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  39. Ethics



The Death of Vladimir Mayakovski

I have always been fascinated by the work of Russian/Soviet poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky. His intense, twisted metaphors jump off the page and run around inside my head. He died by suicide, bullet through the heart, when he was 37 in 1930. He was a visionary poet more than political. He really believed in the Revolution and the aspirations of the Bolsheviks and then the Soviets. He became a voice of the Revolution and the new government. But towards the end, he was beginning to see the conflict between what he believed, and the direction Stalin was taking Russia. Stalin, who always supported Mayakovsky, saw this. It was noted that Mayakovsky had never joined the Communist party. Vladimir's personal life was a bit messy. He had a long affair with Lili Brik whose husband, Osip, was Mayakovsky's best friend and mentor. They even all lived together. Vladimir drank, smoked three packs of cigarettes a day, was a hypochondriac, and a compulsive gambler. Still, he was a bigger than life figure for the Russian people (6'4", brutally handsome). His readings were packed. Stalin knew that if the poet criticized the government, people would listen. Criticism was creeping into his work. He had become disillusioned. This is why I always felt the secret police might have had a hand in his death. They didn't have to. Mayakovsky had a life-long fascination with suicide and often talked about it, even included it in some of his poems. Still, it was hard for me to imagine such a dynamic poet ending it all so abruptly. I just finished the 600-page biography of Mayakovsky by Swedish scholar, Bengt Jangfeldt, Brilliant biography and part of my bucket list to read as many biographies of poets as I can before I die.. It most likely was not suicide. It was Russian Roulette. The poet had been in a prolong bout of despair. It was clear that he was out of favor with the powers that be. Hecklers were showing up at his readings, none of the Moscow literary and political leadership showed up at this 20 year retrospective, his friends were distant, his mistress refused to leave her husband for him. Vladimir, the compulsive gambler, made the decision to die his way. He played Russian Roulette on a daily basis until he lost. But it was planned. He wrote a suicide note two days before the event where he asked his mother and sisters to forgive him. On the third day, he lost. For me, the death of this poet marks the end of the ideals of the Russian Revolution and the beginning of the nightmare of Stalin.



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