Osip Mandelstam: Tristia

“How hard for me, the splendor of this crown and robe”

1: — How hard for me, the splendor of this crown and robe,
amidst my shame —

— In stony Troezen will be an infamous calamity,
the royal staircase will grow red with disgrace,
. . . . . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . . . . .
and for the mother in love,
the black sun will rise.

— O, if hate would boil in my breast —
but see, the admission itself
has fallen from my lips.

— Phedre [*] burns in a black flame
in broad daylight.
The funeral torch fumes
in broad white daylight.
Dread your mother, Hippolytus:
Phedre — night — watche s over you
in broad white day.

— I have stained the sun with black love . . .
Death from a bottle will cool my ardor —
. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

— We are afraid, we do not dare
relieve the king’s grief.
Wounded by Theseus, night
fell upon him. But we,
with a funeral song bringing home the dead,
will pacify the black sun
of wild and sleepless passion.



1: The rejected word “peace”
At the beginning of an outraged era;
A church lamp in a grotto
And the air of mountain lands
An ether we did not want to,
Or would not breathe.
Again, with a goat-voice,
The shaggy reed-pipes sing.


While sheep and oxen grazed
On fertile pastures,
And friendly eagles perched
On the shoulders of sleepy crags —
A German reared an eagle,
A lion submitted to a Briton,
And a Gallic comb appeared
From a rooster’s crest.


But now the savage has captured
The sacred mace of Heracles,
The black earth has dried up,
Ungrateful, as before.
I will get the withered wand
And draw the fire from it;
Let the startled beasts go away
With me into the deaf night.


The cock, the lion, the dark brown [*]
Eagle, the affectionate bear —
We shall build a chamber for war,
And warm the wild beasts’ hides.
But I sing the wine [*] of the times —
The font of Italic speech —
And in a Great-Aryan cradle,
Slavonic and Germanic flax!


Italy, is it really worth
Disturbing the chariots of Rome
For the clucking of a domestic bird
Flying across your fence?
And you, neighbor, don’t seek damages;
The eagle bristles in anger.
What if for your sling
A heavy stone is of no use?


While the beasts are in the menagerie,
We will settle down a while,
The Volga stays at high tide,
The Rhine’s current grows brighte —
The wise man will unwillingly honor
A foreigner as a demigod
With the revelry of a dance
On the shores of great rivers.

“Every church sings its own soft part”

1: Every church sings its own soft part
In the polyphony of a girl’s choir,
And in the stone arches of the Assumption
I make out high, arched brows.

From the ramparts, fortified by archangels,
I surveyed the city from a marvelous height.
Within the walls of the Acropolis, I was consumed
With sorrow for the Russian name, for Russian beauty.

Isn’t it just marvelous, we dream
Of an orchard, soaring pigeons in the hot blue sky,
A nun is singing the litany:
Tender Assumption: Florence in Moscow.

The five-domed cathedrals of Moscow,
With their Italian and Russian soul
Bring to mind the Aurora [*], but with a
Russian name, and in a fur coat.

“On a sleigh, padded with straw”

1: On a sleigh, padded with straw,
Barely covered by the fateful mat,
From the Vorobevy hills to the familiar chapel
We rode through enormous Moscow [*].

But in Uglich [*], the children play mumbletypeg,
And it smells of bread left in the oven.
They carry me along the streets without my hat [*];
In the oratory three candles [*] burn.

Not three burning candles — three meetings.
One consecrated by God Himself.
A fourth would never be, but Rome is far —
And He was never fond of Rome.

The sled dashed through black ruts,
People were returning from the promenade.
Wretched peasants with their angry wives
Cracked seeds [*] by the gate.

The damp distance blackened with flocks of birds,
The bound hands swelled. They carry the Carevich [*],
The body grows terribly numb,
They set fire to the reddened straw.



1: When you are trying to sleep [*], Solominka,
In your enormous bedroom, and are waiting,
Sleepless, for the high and weighty ceiling to come down
With quiet, heavy sorrow on your keen eyelids,

Sonorous Solomka [*], or seasoned Solominka,
You’ve drunk down all death, grown tender and
Been broken, my dear Solomka, no more alive —
Not Salome, no, it is Solominka.

