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Watermark: An Essay on Venice

4.11  ·  Rating details ·  2,216 ratings  ·  252 reviews
This collection of forty-eight short pieces on Venice showcase Joseph Brodsky at his very best: witty, intelligent, moving and elegant. Looking at every aspect of Venice, from its waterways, streets and architecture to its food, politics and people, Brodsky captures the magnificence and beauty of the city, and recalls his own memories of the place he called home for many w ...more
Paperback, Penguin Modern Classics, 135 pages
Published February 28th 2013 by Penguin Books Ltd (first published 1989)
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Oct 07, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Kalliope by: Geoff Wilt

He is buried there.

Joseph Brodsky is buried in the Isola di San Michele cemetery in Venice.

He is not alone. Other writers, other artists, also chose to rest there. Diaguilev, Pound, and Stravinsky among others keep him company.

Knowing this while reading his very personal ode to Venice acquires an eerie poignancy and adds a premonitory elegiac tint to his prose. I say it is highly personal because this text does not belong to any particular genre. It is a mixture between a lyrical chant, an analy
[4.5] A long time ago I was supposed to have studied Venice - or rather I did study it, with no great enthusiasm. I never understood why it was a popular topic, and went on to associate the place with chore-ish dullness, dimly aware it also had some mysterious cult following.

A couple of days ago, though, I watched repeats of a 2004 BBC documentary series, Francesco's Venice, which first time round I either deliberately ignored or never noticed. The documentary was a little jumbled in chronology
Sidharth Vardhan
Well, Venice is the city of poets just as rose is their flower and nightingale their bird. It is hardly surprising then that another writer should fell prey to her. Beautiful prose though.
May 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are plenty of guidebooks to Venice, and plenty of fictional accounts by writers who lived there and fell in love with the city. (Indeed, novels set in Venice by writers who weren't Venetian is a kind of literary sub-genre that ranges from Henry James to Ian Fleming.) It's hard to imagine a more beautiful love song to a city than Joseph Brodsky's Watermark. It won't tell you about curious sites to see, or hotels to stay in, or describe romantic gondola rides at midnight. But Brodsky, who fo ...more
Dec 15, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
As part of the Nobel Readers Project... I knew it would invariably come up that I did not really think the writer "that good." (I did not think that it would happen with the letter "B") Who am I to say Joseph Brodsky is mediocre when a panel of experts said otherwise. Should the Nobel Prize transcend taste? I am not sure the answer to that question, but here is what I think of Joseph Brodsky's work:

It is like a dull and clouded sky pierced with shafts of light: the effect can be lovely at times,
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
A love letter to a place, Venice, which the author (a Russian-American) fell in love with and went back to again and again. The reviewer Kalliope even pointed out that his remains were buried there, like those of a couple of other famous dead people (Brodsky won the Nobel in 1987, nine years before his death in 1996).

Venice is, of course, the city of canals, waterways, gondolas and water. I have read a couple of novels set there but I've never been to that place. I know water, however. During r
Mar 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
I just spent a week in winterly Venice and wanted to extend and deepen the enchantment with a good piece of writing. Brodsky’s Watermark was a felicitous choice. This layered, labyrinthine collection of vignettes deliberately recreates „the sense of damp, cold, narrow streets through which one hurries in the evening in a state of growing apprehension, turning left, turning right.” For Brodsky Venice embodies the compositional principle „that what makes a narrative good is not the story itself bu ...more
Brendan Monroe
As I mentioned in a previous review, I find it deeply rewarding to read books about and authors from a particular place when I myself am there. It just adds to that whole immersive experience, allowing me to truly be there.

Once upon a time, I believed that the best way to truly learn about a new country, a new culture, was to date a resident of it, but alas, there are too many countries and if you date enough people one will eventually catch you (I'll leave it to you to decide whether or not th
Aljona Alt
Dec 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am sharing this essay with everyone who reads because it is so delightful and the cognitive effort you make to comprehend Brodsky's metaphors is a gratifying experience. ...more
Jan 10, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5. Lots of lovely passages, some charming reflections, a little ornamental for my tastes.
Jan 01, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Just like Brodsky's water, you bob along through this one, occasionally coming across a great passage, but more often than not coughing up brine and bits of marble. He views women as pretty objects--his 'Ariadnes,' sigh-- but otherwise as nonentities. Take a passage early on in which a beautiful woman has the temerity not to be interested in him or his friends. Brodsky writes off their confusion over her lack of interest to her being from the West, where one can purchase beauty as a commodity. B ...more
Water equals time and provides beauty with its double. Part water, we serve beauty in the same fashion. By rubbing water, this city improves time's looks, beautifies the future. That's what the role of this city in the universe is.
Feb 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, essays, italy
After reading The Big Green Tent, especially the last line, I had to read something by Joseph Brodsky. When I saw he had written a couple of books of essays in addition to poetry and that one of those was about Venice, I immediately got myself a copy of Watermark. When I was last in Venice about 5 years ago, I was introduced to the book Venice Is a Fish: A Sensual Guide and told to just explore and not worry about where you are -- just get lost and don't worry about it. My husband and I took tha ...more
Aug 10, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nobel
A strange little book; prose pieces about wintering in Venice; The winter light, the fog, a tour of a Palazzo, a few famous ex-pats (or their widow), the streets, the water, the art and some intellectual references to the myths and other literature about Venice,- oh and the winter light.
The whole thing feels like a bit of random scribbled impressions. (I'm assuming the Nobel Prize was for earlier work).
Kris McCracken
Jan 06, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
An extended love letter to Venice more than anything else, I'll be honest and admit that this one failed to 'grab me'. Pretentious in tone, I must be one of those readers that 'don't get it'. ...more
Mike Sumner
Oct 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Joseph Brodsky was born in 1940 in Leningrad and began writing poetry when he was eighteen. He lived in exile for a while, had brief stays in Vienna and London and then went to live in the United States. In 1987 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, the youngest person ever to receive the honour at the time. He died in January 1996, the great post-war poet of memory and exilic learning with a marvellous skill for extended metaphors and a real visual power.

