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Stalin's Poetry (wikipedia.org)
50 points by imwm on Sept 29, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 47 comments

Mayakovski wrote in a 1927 piece [1] "he'll plow the fields, then write a poem". I wonder now if this was about Stalin?

I also wonder about odd habits of other great men (great as in "highly influential"). Is a man with great inspirations but without quirky habits unrelated to their field doomed to mediocracy?

[1] https://info.wikireading.ru/228439

Could just as well be a vision for the "new man/woman" of socialism, which "he'll plow the fields, then write a poem" (e.g. not just be a mere worker cog, but a worker + creative intellectual, a whole personality).

Reminds me of a 1960s movie (can’t remember the title) where Peter Sellers plays an enthusiastic British communist who envisions what life must be like in the Soviet Union: “In the day, working the corn fields. In the evening, ballet!”

It’s a fun idea but no, it’s not about Stalin - Mayakovsky refers to various Bolshevik leaders explicitly and often by name. It’s Mayakovsky, not Mandelstam.

Oh, and if you look in the right library, you may be able to find a copy of Mussolini's novel The Cardinal's Mistress. I have not myself ever seen a copy, but heard of it in a review.

It's funny that Marx is remembered as the author of one, maybe two books, yet he wrote thousands of chapters, unpublished manuscripts, poetry, journalism for European and American papers, polemics etc. - and some of that is still in the process of being translated into English. Some of his most important work wasn't translated from German until the 1970s.

My thought when I was reading one of these in class (in China) was that Cao Cao's poetry seemed quite a bit better. It was quite a dissonance. Mao's poetry seemed (even to the fairly uneducated me) less artistic than those by Li Bai or Guo Moruo, but they were reasonably well-crafted. The classical form did not help either. It was as if seeing Roosevelt writing poetry in the style of Ovid.

"Though the Tortoise Lives Long

Though the tortoise blessed with magic powers lives long, Its days have their allotted span;

Though winged serpents ride high on the mist, They turn to dust and ashes at the last;

An old war-horse may be stabled, Yet still it longs to gallop a thousand li;

And a noble-hearted man though advanced in years Never abandons his proud aspirations.

Man's span of life, whether long or short, Depends not on Heaven alone;

One who eats well and keeps cheerful Can live to a great old age.

And so, with joy in my heart, I hum this song."

I know nothing of Chinese literature, but my impression from those who do was that Mao wasn't much of a poet.

Hitler a painter and Stalin a poet. What can I say?

Lenin has also written an awesome poem about a meat pie gone missing in the darkness of the night.

Have you got a link to that, or a quote? I’ve had a search but can’t find anything.

Here it is:


Во тьме ночной

Пропал пирог мясной.

Пропал бесследно, безвозвратно.

Куда и как девался, непонятно.


In the darkness of the night

A meat pie vanished.

It disappeared tracelessly, irrevocably.

It's a mistery (literally it's ununderstandable, one can have no idea) where has it gone.


In Russian it rhymes.

Once their mother baked a meat pie meant to be served to the guests and everybody for a supper and his younger brother ate the entire pie secretly he didn't tell anybody and wrote this poem.

As far as I know this was the one and only poem Lenin wrote.

I do wonder if it was really his brother who ate it. Lenin was reportedly the "worst" behaved of his siblings, and though he usually owned up to his behavior as a kid there was one incident his sister recounted in which he broke a vase and tried to deny any knowledge of the fact, but then weeks later, one random night broke down crying to his mother and admitted that he had lied about the incident. Just an anecdote from a childhood but amusing when you consider the sheer magnitude of destruction he later deliberately created as an adult.

second the other response. I've read a fair bit about and by Lenin and never heard of this poem. Care to share a link by chance?

See above.

Stalin's poems with illustrations by Hitler: http://kto-kto.narod.ru/bl-bl-4/stalin_hitler.html

Those are really shitty illustrations.

Wikipedia also has an article on Hitler's paintings:


Even the better ones still look odd, like kitschy comics. For lack of a better description, his paintings completely lack any kind of poetic depth.

edit: the article actually contains a better description by John Gunther:

"They are prosaic, utterly devoid of rhythm, color, feeling, or spiritual imagination. They are architect's sketches painful and precise draftsmanship; nothing more. No wonder the Vienna professors told him to go to an architectural school and give up pure art as hopeless"

"One modern art critic was asked to review some of his paintings without being told who painted them and judged them quite good in 2002. The different style in which he drew human figures, however, the critic said, represented a profound disinterest in people."

But of course he was a Bad Man, so he cannot be allowed to have any good qualities, therefore his art is bad.

A lot of context is missing from that quote. I'm pretty sure nobody sane have ever claimed this is great art. But perhaps quite good for an amateur. Only the buildings really works in the paintings, the rest looks like crap.

But he seem to be quite competent at drawing architecture, which is also what the Vienna school told him.

> I'm pretty sure nobody sane have ever claimed this is great art.

You would think the same was true of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_Darks_in_Red, and yet...

Have you seen the Rothko in person? It is a large work with deep color that doesn’t reproduce in photos displayed on computer screens.

Unfortunately, the only Rothko I've seen in person was a small one. But I have seen a lot of other modern art in person, large and small. I was not impressed.