In hours of insomnia, objects are heavier
As if fewer of them — such a stillness —
The cushions glitter in the mirror, whitening a bit,
And the bed is reflected in the round pool.

No, it is not Solomka in her solemn satin
In a huge room above the black Neva.
For twelve months they sing of the final hour,
And the pale blue ice waves in the air.

Solemn December sends out its breath
As if the great Neva were in the room.
No, not Solominka, Ligeia, dying —
I have learned you, glorious words.


I have learned you, blessed words:
— Lenore, Solominka, Ligeia, Seraphita —
In the enormous room, the great Neva,
And from the granite, the blue blood flows.

Solemn December shines above the Neva.
For twelve months they sing of the final hour.
No, not Solominka in her satin
Savoring a slow, oppressive rest.

In my blood lives December’s Ligeia,
Whose blissful love sleeps in a sarcophagus,
And which, solominka, perhaps Salome,
Was killed by pity, and shall never return.

“I’ve lost a delicate cameo”

1: “I’ve lost [*] a delicate cameo,
Somewhere on the Neva’s shore.
I pity the charming Roman girl,”
You said to me, almost in tears.

But why, fair Georgian beauty,
Stir up the dust on a sacred tomb?
Another downy snowflake
Melted on her eyelid’s fan.

You bowed your gentle neck.
Alas, no cameo, no Roman girl.
I pity the tawny Tinotine — virgin
Rome on the Neva’s shore.

“”The Greeks planned for war”

1: The Greeks planned for war
On the delightful island of Salamis [*].
From the harbor of Athens, you could see it
Seized by the enemy’s hand.

And now our friends the islanders
Are fitting out our ships.
Earlier the English didn’t love
The sweet European soil.

O, Europe, new Hellas,
Save the Acropolis and Pireus.
We do not need the island’s gifts,
A forest of uninvited ships.

“I am cold. Transparent Spring dresses”


1: I am cold. Transparent Spring dresses
Petropolis in verdant down.
But like a medusa [*], the Neva’s wave
Stirs up in me a slight aversion.
Along the northern bank,
The headlights speed away.
Steel dragonflies and beetles are flying,
Golden pinpoints of starlight glimmer,
But not one of those stars will kill
The heavy emerald of the water’s wave.


We shall die in transparent Petropolis
Where Persephone reigns over us.
We drink with every breath the deathly air
And every hour is our last.
Terrible Athena, goddess of the sea,
Remove your mighty helmet of stone.
In transparent Petropolis we shall die,
Where Proserpine rules, not you.

“Not believing in the Resurrection”


1: Not believing in the Resurrection,
we strolled in the cemetery.
— You know, the earth everywhere
reminds me of those hills
. . . . . . . . .
. . . . . . . . .
where Russia breaks off
above the black, deaf sea.


The broad meadow runs away
from the monastery’s slopes.
I really didn’t want to go so far
south of Vladimir’s expanse,
but to stay in this wooded, dark,
and holy foolish [*] place with such a dizzy nun
means disaster is in store [*].


I kiss the sunburned elbow
and a waxen patch of forehead.
I know it is still white
under the tawny golden locks.
I kiss the wrist where a bracelet
has left a white band.
The flaming summer of the Taurides [*]
causes such marvels.


How quickly you tanned,
came up and kissed the poor Savior,
couldn’t tear yourself away —
but in Moscow, you were proud.
Only the name is left for us —
a marvelous, drawn-out sound.
Take this sand being poured
with my hands.

“This night is beyond recall”

1: This night is beyond recall,
But it is still bright at your place.
At the gates of Jerusalem,
The black sun has risen.

The yellow sun is more fearful —
Baiu, baiushki, baiu…
In a bright temple, the Jews
Have buried my mother.

Not having Grace,
Deprived of priesthood,
The Jews, in a bright temple,
Chanted over the woman’s ashes.

And the voices of the Israelites
Rose above the mother.
I awoke in a cradle, shone upon
By a black sun.


1: “To this the pagan senate bears witness:
He lit his pipe and wrapped his cloak around
While some play chess nearby.

He traded his ambitious dream
For a godforsaken Siberian plot
And an elegant pipe at his venomous lips,
Which uttered truth in a mournful world.

When the German oaks first rustled,
Europe wept in her snare.
Black horses in quadrigae [*] reared
on each triumphant turn.

