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Posts tagged "Osip Mandelstam"

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Rough Draft" (1937)

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Rough Draft" (1937)

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 […]

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Steppes" (1937)

“Steppes” (1937)800px-Steppe_of_western_Kazakhstan_in_the_early_spring

Openness or emptiness, I’m sick of it
Horizon everywhere,
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.

[note: a steppe is a prairie with wide open, flat, terrain that is too dry to any trees to grow. By contrast an alluvial plain is rain soaked and full of sedimentary rock]

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Sorrowdrawl" (1937)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Sorrowdrawl” (1937)

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.

Mondays with Mandelstam: Tristia (1918)

Mondays with Mandelstam: Tristia (1918)

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 […]

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Night Piece"

Night-City-Sky“Night Piece” [1931]

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.

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Twist and twist And it all comes out the same"

Dark Alley
“Mandelstam Lane” (1935)

What the hell sort of street is this?
Mandelstam Lane.
Diabolical name!
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.

Mondays with Mandelstam: "Cathedral, Empty"

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.

David-Stephenson-Vaults_01“Cathedral, Empty” (1910)

When light, failing,
Falling

Through stained glass,
Liquefies

The long grass
At the feet of Christ,

I crawl diabolical
To the foot of the cross

To sip the infinite
Tenderness

Distilled
From destroyed

Hearts:
An air of thriving

Hopelessness
Like a lone cypress

Holding on
To some airless

Annihilating height.