History of Literature

Осип Мандельштам




Osip Mandelshtam



Osip Mandelstam










Tranlsation by Ilya Shambat

It's so my own and so familiar. What should
I do with this God-given flesh and blood?

For joys so quiet as to live and breathe,
Who will receive my gratitude for these?

I'm both the gardener and flower one,
In this world's dungeons I am not alone.

On the glass of the eternal one can see
The traces of my breath and of the warmth of me.

Henceforth it bears a pattern which is mine
Even to me unknown from recent times.

Let it be drained, the turmoil of the day -
The lovely pattern won't be crossed away.

She has not taken her first sigh -
She is the word and music both -
And thus of all that lives and grows
A timeless and unbroken tie.

Placidly breathe the breasts of sea
The day is bright, as if gone mad,
The sea foam's pallid lilacs stand
In vase of lapis lazuli.

O, would my lips accept the lure
Of muteness prime, now so remote,
Reminding of a crystal notes
That are innately truly pure.

Be foam, O Venus, stay as mists,
And words to music do return
And heart, at heart's own shame do burn,
Fused with the core of what exists!

x x x
An inexpressible sorrow
Two giant pupils opened wide,
A vase of flowers rose beside
And into air her crystals threw

The room was filled three meters deep
With dreaminess - hello sweet balm!
That such a liliputian realm
Could have consumed so much of sleep.

A bit of wine a bit of cake -
A bit of sunny May despite -
And thinnest fingers snowy white,
Alive at last, have stretched awake.

x x x
A snow hive cleaner than the air,
Crystal more see-through than the glass
A turquoise veil adorned with brass
Carelessly tossed upon a chair.

A cloth made drunk of her own glow
Caressed by tenderness of light
Experienced the summer bright
As though it were the winter snow.

And if through diamonds made of ice
Frosts of eternities were streaming
Here is the flutter of the dreaming
Fast-living blue-eyed dragonflies.

x x x
Blackened wind weaves patterns hollow
Under barely breathing leaves
And a trembling little swallow
In dark skies a circle weaves.

Quietly argue in the heart
Dear, dying, mine despite,
An impending dusk apart
Of an ebbing ray of light.

And above the woods of dusk
Has arisen copper moon;
Why so little song, I ask,
And such silence in the lone?

x x x
Why is the soul so lyrical
And so few are the names I love
And the ready rhythm but a miracle
Like Aquillon from above?

He will raise clouds of dust in a hurry
He will leaf through the paper stack
And he will not come back -- or maybe
As another he will come back?

Winds of Orpheus are embracing -
You will leave for the sea and sky -
And, the world not created praising,
I forgot the superfluous "I".

In a make-believe grove I have wandered
And into an azure cave delved..
Am I really real, I ponder,
And death will claim my true self?

x x x
Perhaps you not need me not this minute,
Night; from sea foams of the world -
A shell without a pearl within it -
Upon your shores I have been hurled.

With mists the ocean you embellish
And wordlessly you sing as well;
But you will love, and you will cherish
The pretense of a useless shell.

On ocean sands you lie next to her
In misty haze you dress her well
And with tight roping you tie to her
An oversized and brazen bell.

And then the seashell, fragile, empty,
A lonely heart that beats in vain,
You fill with sea foam's whispers plenty,
With fog with wind and with light rain.

x x x
Oh your image, haunting me yet blurred,
In the fog I could not touch or feel.
"Goodness me" by error slipped the word
Unawares, yet heeding its appeal.

Name of god, like a large bird, so intensely,
Took a flight right out of my chest.
Straight ahead the fog is steaming densely
And behind me, cage's emptiness.

x x x
White light falls in cold measure
In damp forest on summer day
In my heart I am slowly carrying
Sadness, like bird colored gray.

What to do with a bird that is wounded?
She went silent, then died as well.
From a fogged-over belltower
Someone has stolen the bell.

And here stands the silent
Muted and orphaned height
Like a tower white and empty
In foggy and quiet night.

Morning abysmally tender
Semi-awake, semi-dream,
Foggy ringing of thoughts,
Oblivion like a scream.

The Snake

The dusk of autumn -- just like rusted metal
Sings, violates and eats through flesh
That falls like all temptation and Cresus's capital
Before the razor blade of your anguish.