Once, the blue punch glowed in our glasses.
With the broad noises of the samovar,
A friend from across the Rhine spoke
In muted tones — a freedom-loving guitar.

The lively voices are still excited
Over the sweet liberty of citizenship;
But the victims don’t want blind skies,
Toil and consistency are truer.

Everything’s confused and there is no one to say,
As things grow colder,
Everything’s confused, it is sweet to repeat:
Russia, Lethe, Lorelei…



1: Still far the asphodels,
grey-transparent Spring.
Meanwhile, the sand rustles,
the wave foams.
But here, like Persephone,
my soul joins the gentle circle,
and in the realm of the dead,
there were no seductive, sunburnt arms.


Why do we trust the boat
with the heaviness of the funerary urn,
and conclude the festival of black roses
over amethystine water?
My soul rushes there,
to the cloudy cape of Meganom,
and from there the black sail will return
after the funeral.


How quickly clouds rush by
in a sunless row and
flakes of black roses drift
under this windy moon.
And, a bird of death and sobbing,
the enormous flag of remembrance
is dragged along the mournful border
behind a cypress stern.


The sorrowful fan of past years
unfolds with a rustle.
My soul rushes there,
to the cloudy cape of Meganom,
where with dark trembling,
an amulet was buried in the sand,
and from there the black sail will return
after the funeral.


“When on the squares and in solitary silence”

1: When on the squares and in solitary silence
We slowly go out of our minds,
Brutal winter will offer us
Cold and clear Rhine wine.

The frost offers us in a silver pail
The white wine of Valhalla,
And for us it recalls
A clear image of a northern man.

But northern skalds [*] are rude,
Don’t know the joy of the game,
And to northern troops are dear
Amber, feasts and flames.

They only dream of the southern air,
The magic of a foreign sky.
— Nevertheless the stubborn friend
Still refuses to try.

“A young Levite among priests”

1: A young Levite [*] among priests,
He remained long on morning watch.
Jewish night grew thick around him,
The ruined temple was solemnly being raised.

He said: the yellow of the skies is alarming.
Run, priests, for night is already over the Euphrates!
But the elders thought: this is not our fault;
Behold the black and yellow light, the joy, the Jews.

He was with us when, on the stream’s shore,
We swaddled the sabbath in precious linen
With a heavy menorah lit the night of Jerusalem,
The heady fumes of non-existence.

“The thick golden stream of honey took so long”


1: The thick golden stream of honey took so long
To pour, our host had time to say:
“Here in the dismal Taurides [*], where fate has brought us,
We don’t get bored at all” — and she looked over her shoulder.


The services of Bacchus everywhere, as if on earth
Were only guards and dogs. You go along, you notice no one —
Like heavy barrels, the peaceful days roll by:
Far off. Voices in a hut: you cannot understand, nor reply.


After tea, we went out in the huge brown garden,
The dark blinds were lowered like eyelashes.
Past white columns, we went to look at the grapes,
Where the drowsy mountains are glazed with airy glass.


I said: the vines live like an ancient battle
Where curly-headed horsemen fight in twisted order.
The science of Hellas in the stony Tauride — and here
There are the noble, rusty rows of golden acres.


Silence stands in the room white as a spinning wheel,
From the cellar, smells of paint, vinegar, fresh wine.
Remember, in the Greek house: the woman loved by everyone —
Not Helen — another — how long she embroidered?


Golden fleece, where are you, golden fleece?
The sea’s heavy waves roared the whole way.
Abandoning the ship, its canvas worn out on the seas,
Odysseus returned, full of space and time.

“That evening the forest of organ pipes did not play”

1: That evening the forest of organ pipes did not play.
A native cradle sang [*] Schubert for us,
The mill was grinding, the music’s blue-eyed drunkenness
Laughed in the songs of the hurricane.

The brown-green world of the old song,
But only eternally young where the Erl-king
Shakes the rumbling crowns of nightingaled
Linden trees in savage [*] rage.

The awesome force of night’s return,
That wild song, like black wine:
It is a double, a hollow ghost
Peering senselessly through the cold window

“Your marvelous pronunciation”

1: Your marvelous pronunciation —
The scorching whistle of birds of prey;
Or should I say: a living impression
Of some sort of silken eyelashes.

