Bruce's Reviews > The Bedbug and Selected Poetry

The Bedbug and Selected Poetry by Vladimir Mayakovsky
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Apr 14, 09

Read in April, 2009

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a Russian poet and dramatist who had a powerful influence on the writers of his day. He initially supported the aims and programs of Bolshevism – in addition to writing serious poetry he created many propaganda posters – and traveled widely outside Russia, but he gradually became disillusioned with the nature and direction of the Soviet Union under Stalin, writing satirical drama that was quickly suppressed. He died playing Russian roulette.

Mayakovsky’s poetry can be vigorous, rough, and powerful: “Your thought,/ musing on a sodden brain/ like a bloated lackey on a greasy couch,/ I’ll taunt with a bloody morsel of heart;/ and satiate my insolent, caustic contempt.” He can also be exquisitely sensitive and introspective, as in his last poem, “Past One O’Clock”:

“Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
to balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.”

In “The Bedbug,” a delightfully satirical and amusing play, Mayakovsky uses the figure of Prisypkin, a former Party member in about 1920, to contrast those dedicated to the purity of the Revolution with those intent on working for their own material and social advantage. At the end of the first half of the play, a fire consumes the place and personages present for Prisypkin’s wedding. In the second half, fifty years later, Prisypkin is discovered frozen in a block of ice in the basement of the burned-out building and is resuscitated, along with a bedbug crawling out of his collar; mutual misunderstandings between Prisypkin and “modern” Soviet citizens inevitably ensue, and Prisypkin and the bedbug are left living in a cage in the zoo. For us today, the play provides prescient insights into the nature and course of Russian history over the course of the 20th century, even as it sheds light on the intellectual ferment and variety of Russia in the late 1920’s.

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