Oeuvre: Georgian pastoral odes
Before Joseph Stalin was known for murdering millions of his own people, the Soviet dictator was a locally famous Georgian poet who wrote flowery odes to nature and working-class heroes. Young Ioseb Dzhugashvili's work was considered good enough to be included in prestigious literary journals of the time and Georgian anthologies. According to Simon Sebag Montefiore's Young Stalin, the dictator's poems became minor Georgian classics even before he took power -- some were even unwittingly memorized by schoolchildren all the way up through the 1970s (Stalin typically published anonymously). His rhapsodic invocations of Georgia's rolling lush landscape, as in the poem "Morning," were beloved by nationalists and read as a rebuff to czarist repression:
The pinkish bud has opened,
Rushing to the pale-blue violet
And, stirred by a light breeze,
The lily of the valley has bent over the grass.
The lark has sung in the dark blue,
Flying higher than the clouds
And the sweet-sounding nightingale
Has sung a song to children from the bushes
Flower, oh my Georgia!
Let peace reign in my native land!
And may you, friends, make renowned
Our Motherland by study!
Stalin's poetry was fairly standard for early 19th century romantic poetry, as biographer Robert Service notes in Stalin: A Biography, if a little juvenile. "It wasn't very original," Service says. "I don't think it's very good, personally. It's very conventional, the imagery is very standardized and rather self-indulgent.… He's not one of the great poets."
Stalin largely gave up writing his own poetry after he took power, but he pursued his love of verse in other ways: In the 1940s, he translated and edited Georgian poetry into Russian, memorized poems by Nikolai Nekrasov and Alexander Pushkin, read translations of Goethe and Shakespeare, and could apparently recite Walt Whitman's work from memory. Supposedly, when Nobel Prize-winning poet and novelist Boris Pasternak was on a list of execution targets, Stalin said, "Leave that cloud-dweller in peace." "He had really romantic yearnings," says Service.
Stalin's poetry is not widely read today, a notable exception being among talented Georgian parrots.