— What? — your head grew heavy…
— Alright? — I am calling you.
And in the distance, rustling:
I, too, live on earth.

Let them say love has wings.
Death has a hundred more;
My soul is filled with strife,
But our lips fly to it.

So much air and silk and
Wind in your whisper,
Like blind men, through the long night
We drink a sunless mixture.



1: I’ve learned the science of parting
In the laments of night, her hair let down.
Oxen graze, and the waiting’s drawn out.
It is the last hour of the town’s vigil [*], and I
Observe the ritual of that night of the cock
When, lifting their load of wandering sorrow,
Exhausted eyes gazed into the distance,
And a woman’s lament and muse’s song combined.


Who can know, at the word “farewell,”
What separation awaits us,
What the cockscrow augurs
When fire glows in the Acropolis,
And on the dawn of some new life,
While an ox chews lazily in his shed,
Why the cock, herald of new life,
Beats his wings on the town’s walls?


And I love the practice of spinning:
Shuttle weaves, spindle buzzes,
Look how barefoot Delia flies
To meet you, like swansdown.
Oh, the meager warp of our life,
How thin the language of joy!
Everything was of old, all will be again,
Only the instant of recognition is sweet to us.


So be it: a transparent figure
Lies on a clean earthen dish,
Like the spread pelt of a squirrel,
Bowing over the wax [*], the girl stares,
We cannot tell the fortunes of Grecian Erebus,
Wax is for women what bronze is for men.
Our fate slips out only in battle,
But they get to die telling fortunes.



1: On the stony spurs of Pierius [*]
The Muses conducted the first round dance
So like bees, blind lyrists might give us Ionic honey.
A great chill blew
From the prominent virginal brow
So the tender graves of the Archipelago
Might be uncovered for distant grandsons.


Spring rushes to trample the meadows of Hellas,
Sappho puts on a dappled boot,
Cicadas click like hammers forging out a ring,
As in the little song [*].
A stout carpenter built a tall house,
They strangled all the hens for a wedding,
An inept cobbler stretched
All five ox-hides for shoes.


The sluggish lyre-tortoise
Toeless barely creeps along,
Sets herself down in the sun of Epirus [*],
Quietly warming her golden belly.
Who will caress someone like her,
Who will turn her over while she sleeps —
She awaits Terpander in her dream,
Sensing the sudden sweep of dry fingers.


A cold sprinkle waters the oaks,
The bareheaded grasses murmur,
The honeysuckle smells, to the joy of the bees.
O where are you, sacred islands,
Where they do not eat broken bread,
Where there is only wine, milk and honey,
Creaking toil does not darken the sky, and
The wheel turns easily?

“Let us go where there are varied crafts”


1: Let us go where there are varied crafts
And trades — shashlik and chebureki,
Where trousers on a sign give us
The idea of a man.
A man’s frock coat: headless aspiration,
The barber’s flying fiddle, a mesmerizing iron,
The appearance of heavenly washer-women —
The smile of heaviness.


Here, the girls, their bangs aging,
Contemplate the strange attire,
Admirals in stiff three-cornered hats
Bring Scheherezade’s dream to mind.
The distance is transparent. A few grapes.
A fresh wind ever blowing.
Not far from Smyrna and Baghdad,
But difficult to sail,
And the stars [*] are everywhere the same.

“In a crystal whirlpool, such steepness!”


1: In a crystal whirlpool, such steepness!
Behind us the sienna mountains stand out,
Jagged cathedrals of raving mad cliffs
Are suspended in the air,
Where there is wool and silence.


From the hanging staircase of prophets and kings,
Descends an organ, the fortress of the Holy Ghost,
The brave barking and gentle ferocity of sheepdogs,
The sheepskins of shepherds, and the staffs of judges.


Here is motionless ground, and along with it
I drink the cold mountain air of Christianity,
The abrupt Credo and the psalmist’s pause,
The keys and tatters of apostolic churches.


What sort of line could deliver
Crystal high notes in the fortified ether,
And from the Christian mountains in the astounded space,
Grace descends, like a song of Palestine.

“Nature’s the same as Rome, was reflected in it”

1: Nature’s the same as Rome, was reflected in it.
We see images of its civic might
In the clear air, as in the sky-blue circus,
In the forum of fields, the colonnade of the grove.

