Osip Mandelstam died more than sixty years ago, unknown to Western readers and a non-person in his own country. Since then his critical stock has gone way up but he remains the possession of a priestly class, Slavicists in universities, mainly American, and the odd practicing poet. Perhaps for this artful dodger that is just as well. "The arts that have escaped best," said Oscar Wilde, who knew what he was talking about, "are the arts in which the public takes no interest." Mandelstam's story suggests how the interest, though prurient, carries with it a superstitious regard. An early inmate of the concentration camp, the non-person feared for his life. His widow Nadezhda reports this in her memoirs, permanent books of our time (Hope Against Hope, 1970; Hope Abandoned, 1974). "Tell him to calm down," says a condescending warder. "We don't shoot people for making up poetry." In effect, though, they did.