My God! Like by a dancing snake I'm falling
Exhausted, and before her I am meek;
My soul's salvation I am not extolling
The reason or the muse I do not seek.

Enough untying with my wits or essence
A finely woven yarn of smart replies
There are no words for laments and confessions,
Heavy and shallow is my cup of lies.

Why do you breathe? On stones you will be dancing,
Sick python you, then curling in a ball;
Next moment swing and twist as if romancing,
And instantly in expiration fall.

And uselessly the day of execution,
Agape at all the sound and all the sight,
I listen as has fearlessly come completion,
The screech of metal and the wind's dark might!

x x x
Today is an ominous day:
Grasshoppers singing is down
And shadow of rocks far away
Is darker than coroner's gown.

There's jingle of shimmering arrows
And screams of crows grown wise,
I dream of terrible sorrows
Moment past moment flies.

Move skeins of events apart
Break through the earth's cage
Rebelling anthem impart
The copper of secret rage!

The pendulum on the clock
Of souls is strict, swings with hate,
And ominous is the knock
Of fate on the secret gate.


I feel a fear that I cannot defy
In presence of the secretive above.
Like swallow I am happy in the sky
And loftiness of towers I love.
It seems as though the ancient overpass
Over abyss on bending beams that groan
I hear. A snowball grows and gathers mass,
Eternity beats on the hours of stone.

When would it be! But it is not my role
To dance on faded leaves and scream and hiss
And sadness sings in me without control -
I feel an avalanche in heaven's bliss!
And in the bell tower you can find my soul
But music will not save from the Abyss!

x x x
No, not the moon, a luminous clock face
Shines from the sky, and what is my disgrace,
That I can feel the weak star's pallid force?

And loathsome to me is Batyushkov's rhyme:
They asked him here once what was the time
Eternity, he told them in response.

x x x
I cannot stand the rays
Of banal stars at night
Greetings, my madness old,
Gun tower's searing height.

Become a whirling stone
A cobweb become instead:
The empty heaven's chest
Wound with a thinning thread.

My time will come as well
Spreading the wings as I ought
But whereverfrom comes
Arrow of living thought?

Exhausting my way or my time
I'll be back again here;
There I could not love,
Here to love I fear.


I take no joy in the pleasures of the strife
And nature is a graying dot today
And only in light drunkenness I may
Experience the colors of my life.
The wind is playing with a cloud immersed
An anchor falls to bottom of the sea
And breathless like a canvas under me
Soul overhangs abysses of the cursed.

But I adore casino on the sea
The foggy window swinging avidly
On rippling cloth a ray of sun shines through
Surrounded by water green and blue
When like a rose a glass of wine is full
I see the flapping wings of a seagull!

Village of the Tsar

Let's head to village of the Tsar
Where drunken, swept by wind and free
Young men are smiling right at me
Riding on horseback high and far.
Let's head to village of the Tsar!

Parks, castles, stables in a row
And on the trees are lumps of snow
And to the shouts -- "be well, hotshots"
The words "be well" ring back like shots -
Parks, castles, stables in a row.

One-story houses wide and far
Where generals of single mind
Shorten their lifetimes going blind
Reading Dumas and "Nieva":
Mansions -- not houses -- wide and far.

Train whistles. Riding in, a knight,
With retinue in pavilions full of light
A sword behind him sternly dragging
Officer leaves the cabin, ragging:
I do not doubt this is a knight!

And man is coming home again --
Where etiquette and decor reign
A fear-instilling chariot
A grey-haired fraulein on the spot
Knows, man is coming home again...

Golden Coin

All day long the autumn's dampened air
In confoundment and angst I have inhaled.
I would like a supper - and the stars are
In a blackened purse and gold and pale!

And as with a yellow fog o'ergrown,
I descend into a tiny hole;
Nowhere such a restaurant have I known
Nor such company can I recall.

Petty bureaucrats, Japanese dealers,
Theologians of a foreign trust..
On the porch a man is feeling dollars
And they all are drunken to the last.

Be so kind to me, and change my money.
I am asking him persistently --
Only do not give me paper money,
I can't stand the crumpled bills of three.

What to do with all this drunken crowd?
How have I lucked in here, I enjoin?
If I have the right, I ask out loud,
Won't you change for me my golden coin?

Old Man

It's dawn, sirens are wailing,
Seven a.m.
You that appear like Verlen,
Wake up old man!