When you bring up contemporary critique of Hitler's paintings it's worth noting that Hitler's ill-fated aspirations as a painter came in a time and place where art was moving in leaps and bounds towards much more abstract styles. I'm not an expert in this area, so I can't really qualify exactly what you'd call the fashion of the time, but it certainly wasn't the classicism that Hitler's paintings represented. For an amateur painter, I think most people agree he had some talent, but he'd have a hard time getting accepted by a much more avant-garde art establishment.

I don't think that is the case. Hitler was rejected from the entrance exam to the Vienna academy in 1905. At that point the academy was notoriously conservative (which is what led to the "secession" movement). It certainly did not represent the avant-garde in the modern sense.

The tendency the "art establishment" prefer abstract, avant-garde art is much more recent. Probably in part spurred by Nazisms campaign against "entartete Kunst"!

Interesting! Maybe I've been misinformed. I might have my timeline a bit confused, I had always thought this was the case.

I think is is just a more compelling narrative that Hitler was rejected because he didn't make crazy incomprehensible "my 5-year old son could have made that!" avant-garde art. But note that cubism was barely invented in 1907, and the academy represented a conservative view of art. If you look at the kind of art Hitler endorsed when he came to power, it was actually pretty close to the academy style.

That is a compelling narrative I guess. I had always associated that period of Viennese art with that of Gustav Klimt, who seems to have been reasonably successful in that period. He probably didn't represent the conservative views of the academy as you said.

No Klimt represented the "Secession" movement which at that time was in opposition to the establishment and the academy. According to wikipedia: "in particular, opposing the domination of the official Vienna Academy of the Arts, the Vienna Künstlerhaus, and official art salons, with its traditional orientation toward Historicism. " https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vienna_Secession

I think Nazims famous opposition to modern art have been conflated with Hitlers own rejection from the academy. He wasn't rejected due due different genre preference, but because he wasn't good enough in drawing anything beside architecture.

I actually think some of his paintings and sketches look quite good for a young artist, who hadn't even received proper training yet. There are some more available on Wikimedia Commons:


They really aren’t that bad. Very uneven, but that’s to be expected from a young person. The few looser paintings like “Klosterruine in Messines” show promise IMHO, at least compared to the heavy-handed drafting of most of the watercolors.

This one makes me think that it would be an amazing trolling opportunity to remove the signature, create high-quality reproductions of this “Mary with Jesus” and give them out to American Evangelicals, as the art style generally matches the Christian fundamentalist taste: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:HitlerMaryWithJesu...

As I commented above. many of his works were far from hopeless for a young artist, and if he'd been accepted to the right academy, the latent talent could have nurtured something much better, but the safe thing even for modern art critics is to simply agree with a prevailing and hindsight biased idea that of course the art showed a total lack of imagination and humanity and was right for rejection. One wonders at the world we'd know today if the young Hitler had gotten an admissions official with just a bit more imagination for his application.

Now that is interesting.

I have zero artistic talent and the only art I know is what I learned from an art appreciation class in highschool and and art history class in college. With that being said, those paintings look pretty similar to the kind of stuff I see in museums or in people's homes. I was expecting to see crude stick figures based off of the descriptions.

You are not going to see anything like that in an art museum. But in peoples homes, sure. This is the kind of art street-artists sell to tourists.

It is easy to see why they recommended him architecture instead though. The buildings are drawn technically good and precise, but they are also the only thing that really works. Nature and people looks pretty bad. But of course with appropriate training he might have learned that also, who knows.

Tiresome and rather stupid hindsight bias. I even generally agree with the opinion in your quote about Hitler's art, but in the broad scope of works that have been heavily applauded by art critics and galleries, it falls far from bottom rung. And it's certainly not deserving of someone declaring its creator's efforts as "hopeless". That would just be a shitty attitude because an artist with the technical proficiency of Hitler could indeed be successfully nurtured in the right environment towards really creating something interesting. But of course, because it's Hitler, safer to say it was prosaic crap with no humanity to it and no hope of anything better had things been different...

They aren’t that bad for an aspiring amateur. Imagine a world where he had got the instruction he knew he needed and unleashed his energy and passion as Adolf Hitler, Artist instead of Adolf Hitler, Adolf Hitler

In Norman Spinrad's book The Iron Dream a young Hitler moved to New York City and became an illustrator for pulp science fiction magazines.

I've seen worse. Maybe if Hitler had practiced more instead of becoming Hitler he could have done better.

Poems aren't that great either.

While he was writing poems, America and the EU were building Empires and the wealth divide took off...just saying

Would you please stop posting unsubstantive comments to HN? You've done it repeatedly already, and we're trying for something a little better.


Well, while he was writing poems,

1) the European colonial powers were losing their empires,

2) the EU wouldn't exist in any form until several years after he died,

3) USSR (in which he was in command for a good chunk of time) was propelled from a rural provincial power into one of the two global superpowers (who, among other things, was crucial in defeating the Nazi Germany)

4) he had an iron rule in said USSR, and managed to secure half of Europe (and half of what is now EU, including half of Germany) for his extended empire

Plus a lot of murders and political power plays...

So, yeah, he was hardly just someone "writing poems" and losing time...

Stalin stopped writing his poems years before the USSR even existed at all. Before that latter date he had already spent several years as a professional revolutionary (and in prison camps).

He was off murdering people and the EU didn’t exist then anyway.

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