Nadezhda Mandelshtam, a legend in courage to Soviet elite who had described the Stalin terror to readers in the West, died Monday, whispering from her deathbed, "You should not be afraid."

It was a message she had carried through a lifetime of struggle with the Soviet authorities to preserve the poems of her husband, Osip Mandelshtam, who disappeared in the camps in the first wave of the great terror in 1937.

With her death at age 81, an epoch in Soviet literature that included Boris Pasternak and Anna Akhmatova has come to an end. It was an age that began with a burst of hope and furious literary activity to be snuffed out in the Stalin terror and left for millions here a residue of fear. "Fear and hope are interconnected," she wrote in her memoirs. "When we have lost our hopes, we also lose our fear -- there is nothing to be afraid of anymore."

Through more than four decades since her husband's death, she sought to keep her husband's poetry safe, an effort that ultimately distilled in her rare insight into Soviet reality that attracted Soviet writers and intelligentsia to her side in her life as in her death.

Her small, modestly furnished apartment in southwest Moscow filled with people throughout the day who had come to say farewell to a grand old lady whose flat for years had been a busy center of inspiration and intellectual challenge.

As mourners gathered in the kitchen to discuss arrangements for a funeral certain to be thronged by followers, and thus a possible irritant to the authorities who have studiously ignored her own literary achievements, Mandelshtam's body was placed on a table in the center of the living room, according to Russian tradition. It was covered with a white sheet, and a small paper icon was placed on her breast. She had converted to the Russian Orthodox faith many years ago, and was known as a staunch believer in her last years.

Mandelshtam's death seems a final, parting blow in a year of distress and grim developments for Moscow intellectuals. Three major writers, Lev Kopelev, Vasili Aksyonov, and Vladimir Voinovich have left the country this year and one of the most popular contemporary poets and singers, Vladimir Vysotsky, died in mid-summer.

Bella Akhmadulina, perhaps the most respected contemporary Soviet poetess, stood in the kitchen, wiping her eyes, saying over and over, "I felt it. I felt that something bad was going to happen today." She herself has been under an official cloud since participating in a challenge two years ago to Soviet censors by contributing poetry to the "metropol" collection.

In her early memoirs, Mandelshtam wrote painfully of the life of intellectuals under Soviet power: "I and my antagonists keep standing each on our own views. We are the thesis and the antithesis. I don't expect any synthesis, but I would like to understand to whom the future belongs."

As snow fell outside the quiet apartment, a young Russian Orthodox priest arrived, turned down the sheet from her face, and began intoning prayers for the departed.