Eyes childish, angling,
Green fire makes ash;
Upon the neck is hanging
A colored sash.

He curses, mutters, mumbles
Words lost within;
He wants to make confession
But first to sin.

A disappointed worker
A bitter one
The eye, beat up in melee,
Shines like the sun.

Thus having followed Sabbath,
He drags his feet:
Happy privation stares
From every street.

At home, flying with curse words
And white with rage,
A harsh wife meets and screams at
The drunken sage.

St. Petersburg

Above the federal buildings' yellow gown
A hazy flurry circles far and wide
Within the sled the coachman sits down
And with broad gesture hides his coat inside.

Ships fall asleep. And in the evening, rocking,
Thick cabin windows fill to brim with light.
And monstrously -- just like a fortress docking --
Russia is breathing heavily at night.

On the Nieva stand hundred embassies;
Admiralty, the sun, and silence glare.
The state's tight porphyry upon us sits,
Poor like an uncouth bodice made of hair.

Hard is the journey of the Northern snob -
Eugene Onegin's well-cliche'ed despair;
On Senate square are mounds of fallen snow
A bonfire's smoke, and chill of steel made bare.

The ducks are sipping water, and the gulls
In waving folds of sea are gently lurking
Where, selling lumps of beef or tender rolls,
Like opera singers peasant men are walking.

Into the fog a row of birds is flying:
Self-loving, modest march can't wait.
That goof Onegin, poverty decrying
Is breathing gasoline and cursing fate.

x x x
Foreigner sits in a stifling tavern
In the hour when all seems dead,
Leaving behind the dullard drunkards
I walk out and clear my head.

Courage of the midnight women
And the crazy stars' cold might,
And a bum is begging money
For a room to spend the night.

Who, please tell me, in this moment
With the grape will dull my wits,
If the dock is work of Peter
Copper horseman, granite streets.

I hear signals from the fortress
I feel warmth drift from the sea.
Shots of cannon through the cellars
Have been ringing probably.

And much deeper than the ringing
Of that inflamed head on me
Are the stars, stark conversation,
And a Nieva westerly.

The Lutheran

On Sunday walk near Protestant cathedral
I came across a funeral in motion
The absent-minded passerby I noticed
Put all of them in a severe commotion.

The foreign language did not reach my ear
And only a thin whiplash shone clear
And the empty holiday thoroughfare
Reflected lazy horseshoes from the rear.

And in elastic darkness of the chariot
Where sadness, hypocrite, hid her face,
Wordless and tearless, lost for hellos,
In vase the autumn roses interlaced.

Foreigners followed in a black procession
And tear-drenched dames were walking in their stead
Blushed cheeks covered with veils, and with direction
The horseman ruled above them: Straight ahead!

Whoever you have been, deceased Lutheran,
Lightly they buried you and lightly sang.
The eyes were fogged over with decent tears
And with reserve above you church bells rang.

And then I thought: I need not proselytyze.
We are not prophets, not preachers if I may,
We don't like heaven, hell we do not fear,
We shine like candles in the middle of the day.

Hagia Sofia

Hagia Sofia -- here to stop and stare
The Lord has ordered people and the tsars!
Your dome, as an eyewitness once described it,
As if by chains is hanging from the stars.
To all a shining light -- age of Justinian,
When to steal off for foreign gods unseen
Dedicated Diana the Ephesian
Hundred and seven marble columns green.
To what aspired your generous creator,
When high in spirit and in reason blessed,
He laid your features on the ground
And pointed them directions east and west?
The temple shines, in the world's aura bathing,
And forty windows -- triumph of the light;
On sails under the dome the four archangels
Finest of all and basking in delight.
This building will outlast people and ages
So wise and spherical and nobly built
And incandescent weeping of the angels
Will not corrode away the darkened gilt.

