In the 1970s Hope Against Hope and Hope Abandoned, two memoirs by Nadezhda Mandelstam, the widow of the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam, riveted me. It was the utter darkness of the time they lived in. There was the fact that Mandelstam would compose poems in his head and not write them down. No record was left for any nameless authority to decide if one or the other poem caused enough offense to lead to imprisonment. Thus his work was often revised, remembered, recited to friends and passed on by word of mouth.
I suppose it is a sign of the times that I decided to look up his work again. There are so many well worth reading. In Osip Mandelstam Selected Poems translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwim, Oxford U. Press 1973, here is number 66 written in 1914.
Let the names of imperial cities
caress the ears with brief meaning
It's not Rome the city that lives on,
it's man's place in the universe.
Emperors try to rule that,
priests find excuses for wars,
but the day that place falls empty
houses and altars are trash.