A Cloud in Trousers (Облако в штанах, Oblako v shtanakh) is a poem by Vladimir Mayakovsky written in 1914 and first published in 1915 by Osip Brik.
Originally titled The 13th Apostle (but renamed at the advice of a censor) Mayakovsky's first major poem was written from the vantage point of a spurned lover, depicting the heated subjects of love, revolution, religion and art, taking the poet's stylistic choices to a new extreme, linking irregular lines of declamatory language with surprising rhymes. It is considered to be a turning point in his work and one of the cornerstones of the Russian Futurist poetry.
The subject of Mayakovsky's unrequited love was Maria Denisova whom he met in Odessa during the Futurists' 1913 tour. Born in 1894 in Kharkov to a poor peasant family, Maria at the time resided with the family of her sister (whose husband Filippov was an affluent man) and was an art school student, learning sculpture. Vasily Kamensky described Denisova as "a girl of a rare combination of qualities: good looks, sharp intellect, strong affection for all things new, modern and revolutionary."
Maria's sister Yekaterina Denisova, who ran a domestic literary salon, invited the three now famous young Futurist poets, Mayakovsky, Burlyuk and Kamensky, to their house. Prior to this Maria and Vladimir met three weeks earlier at the Mir Iskusstva exhibition, but that was a fleeting acquaintance. Mayakovsky fell in love instantly and gave her the nickname, Gioconda.
The intensity of Mayakovsky's passion was unbearable. According to Kamensky, he suffered immensely and was hectically rushing things, caring not for what he thought to be the girl's indecisiveness and fussiness. It looked as if he completely misunderstood the situation: Maria (unlike her sister) was just not impressed either by the Futurists, or by Mayakovsky. Indecisive she was anything but; "on the contrary, her later life proved to be the chain of extraordinary events, triggered by most daring, reckless decisions," according to biographer Mikhaylov.
In the mid-1910s Maria Denisova lived in Switzerland with her first husband, then, as the latter moved to England, returned to the Soviet Russia. She fought in the Russian Civil War and married the Red Army general Efim Shchadenko whom she divorced in the late 1920s. Denisova became an established Soviet monumentalist sculptor, one of her better known works being "The Poet" (1927), Mayakovsky's head set in plaster. In the late 1930s she fell into obscurity and stopped seeing friends, one of her two daughters, Alice, having fled to England. Denisova committed suicide in 1944 by jumping from the tenth floor.
Mayakovsky started working of the poem (which he claim was born "as a letter, while on a train") in the early 1914. He finished it in July 1915, in Kuokkala. Speaking at the Krasnaya Presnya Komsomol Palace in 1930, Mayakovsky remembered: "It started as a letter in 1913/14 and was first called "The Thirteenth Apostle". As I came to see the censors, one of them asked me: Dreaming of doing a forced labour, eh? 'By no means, I said, no such plans at all.' So they erased six pages, as well as the title. Then, there's the question about where the title has come from. Once somebody asked me how could I combine lyricism with coarseness. I replied: 'Simple: you want me rabid, I'll be it. Want me mild, and I'm not a man, a cloud in trousers.'"
The first extracts from the poem (part of the Prologue and Part 4) appeared in the Strelets (Sagittarius) compilation in February 1915. Several stanzas were published as extensive quotes in Znurnal Zhurnalov (The Journals' Journal) by Mayakovsky himself in his article "On the Many Mayakovskys". In February 1915 at the Strelets'-related party in the Stray Dog artistic basement featured Mayakovsky reciting fragments of it to the audience, Maxim Gorky among the guests. In July 1915 he read some of it to Gorky personally.
"Travelled to Mustamyaki. M.Gorky [was here]. Read him the Cloud's fragments. So moved to tears Gorky was as to soak my vest. The degree to which I upset him made me almost proud. It was only later that I learned he'd been sobbing this way upon every poetical vest coming his way," Mayakovsky wrote in his autobiography. According to actress Maria Andreyeva, Gorky (who hated the Futurists) admired Mayakovsky. Still, he was taken aback by "the extreme loudness" of his poetic voice. "Once he told him, 'Look, here's just [your] sunrise, and there you are, running out wild to give this enormous yell. How are you to keep it up? The day is long, and there is a lot for you to live through."
Initially none of the publishers wanted to have anything to do with the poem. Finally published in September 1915 by Osip Brik (who also financed the publication) it came out severely cut. "The Cloud turned to be a cirrus one, censors blew it through. Some six pages amounted to mere dots," Mayakovsky wrote in I, Myself autobiography. As with the Vladimir Mayakovsky, most targeted were the religion-related images.
In 1916 the poem was included into the Simple as Mooing compilation, published by the Gorky-led Parus (The Sail) publishing house. Cuts here were less drastic but there were some. On 17 March 1917 Mayakovsky published in Novy Satyricon's No.11 issue the full versions of Parts 2 and 3 of the poem (75 lines in all), under the title "Reinstate" (Восстанавливаю).
For the first time the whole uncensored text of the poem was published in early 1918 by the Moscow company Asis (abbreviation of Ассоциация социалистического искусства, The Association of Socialist Art). In a foreword Mayakovsky wrote: "I consider A Cloud in Trousers (the original title, "The Thirteenth Apostle", was banned by censors, but I'd rather not go back to it: got used to this one) a canon of contemporary art. 'Out with your love,' 'Out with your art,' 'Out with your regime,' 'Out with your religion' - [such are] the four cries of the four parts."
Mayakovsky, a self-defined "yelling Zarathustra," seeing himself as a new man-God, enter the "tongueless streets" to pronounce his own Sermon on the Mount, calling people to revolt and prophesizing the emergence of the new, freed mankind. He sees Love in the modern world as doomed, being destroyed by art, religion and the society itself.