Mandelstam was born in Warsaw, to a rich Jewish family. In 1900 Mandelstam entered the prestigious Tenishevsky school, which also counts Vladimir Nabokov and other significant figures of Russian (and Soviet) culture among its alumni. His first poems were printed in the school's almanac in 1907.
In April 1908 Mandelstam decided to enter the Sorbonne to study literature and philosophy, but he left the following year to attend the University of Heidelberg. In 1911, in order to continue education in the University of St. Petersburg, he converted to Methodism (which he did not practice) and entered the university the same year.
Mandelstam's poetry, acutely populist in spirit after the first Russian revolution, became closely associated with symbolist imagery, and in 1911 he and several other young Russian poets formed the "Poets' Guild" (Russian: Цех Поэтов, Tsekh Poetov), under the formal leadership of Nikolai Gumilyov and Sergei Gorodetsky.
In 1922 Mandelstam arrived in Moscow with his newlywed wife Nadezhda. At the same time his second book of poems, Tristia, was published in Berlin. For several years after that, he almost completely abandoned poetry, concentrating on essays, literary criticism, memoirs (The Din Of Time, Russian: Шум времени, Shum vremeni; Феодосия, Feodosiya – both 1925) and small-format prose (The Egyptian Stamp, Russian: Египетская марка, Yegipetskaya marka – 1928). As a day job, he translated (19 books in 6 years), then worked as a correspondent for a newspaper.
Mandelstam died in 1938 in prison.
Mandelstam's non-conformist, anti-establishment tendencies always simmered not far from the surface, and in the autumn of 1933 they broke through in the form of the famous "Stalin Epigram".
- Osip Mandelstam: "Poems", chosen and translated by James Greene. Elek Books, 1977; revised and enlarged edition, Granada/Elek, 1980.
- Osip Mandelstam: The Noise of Time: Selected Prose (European Classics) (Paperback), translated by Clarence Brown Northwestern University Press; Reprint edition, 2002. ISBN 0-8101-1928-5
- Coetzee, J.M. "Osip Mandelstam and the Stalin Ode", Representations, No. 35, Special Issue: Monumental Histories. (Summer, 1991), pp. 72–83.