Watermark: An Essay on Venice i
Dec 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Joseph Brodsky, the Russian emigre poet, spent seventeen of his winter breaks from teaching in the US in Venice. He writes beautifully and poetically about the city that he loves and its relationship to the water the surrounds it and runs through it. If you have been to Venice, this is a wonderful book to read since it captures the light and fog and water and reflections of the city.
Stephen Killick
Brodsky won the Nobel prize for literature, but then again so did Bob Dylan. I have not read any of Brodsky's poetry but I have read a great many books on Venice and this, despite being recommended by people who know a deal on the subject of the city, is like threading your way through a wildly complex labyrinth of the author's literary creation.

Some of it is simply difficult to follow, more of it comes across as self indulgent clap trap. I was thankful that at least the essay is short and I wa
Katya de Becerra
Even though not my favorite of Brodsky's essays, it is nonetheless brilliant.

Written in the poet's signature flowing-yet-edgy style, this piece contains many mind-blowing turns of phrase which need to be read and re-read multiple times, aloud and slowly, in order to savour the melody and the quiet despair with which Brodsky effortlessly imbued all of his writing:

Local fog in Venice has a name: nebbia. It obliterates all reflections ... and everything that has a shape: buildings, people, colo
May 28, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Keeley by: Charles Dotto
This is an interesting and evocative meditation on Venice. I'm torn between three and four stars; I think if I had read it fifteen or twenty years ago, for instance on my first trip to Venice in the chill end of October in Italy's coldest autumn in fifty years, I would have given it four or five. It's certainly better than a lot of other things written about Venice (ahem, Ackroyd), but the intricate tapestry of cultural allusions sometimes comes across more as obfuscatory name-dropping than erud ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Brodsky makes love to Venice on paper. This was fabulous, breathtaking, enchanting. Though found in the poetry section, and rightly so, this is neither poetry nor prose poetry. It is written in small, maybe two page chapters. Brodsky, returning to Venice many winters of his life, writes of his time there and of the impact that Venice made on him and others. He examines these and from them extracts beautiful, haunting truths about life and existence. As Thoreau did with Walden pond, Brodsky does ...more
Feb 17, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: italy
Mid-course Brodsky changes from travel sketches to more focused description and philosophical meditation. Some gems: "Perhaps art is simply an organism's reaction against its retentive limitations," and "A metaphor—or, to put it more broadly, language itself—is by and large open-ended, it craves continuum: an afterlife, if you will." But, most memorably, there's this description of winter light:
It carries no warmth or energy... Its particles' only ambition is to reach an object and make it, big
Aug 23, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you didn't already want to go to Venice, this will make you feel you have to travel there before you die and before it's completely underwater. The only thing I think that could be better than reading this there is reading it on the beach, which I did, and which only reinforced his ideas and imagery. There's water, and God, and musing, and clear-as-a-drop moments in time in this book, a paean to a place that in many spots reads like prose poetry, made me chuckle, made me sad, and gave me a LO ...more
A true feast of images and thought. It reads like Kapuściński of aesthetics. I don't say that often but this book I must and will read again - there's not a word amiss, every paragraph brings a little discovery of perception. Exceptional masterpiece and an ode to Venice in prose that is not entirely prose. Oh divine book! ...more
Apr 01, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Laurie by: NG Traveler
Some really lovely passages here, but most of the references went way over my head.
Liz Fenwick
I loved travelling through the city in the words and insights of a poet.....will reread and travel in a way through another's eyes which opens my own experiences of the city...and of any city that is not my own but I wish to hold on to it ...more
May 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
"what i like about cities is that everything is king size, the beauty and the ugliness." ...more
Mark Peacock
Mar 24, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is an essay by a poet, so you need to accept that you're going to have to go deep into metaphors upon allegories upon obscure references upon extended metaphors. Rather than trying to trace them and figure then all out, it's better to just surf them especially because, for Brodsky, it's all about water. ...more
Jeff Kraft
Oct 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The quintessence of Venice, quivering in all its damp, fragile glory. So many beautiful turns of phrase here that you have to put the book down and just think about them. It’s so brief, yet you want it to go on and on.
D Schmudde
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was ok
I enjoy essays on cities. I picked this up while visiting Venice as a nice way to remember my experience.

Brodsky is romantic. He is preoccupied by visual beauty. The author sees water as reflecting beauty while embodying the essence of time. Venice is the perfect muse. Time is accused of stealing beauty from each and every one of us. But Venice seems to exist outside of time. The city has only become more precious and beautiful.

In the end, I don't resonate with Brodsky's life philosophy. I have
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Goodreads Librari...: ISBN issue (Watermark by J. Brodsky) 4 25 Oct 08, 2019 01:05PM  

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Joseph Brodsky (Russian: Иосиф Бродский] was a Russian-American poet and essayist. Born in Leningrad in 1940, Brodsky ran afoul of Soviet authorities and was expelled from the Soviet Union in 1972, settling in America with the help of W. H. Auden and other supporters. He taught thereafter at several universities, including Yale, Columbia, and Mount Holyoke. Brodsky was awarded the 1987 Nobel Prize ...more

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