Nature is the same as Rome, again it seems
We have no reason to trouble the gods.
We’ve got the viscera of the sacrifices
To tell the fortunes of war, and slaves
To keep the silence, and stones with which to build.

“To read only children’s books”

1: To read only children’s books,
To have only childish thoughts,
To throw everything grown-up away,
To rise from deep sadness.

I am deathly tired of life,
I will accept nothing from it.
But I love my poor land,
For I have seen no other.

I rocked in a distant garden
On a plain wooden swing,
Tall dark fir trees
I recall in a hazy fever.

“Go back to the tainted lap, Leah”

1: Go back to the tainted lap, Leah,
Whence you came,
Because to the sun of Ilion
You preferred yellow twilight.

Go, no one will touch you,
Let the incestuous daughter
Drop her head on her father’s breast
In the dead of night.

But the fatal change
Must be fulfilled in you;
You shall be Leah — not Helen —
Thus not betrothed,

For it is harder for a king’s blood
To flow in the veins than another’s —
No, you will love a Jew,
You will vanish in him, and
God help you.

“O this air, intoxicated with sedition”

1: O this air, intoxicated with sedition,
On the black square of the Kremlin.
The agitators rock the teetering world [*].
It smells of restless poplars.

The waxen facades of the cathedrals,
The thick forest of bells,
As if a tongueless bandit
Had vanished in the stony rafters.

But in the sealed cathedrals,
Where it is cool and dark,
Like in delicate clay amphoras,
The Russian wine sparkles.

The whole Assumption, wonderfully rotund,
The marvel of the arches of Paradise.
And the Annunciation, in green,
Suddenly seems to start to crow.

The Archangel and Resurrection [*]
Show through like a palm,
Everywhere the secret burning, —
In the wine jugs a hidden flame. . .

“In Petersburg we’ll meet again”


1: In Petersburg we’ll meet again,
As though we’d buried the sun there,
And for the first time utter
The blessed, senseless word.
In the black velvet of Soviet night,
In the velvet of worldwide emptiness,
The kind eyes of touched women still sing,
The immortal flowers still bloom.


The capitol arches like a wildcat,
A patrol is standing on the bridge,
A single angry motor speeds by in the dark,
And cries out like a cuckoo.
I do not need a pass for the evening,
I am not afraid of the sentries:
I will pray in the Soviet night
For the blessed and senseless word.


I hear the theater’s light rustling
And a young girl’s “Oh” —
In Kypris’ [*] arms, a huge bunch
Of immortal roses.
Out of boredom, we warm ourselves
By a bonfire. Perhaps centuries will pass,
And the kind hands of touched women
Will gather up the light ashes.


Somewhere the red rows of the gallery,
The sumptuous chiffon of the boxes;
The clockwork-puppet of the officer;
Not for black souls or vile hypocrites . . .
Right. Put out, please, our candles
In the black velvet of worldwide emptiness,
The sloped shoulders of blessed women still sing,
But you won’t notice the night sun.

“Stretching taut the silken threads”

1: Stretching taut the silken threads
On a mother-of-pearl shuttle,
O, lithe fingers, begin
Your fascinating lesson.

Ebb and flow of your hands,
Monotonous movements,
No doubt you are conjuring
Some kind of solar fright.

When your broad palm,
Like a shell, flaming,
First dies down, drawn to the shadows,
Then sinks at last in a rosy light.

“We went out of our minds with the easy life”

1: We went out of our minds with the easy life,
Wine from morning on, hungover by evening,
How can I keep this idle gaiety,
Your blush, O drunken plague?

An agonizing ceremony in a handshake,
Nocturnal kisses on the streets,
While the currents of speech grow heavy,
And lanterns burn like torches.

We wait for death, like the fairytale wolf,
But I’m afraid that the first to die will be
The one with the anxious red mouth
And the forelock covering his eyes.

“Why do the clock-hoppers sing”

1: Why do the clock-hoppers [*] sing,
And fever rustle
And dry stove crackle —
It is red silk burning.

Why do the mice grind with their teeth
The slender ground of life —
A swallow has loosened
My shuttle for her daughter.

Why does rain murmur on the roof —
It is black silk burning,
But the cherry blossom will hear,
And on the bottom of the sea, forgive.

