by Brodsky in 1989 and is again dedicated to Mariana Basmanov. At that time, they had not seen each other for more than 15 years.

Honey, I left home late tonight

breathe in the fresh air blowing from the ocean.

The sunset was rising in the parterre with a Chinese fan, and the cloud was a pillar like the cover of a concert piano.

A quarter of a century ago you nurtured an attachment to lullabies and dates, drew ink in a notebook, sang a little, had fun with me; but then agreed with a chemical engineer

and, judging by the letters, made a horrible foolishness.

Now you are seen in churches in the province and in the metropolis

at funerals for common friends who are now whole

charade; and I am glad that there are more distances in the world

more unimaginable than between you and me.

Don’t get me wrong. With your voice, body, name

nothing is connected anymore; no one has destroyed them, but to forget one life – a person needs at least one more life. And I lived that fate.

Good luck to you: where else, except for photos, will you always be wrinkle-free, young, cheerful, mocking?

After all, time, confronted with memory, learns about their wrongdoing.

I smoke in the dark and inhale the rot of the ebb.

Photo: Getty Images


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