PhD student in New Testament at Durham University in the UK. Ordained clergyman. Husband. I have a love for all things alt-rock, Pixar, football (American style), hockey, poetry, and good, short literature. On Twitter @toddhbrew
Here, in the final installment of “Mandelstam”, we end roughly where we began, with the poem echoed by Christian Wiman in his outstanding book “My Bright Abyss”. Wiman was my gateway into Mandelstam and his translation has proved to be both thoughtful and moving. This poem also serves as a excellent summary of Mandelstam and his quest to find light amid the darkness.
“Rough Draft” (1937)
Provisionally, then, and secretive,
I speak a truth whose time is not:
It lives in love and the pain of love,
In sweat, and the sky’s playful vacancy.
A whisper, then, a purgatorial prayer,
A testament of one man,…
Openness or emptiness, I’m sick of it
Infinity forced down the gullet:
Eat your god, child, and love it!
To be blinded would be a mercy here.
Better to live alluvial,
Better to live layered downward,
To me a man of sand, of hollows, shallows,
To cling to the sleeves of water
And to let them go–
An eon’s tune, an instant’s.
I might have rained the rapids back.
I might have learned to hear
In any random rotting log
A tree release its rings year by slow year.
Spiderlight, sticky expectant dread:
I turn and turn, only more entangled
We need bread, and we need plain air,
But we need, too, some distant unbreathable peak,
Some eye-annihilating glare…
If the ache is nameless, how do I ask for ease?
If the I itself is exile, can the soul survive
Such private ice?
Old touchstone, to touch a stone, but in all that I have known,
Never, not once, such clear
Dreamweeping distillations of atmosphere…
We need poetry to wake the dark we are,
To find us and bind us beyond us
To an age of wakefulness
In the one day’s unentangling sun,
Our breathing easy, ancient, like the pulse and peace
of iambs counting down to silence.
Shut up: to be alone is to be alive,
To be alive to be a man -
Even hazied, even queasied by this madsmash hinterland,
Lost and locked in the sky’s asylum eye.
This is my prayer to the air
To which I turn and turn expecting news or ease,
Nerves minnowing from shadowhands
Toward shadowlands inside of me. This is my prayer
To be of an under a human-scale sky,
To suffer a human-scale why, to leave
This blunt sun, these eternal furrows,
For the one country that comes when I close my eyes.
There is, I know, a science of separation
In night’s disheveled elegies, stifled laments,
The clockwork oxen jaws, the tense anticipation
As the city’s vigil nears its sun and end.
I honor the natural ritual of the rooster’s cry,
The moment when, red-eyed from weeping, sleepless
Once again, someone hoists the journey’s burden,
And to weep and to sing become the same quicksilver verb.
But who can prophesy in the word good-bye
The abyss of loss into which we fall;
Or what, when the dawn fires burn in the Acropolis,
The rooster’s rusty clamor means for us;
Or why, when some new life floods the cut sky,
And the barn-warm oxen slowly…
“Night Piece” 
Come love let us sit together
In the cramped kitchen breathing kerosene.
There’s fuel enough to forget the weather,
The knife is ours and the bread is clean.
Come love let us play the game
Of what to take and when to run,
Of come with me and come what may
And holding hands to hold off the sun.
“Mandelstam Lane” (1935)
What the hell sort of street is this?
Twist and twist
And it all comes out the same:
More kinked than the kinks in a madman’s brain.
Well, a ruler he was not.
I’ll say, and his morals hardly lily.
And that’s why this street,
Or rut, really,
Or pit pickaxed to the tune of Goddamn!—
Goes by the name of Mandelstam.
There is an overwhelming tenor of self-disgust which pervades this poem, an outrage and frustration over one’s current estate. Try as one may to change our status (a ruler he was not) or even our morality (hardly lily), everything ends up just as it was before, without any hope of restoration. Even more, the street itself which bears our name devolves from street, to rut, and finally a pit dug in godless immorality. The very mention of our name is synonymous with infamy.
The not-so-subtle -suggestions have been beckoning it for some time. With Wiman’s translation as a guide, this is the beginning of a descent into the “soul-demanding” work of Osip Mandelstam, an early 20th century Russian poet.
When light, failing,
Through stained glass,
The long grass
At the feet of Christ,
I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross
To sip the infinite
An air of thriving
Like a lone cypress
To some airless
So where are we now? Part one examined the broad issue of the historical Jesus and Paul, noting their differences and the ways those have been exploited to create present antithesis. Part two looked at three different attempts to overcome this divide between Jesus and Paul, with Johannes Weiss, Ernst Käsemann, and N.T. Wright broadly serving as representatives of different approaches to the historical Jesus and his relation to Paul. Each of these attempts is admirable, but flawed in their results or approach. So now I ask: Is there a different way to construe the relationship between Jesus and Paul?…
This is the second of three posts examining the possible relationship between Paul of Tarsus and the historical Jesus.
The previous post broadly outlined the problem of the historical Jesus and his relationship to Paul the apostle. I noted Paul’s apparent indifference toward Jesus’ message, the conceptual dissimilarity between Paul’s doctrine of justification and Jesus’ kingdom of God (to recall one example), and most importantly, the requirement of historical Jesus studies to separate Jesus’ words from later confessions about Jesus. Consequently, many have construed the relationship between Jesus and Paul in antithetical terms – one may choose either Paul or…
The following is the first of three posts devoted to the question of the relationship between Paul the Apostle and Jesus of Nazareth.
It was only a hundred years ago that German scholar William Wrede contended that Paul should be considered “the real founder of Christianity”. In his eyes, Paul was the innovative theologian who transformed Christianity from the kingdom proclamation of a wandering Jewish Rabbi into a religion of saving facts, incarnation, death/resurrection, and redemption. Wrede’s statement, however provocative it is, represents a fault line within Christianity that persists today. In many sections of Christianity Jesus’ simple message of the…
Can this be Mockingbird’s theme song? This morning I stumbled upon an Allison Weiss song called “One Way Love” – perhaps a creative rift on this book? It’s an infectious bubble gum pop-punk tune with simple, yet fantastic lyrics (posted below).
I want a one way love, none of this round trip stuff. I wanna laugh ‘til we cry, wanna hold on ‘til we die, oh I want a one way love. I want a one way love, the kind that won’t give up. I wanna hope, wanna trust, wanna need, wanna lust, yeah, I want a one way love….
Perhaps this is not your issue, but I often find that the language we speak as Christians when talking about Christianity simply fails to really connect. Whether it be in a sermon, prayers, or music, full of talk of ‘justification’, ‘grace’, ‘redemption’, etc., when we hear the words, nod our heads in assent, but fail to really understand. We may know the words, but since we don’t to have any emotional or existential connection to them, they fail to have any real significance for us.
This breakout session is specifically looking at the issue of self-righteousness and its opposite, humility/honesty, through…
Another brilliant parody from The Onion on the complex dynamics of judgment in relationships, specifically our obsession with the achievement game, the need to broadcast to everyone when you seem to be succeeding (I’m looking at you, half-marathon runners), and our bitter dislike/envy of those who seem to be #winning.
ALEXANDRIA, VA—Annoyed sources confirmed this week that married and pregnant local woman Ashley Canfield will not stop achieving significant life milestones, unanimously agreeing that the 30-year-old law school graduate seriously needs to just cool it with the achievements.
Saying they were tired of hearing about her steadily progressing life via occasional…