Because of the death of the innocent
And with no way to help,
In a nightingale’s fever,
There is still a warm heart.

“The flame annihilates”

1: The flame annihilates
My withered life,
Now it isn’t stone
I sing, but wood.

It is light and rough;
From a single piece come
The heart of the oak
And the fisherman’s oars.

Drive the pilings tighter.
Pound, you hammers,
About the wooden paradise
Where things are so much easier.

“I dream of hunchbacked Tiflis”

1: I dream of hunchbacked Tiflis,
Where a Sazandar’s groan resounds
The people cluster on the bridge,
The crowd carpets the whole capital,
While below, the Kura [*] murmurs.

Above the Kura are dukhans
Where there is wine and good pilaf,
A ruddy dukhanshchik
Gives glasses to the guests,
He is ready to serve you.

The thick Cahetian wine
In the cellar is ready to drink —
There in the coolness, in peace,
You drink your fill, drink in pairs:
Don’t drink alone.

In the smallest dukhan,
If you ask for Teliani,
You will find a friend. [*]
Tiflis will be swimming in a fog,
Your head will be swimming at the inn. [*]

“An American girl of twenty”

1: An American girl of twenty
Should reach Egypt,
Forgetting the advice from the Titanic,
Asleep on the bottom, gloomier than the crypt.

In America the sirens sing,
And the smokestacks of red skyscrapers
Give back their sooty lips
To the cold clouds.

In the Louvre stands the ocean’s daughter,
Beautiful as a poplar,
To crush the sugary marble
Climbs on the Acropolis like a squirrel.

Understanding not a word,
She reads Faust in the carriage,
And regrets that Louis
No longer holds the throne

“Sisters — Heaviness, Tenderness — your signs are identical”

1: Sisters — Heaviness, Tenderness — your signs are identical.
Bees and wasps suck the heavy rose.
A man dies, the heated sand grows cool, and
Yesterday’s sun is carried away on a black stretcher.

Oh, heavy honeycombs, tender nets,
Easier to raise a stone than say the words, ‘to love’!
I have one concern left on earth,
A golden one: to throw off time’s yoke.

I drink the turbid air as if it were muddy water.
Time is ploughed up, and the rose was the earth.
In a slow vortex, love has twined [*] the heavy,
Tender roses, the roses Heaviness and Tenderness,
Into double wreaths.

“I want to serve you”


1: I want to serve you
On an equal footing with others;
From jealousy, to tell your fortune
With dry lips. The word does not slake
My parched mouth,
And without you, the dense air
Is empty for me again.


I am not jealous anymore,
But I want you,
Alone I will take myself,
Like a sacrifice, to the hangman.
I will call you
Neither joy, nor love;
Some wild and strange blood
Was switched with mine.


One more moment,
And I will say to you:
It is not joy, but torment
I find in you.
And, like a crime,
I am drawn to you by
Your tender cherry mouth
Bitten in confusion.


Return to me at once:
It is awful without you,
I have never felt
More strongly about you.
And in the midnight drama
In dream or reality,
In alarm or languor,
I will call you.

“A phantom scene barely glimmers”


1: A phantom scene barely glimmers,
The soft choirs of shades,
Melpomene [*] has lashed the windows of her room with satin.
Wagons stand in the black gypsy-camp.
The frost crackles outside.
Everything is dishevelled — people and objects,
The burning snow crunches.


Piece by piece, the servants take down
Piles of bearskin coats.
In the rumple flits a butterfly,
A rose is muffled in the fur.
Gnats and boxes of colorful raimie,
The slight heat of the theater.
On the street the lamps flicker,
And the heavy steam belches.


The coachmen are weary from shouting,
And the night is pitch black.
No matter, my dear Eurydice,
That our winter is bitterly cold.
For me, my native tongue is sweeter
Than the song of Italian speech [*],
For in it, the fount of foreign harps
Will mysteriously prattle.


The pitiful sheepskin smells of smoke,
From a snow drift the street is black.
From a glorious melodic den
Immortal Spring flies to us, so that
The aria eternally resounds:
“You will return to the green meadows,”
And the living swallow fell back
On the burning snow.



1: The meaning of somber and barren
Venetian life is clear to me:
Now she looks into a decrepit blue glass
With a cool smile.


