An important book. All of Mandelstam's letters (which break off in 1937, leaving a dark, gelid silence); his hackwork--pieces on the Jewish theater, on translation, The First International Peasant's Convention, a 1923 interview with Ho Chi Minh (!), travelogues. And the extant literary prose, from the ""Morning of Acmeism,"" with its comparison of poetry to a Gothic cathedral groin; to ""The Nature of the Word""--a Hellenistic demurrer against Symbolist verse and the prevailing rebarbative clatter; to captious but discerning reviews of European literature (M. saw Flaubert, for instance, as a latter day Buddhist: perfection and quietism). Then begins the major prose--and tee book, in corraling it all, translating it beautifully, becomes indispensable. ""Fourth Prose,"" M.'s jeremiad against Soviet literary politics, provides an alternate vision of literature: ""Making Brussels lace involves real work, but its major components, those supporting the design, are air, perforations, and truancy."" ""Journey to Armenia""--for M. a last bastion of culture--uncannily foreshadows Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Crowning the volume is ""Conversations with Dante,"" Mandelstam's greatest act of defiance (he kept the Commedia always with him, NKVD or not) and a work that alone could conceivably keep poetry alive through any civilization's collapse. Jane Gray Harris' editing job is superb, the introduction fine, the notes and references to-the-point and copious. The entire project seems to finally draw enough of a line around Mandelstam--the century's greatest literary black hole--to make the talent and tragedy available beyond mystery.