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Babel, on the other hand, the great short-story writer whom Mandelstam also knew and admired, was not tempted by Christianity as such, though in dealing in his fiction with moral character operating in the medium of history, his tendency to hyperacculturation took the form of an oscillating fascination with the alien Cossack ethos of virility and violence. Perhaps the apogee of Mandelstam’s romance with Chris­ tianity is a 1915 essay, “Pushkin and Scriabin,” of which only fragments have survived.

This poet of the Crimea-Ukraine border region, an eye­ witness to the mayhem of world war, revolution, and civil strife, often responded in his work with cries of outrage and anger, occasionally even with the fulminations of a militant Jewish nationalism. It is noteworthy, however, that Tchernichovsky’s supreme assertions of the power of poetry occur in the midst of two historical cataclysms—his two sonnetcycles, To the Sun and On the Blood, conceived in Odessa during the Russian civil war, and The Golden People, his long narrative poem on bees (and through the bees, on nature and art, poetry, history, and the future of man), written in Tel Aviv during World War II, near the end of his life.

The control­ led note of skeptical pessimism in his description of Proust’s effort to recreate verbally the life of the imagination is char­ acteristic: “A la Recherche du temps perdu may be regarded as an attempt to produce experience synthetically, as BergDefenses of the Imagination 15 This Library PDF version is for the use on an institutional computer only. ” The pressing dilemmas of history and art felt by the mod­ ern writer are likely to be sharpened if he is a Jew, and be­ come even more acute if he writes in Hebrew.

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