Refined air. Blue veins of skin.
White snow. Green brocade.
They are all placed on cypress stretchers,
Taken warm and drowsy from a cape.


And the candles burn, burn in baskets,
As if a pigeon had flown into the shrine.
At the theater and the solemn council,
A man is dying.


Because there is no salvation from love and fear,
Saturn’s ring is heavier than platinum,
The block draped with black velvet,
And a beautiful face.


Your headdress is heavy, Venezia,
In the cypress mirror frame.
Your air is faceted. In the bedroom,
The blue mountains of decrepit glass dissolve.


Only in her hands are the rose and the hourglass —
Green Adriatic, forgive me.
Why are you silent, Venetienne,
How can I escape this solemn death.


Black Hesper [*] glimmers in the mirror.
Everything passes, the truth is dark.
A man is born, a pearl dies.
And Susannah has to wait for the elders.

“I am sorry it is winter now”

1: I am sorry it is winter now,
And you can’t hear mosquitoes in the house,
But you reminded yourself
Of the frivolous straw.

The dragonflies hover in the blue sky,
And fashion twirls like a swallow;
A basket on the head,
Or a bombastic ode?

I don’t presume to give advice
And useless excuses,
But the taste of whipped cream
And the smell of oranges is forever.

You define everything without thinking,
And things are the worse for it.
What can you do? The most sensitive mind
Is put wholly on the surface.

You try to beat the yolk
With an angry spoon.
It grew white, it succumbed.
Yet just a little more. [*]

In you everything teases, everything sings
Like an Italian roulade,
And a small cherry mouth
Demands some dry grapes.

Don’t try so hard to be smart,
In you everything is whimsy, fleeting,
And in the shadow from your cap,
A Venetian bautta.


“The chalice was suspended in the air”

1: The chalice was suspended in the air
Like the golden sun for a splendid moment.
Here only Greek should be heard:
To take the whole world in your hands, like a simple apple.

The triumphal zenith of the service,
Light in a round room under a cupola in July,
So outside of time we could fully sigh
About that meadow, where time doesn’t fly.

The Eucharist drags on like an eternal noon —
Everyone takes the Sacrament, performs, and sings,
In view of everyone the sacred vessel
Pours out with inexhaustible rejoicing.

“As Psyche-Life goes down to the shades”

1: As Psyche-Life goes down to the shades
In a translucent forest in Persephone’s tracks,
A blind swallow falls at her feet
With Stygian tenderness and a green branch.

The shades flock to meet the fugitive,
Welcome their new visitor with laments,
Wring their feeble hands before her
Bewildered and in timid hope.

One holds a mirror, another a phial of perfume —
The soul is a woman, fond of trifles
And the leafless forest is sprinkled with fine rain of
Laments, dry transparent voices.

And in the gentle confusion, not knowing what to begin,
The soul does not recognize the spectral wood,
Breathes on the mirror, and hesitates to give
The copper coin from the misty crossing.

“Just for joy, take from my palms”

1: Just for joy, take from my palms
A little sun, a little honey,
As Persephone’s bees commanded.

An unfastened boat cannot be untied.
A shade shod in fur cannot be heard.
In the dense forest of life fear cannot be overcome.

Only kisses are left for us.
Furry, like small bees
That die when they leave the hive.

They rustle in transparent thickets of night,
Their home is the dense Taiga woods;
Their food — time, honeysuckle, mint.

So take and enjoy my passionate gift,
A dry, unsightly necklace
Of dead bees, who changed honey into sun.



1: Let us glorify, brothers, the twilight of freedom —
The great twilight year.
A weighty forest of nets is lowered
Into the bubbling waters of night.
You are rising into desolate years,
O sun, judge, people.


Let us glorify the fateful burden,
Which the nation’s chief takes up in tears.
Let us glorify the twilight burden of power,
Its unbearable weight.
Whoever has the heart should hear, time,
How your ship is sinking.


We tied the swallows into battle legions
And so, the sun’s obscured; all of nature
Warbles, whirls, lives;
The dense twilight through the nets
The sun’s obscured, and the land sets sail.


But still, let us try: an enormous, awkward,
Screeching turn of the wheel.
The land is sailing. Take courage, men!
Dividing the ocean, like a plow,
We will recall even in Lethe’s frost,
That our land cost ten heavens.

