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  18. The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky

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The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky

The Death of Vladimir Mayakovsky

The Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky was bigger than life. Literally. Well over six feet and brutally handsome, he was a hunk by any standard. One of his mistresses said she hated walking down the street with him because people always stared at him. 150,000 Moscovites showed up as his funeral in 1930. Third largest state funeral in Soviet times. Only Lenin and Stalin had more. Russians love their poets. What else do you do on those long winter nights except sip vodka and read each other poetry. He took his own life over a failing romance so goes the official story. The conspiracy theory is the Soviet Secret Police had him murdered and made it look like a suicide. His American born daughter said there is no way Vladimir took his own life over a woman.

Born in 1893 to a forester who had been a Cossack who was descended from nobility, Mayakovsky’s father died when he was 13 leaving the family without support. His mother took the son and two daughters and moved to Moscow. Young Vladimir fell in with the nascent Bolshevik party, spent two years in prison for smuggling political prisoners out of prison. It was reading poetry in solitary confinement that Mayakovsky realized is love for literature and he was more about art then politics. Released, he enrolled in Art School and started hanging out with the Bohemian Futurists. His voice was big, radical, and rejected tradition. His Bohemian scripts payed to full houses who sometimes cheered and sometimes threw eggs.

Then 1917: The Revolution: The Bolsheviks come to power…..

Most of the Futurists instinctively knew the Bolsheviks had it in them to be worse than the Czars. But some, including Mayakovsky saw them as the best hope for the Russian peasants and workers. Many writers, poets and artists went into exile in Paris where they struggled and starved. Mayakovsky wrote poems and created posters in support of Lenin and the Soviets. He became a spokesman for communism but his ideas on freedom and liberty were at odds with the direction Stalin would take the Revolution. He never joined the Communist Party…a fact not missed by the Secret Police. Many of his friends noted that he had satirically (in his plays) criticized the emerging Soviet State; particularly on censorship and bureaucracy. He was being watched.

On April 14, 1930 Vladimir and his married mistress who refused to divorce her husband to marry the poet had had words. Veronika Polonskaya stormed out of the apartment. Once outside, she heard a shot. She returned and found Mayakovsky with a bullet through his heart. He died in her arms.

We will never know for sure what happened. Veronika heard one shot. The neighbors heard two. The bullet removed from the body didn’t match the caliber of the gun found by the body. There was a note in the poet’s handwriting but it was dated two days before the event. The police officer who investigated the death was found shot to death ten days later. Veronika confirmed that Vladimir had talked of suicide but she thought he was joking. The secret police would have known that Mayakovsky had talked of suicide, even mentioned it in a poem. The poet was troubled and probably disillusioned, the mistress was in an awkward relationship, the Soviets wanted him quiet. It didn’t take much.

Here’s a few words from Vladimir…

“Behold what quiet settles on the world
Night wraps the sky with a tribute from the stars
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation”

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