Born in Leningrad of Russian Jewish parents. Left school at the age of fifteen; outraged by the Soviet brutalities in Hungary and Poland in 1956. Began to study Polish, in which he was fluent by 1958, the year in which he began to write poetry. Worked as a translator. A friend of Anna Akhmatova's from 1961 onwards. Arrested in December 1963 for 'social parasitism' and sentenced to five years exile. In a labour camp in the vicinity of Archangel for twenty-one months, during which time he taught himself English by reading the poetry of Eliot, Yeats, Auden, Dylan Thomas and Wallace Stevens. Became known in the West by virtue of the fact that he was a dissident writer who had been brought to trial. Returned to Leningrad in November 1965; continually harassed thereafter and prevented from accepting invitations to poetry readings abroad. Chose exile in June 1972. After brief stays in Vienna and London became Poet in Residence at the University of Michigan. Later taught at Columbia University and at New York University. Awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by Yale University in 1978; principal guest at the Cambridge Poetry Festival in 1979. Now writes with equal facility in Russian and English.
Although 'discovered' after Yevtushenko and Voznesensky had already made an impact in the West, Brodsky is the first post-war Russian poet to have successfully survived comparison with the exceptionally brilliant generation of poets born before the Revolution. Like them, he has proved unacceptable to a repressive régime; in 1964, after a show trial