“At a dreadful height, a wandering fire — “


1: At a dreadful height, a wandering fire —
But does a star really flicker like that?
Transparent star, wandering fire,
Your brother, Petropolis, is dying.


At a dreadful height, earthly dreams are burning,
A green star is flying.
O if you are star, the brother of water and sky,
Your brother, Petropolis, is dying.


A monstrous ship flies at a dreadful height,
Spreading its wings —
Green star, in beautiful poverty
Your brother, Petropolis, is dying.


Above the black Neva, transparent Spring
Is smashed, the wax of immortality is melting.
O if you are a star, Petropolis, your city,
your brother, Petropolis, is dying.



1: I have forgotten the word that I wanted to say.
On clipped wings the blind swallow will return
To the hall of shadows, to play with the shades.
A night song is sung in forgetfulness.


You couldn’t hear a bird. The immortelle doesn’t bloom.
A herd of night mares with transparent manes.
An empty canoe glides on a waterless river.
The word is forgotten amidst the grasshoppers.


And it grows slowly, like a temple or tent,
And suddenly, like crazed Antigone, falls on its side,
Or lands at the feet, like a dead swallow,
With Stygian tenderness and a green branch.


O, if I could give back the disgrace of
Fingers that see and the pronounced joy of recognition.
I am so afraid of the Aonides’ [*] weeping,
Of mist, ringing, the abyss.


Yet the power to love and recognize is given to mortals,
For them even the sound pours through their fingers,
But I forgot what I want to say,
The intangible thought returns to the hall of shadows.


The transparency repeats the wrong thing,
Again and again: swallow, friend, Antigone. . .
But on the lips, like black ice, burns
The remembrance of a Stygian sound.

“If I am to know how to restrain your hands”)

1: If I am to know how to restrain your hands,
If I am to betray the tender, salty lips,
I must wait for daybreak in the dense acropolis.
How I hate those ancient weeping timbers [*].

Achaian men equip their steeds in darkness.
With jagged saws they rip firmly into the walls.
The dry fuss of blood does not subside at all,
And for you there is no name, no sound, no mold.

How could I imagine you’d return! How bold!
Why did I lose touch with you so prematurely!
The gloom has still not dispersed,
The cock has not finished his song,
The glowing ax has still not entered the pulp.

The resin came forth on the walls like a transparent tear,
And the city feels its wooden ribs,
But the blood rushed out to the stairs, an attack,
And thrice the men dreamed of the seductive figure.

Where is pleasant Troy, where is the king’s, the maiden’s home?
Priam’s great starling coop will be destroyed,
And the arrows will fall as a dry forest rain,
And more will spring up like a hazel grove.

The last star’s sting will be extinguished painlessly,
And morning will knock on the window like a grey swallow,
And slow day will begin to stir, like an ox in the haystack
Just awakened from a long dream.

“Beneath a veil of milky white”

1: Beneath a veil of milky white [*]
Stands Isaac’s [*] like a hoary dovecote,
The crozier irritates the grey silences,
The heart understands the airy rite.

The wandering specter of the centennial requiem,
The grand bearing of the shroud
And in a decrepit seine, the Gennesarian [*] gloom
Of the Lenten Week.

The Old Testament smoke on warm altars,
And the final, orphaned cry [*] of the priest,
A regal, humble man: clean snow on his shoulders,
And the savage purple mantles.

The eternal cathedrals of Sofia and Peter,
Storehouses of air and light, the possessions
Of the universal granary
And the threshing barn of the New Testament.

The spirit is not drawn to you in sorely troubled times,
Here drags the wolf’s track of unhappiness
Along the cloudy steps;
We will never betray it:

For the slave is free, has overcome fear,
And preserved beyond measure
In the cool granaries, in deep combines,
Is the kernel of deep, full faith.



About the electronic version

Mandelstam, Osip Emilievich
Creation of machine-readable version: Bruce A. McClelland
Creation of digital images: Bruce A. McClelland, Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia
Conversion to TEI2-conformant markup: University of Virginia Library Electronic Text Center
University of Virginia Library
Charlottesville, Va.

Text © Bruce McClelland, all rights reserved. Electronic version © Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 1996.

Note: Illustrations have been included from the print version.


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