This comes from my first substantial knowledge of Guy Davenport’s writing, I think. Perhaps I had encountered him earlier, but he published “The Man without Contemporaries” in the Summer 1974 issue of The Hudson Review, and I know I read it then. In the previous year or so I had read the books he considers -- Hope Abandoned by Nadezhda Mandelstam, Mandelstam by Clarence Brown, and Mandelstam’s Selected Poems translated by Brown and W. S. Merwin. This convergence – Mandelstams/Brown/Davenport – amounted to an ongoing literary revelation. Davenport became a brand name for literary excellence. I kept an eye out for him and for Brown, born in Anderson, S.C., like his childhood friend, Davenport.
I was discovering the Mandelstams with the rest of the English-speaking and much of the Russian-speaking world. All of this came back to me when I remembered that Mandelstam was arrested for the second and final time, for “counter-revolutionary activities,” on this date, May 3, in 1938. He died in a Siberian transit camp almost eight months later, on Dec. 27. In his essay, collected in The Geography of the Imagination (North Point Press, 1981), Davenport writes:
“The remainder of the twentieth century (most miserable of ages since the Barbarians poured into Rome) might profitably be spent putting together the human achievements which tyranny has kept behind walls.”