Notre Dame

Where Roman magistrate once judged the foreign nation
Basilica stands. With muscles bursts
A light and cross-shaped bridge: Christ joyful, like the first
Adam, having spread his nerves out in elation.
But will reveal itself the hidden plan!
Here might of granite arches took good care
That ram-like daring overpass stood there
Yet loaded massive walls were good to stand.
A desert labyrinth, a forest timeless,
A rational abyss across the gothic soul,
Oak and kingdom to adorn the hall
Egyptian might and Christian shyness.
But what is more important, Notre Dame,
Your monstrous ribs I studied from the start
And oft I thought: I too will make fine art
From sturdy heaviness through which I came.

x x x
"How luxury of these wares and robes and lace
Is loathsome to me in my disgrace"
"In the stone Troezene
A famous sorrow will be
Stairs in the king's name
Will grow red from shame
Black sun will rise above
A mother in love"
"Oh if the hatred only in my chest had boiled
But recognition from my lips recoiled"
"Phaedra burns with a black flame in broad daylight
A funeral torch burns in broad daylight
Fear your mother, Hippolitus,
Phaedra the night guards you in broad daylight"
"With black love I blotched the sun's face
Death will cool my ash from a clean vase."
"We fear, we do not dare
Help relieve the king's despair.
Hearbroken with Theseus,
Night attacked him too
We, with a funeral song
Send the dead along
Passion sleepless and wild
Will have the black sun reviled."


A word of peace, rejected, stands
At start of an insulted era;
There's light inside a darkened cavern
And ether of the foreign lands;
Ether, of which we just could not,
Of which to breathe we did not want;
With voice of goats, deep and gaunt,
Priests are singing, hairy lot.
While goatlings and steer both
On foggy pastures were delaying
And friendly eagles were relaying
From shoulders of the sleepy rocks
Germans fed eagles on the rock
An Englishman a lion revered
And Gallic comb at once appeared
From out the mantle of a cock.
And now behold, the wild sage
Has grasped the steeple of Heracles,
And then the soil was shorn of sparkles,
Black and ungrateful like old age.
I'll take a dry stick in my palms
And wring from it a spark of fire,
Let into stream of night expire
The beasts aroused by my charms.
The cock, the lion, the brown, thin
Eagle and the tender bear --
We'll build a cage before the war
And warm with fire the animal skin.
And wine of time I also sing
The source of the Italian fable
As in the pre-aryan cradle
Tongues Slavic and Germanic ring.
You aren't too lazy, Italy,
To shake the chariots of Rome,
With gargling of domestic fowl
Having flown from menagerie?
And you, the hen, do not play rough:
The eagle here sits mean and hyped
What that for you and all your type
A heavy stone is not enough?
In the menagerie the beasts now reign,
We will get calmer for much longer,
And in its fullness will gush Volga,
As lighter water flows through Rhine.
And a wise man from days of yore
To foreigner will pay his honor
Like demi-god, in whirling fervor,
Dancing with river on her shore!

x x x

In multitude of choir polyhymnal
All tender churches sing in their own voice
And the stone vaults of the Dormition cathedral
Like eyebrows in still higher arch rejoice.

And from the rampart fortified by the archangels
I watched the city from a wondrous height
In the Acropolis sadness has deranged me
For Russian name and Russian beauty's sight.

That of the garden we dream it is no wonder,
Where doves do soar upon the hot blue beams
The nun sings Orthodox hymns, Dormition's wonder,
Florence in Moscow so tender seems

And the five-domed Moscow cathedrals
With soul Italian and Russian both
Remind me of Aurora's reappearance
With Russian surname and draped in fur clothes.

x x x

Upon a horse-sleigh laid to brim with straw
And covered barely with hides and birch,
We rode around the lumbering Moscow
From Sparrow Hills to a familiar church.

On Uglich street the kids are playing babki
And from a stove exudes bread's sweet smell
Through street without a hat they take me
Three candles burn in tower near a bell.

Not just three candles burned, but three encounters,
One of them God had blessed and known
Forth did not happen -- and the Rome still further -
And never did he love the ancient Rome.

The sled was diving into blackened snowdunes
And from the darkness people poured like weeds.
Thin peasant men and hateful-looking women
Right at the gate were separating seeds.

The distance, wet, had blackened with birds' trails,
And hands tied down inside the sleigh grew tired.
They drive the prince -- the body numbs and pales -
And then they set the orange straw on fire.

Straw (Salome) *

When, little Straw, you lie in giant bedroom
And, sleepless, wait, that solemn, true and high,
Heavy and calm -- what could be more despairing --
Forever on you will descend the sky -

A whistling Straw, a dry Straw, or Straw empty,
You drank death to the brim and made it raw.
A straw broke dear, lifeless and so tender:
No, not Salome, no, it was but the Straw.

In sleepless hour all objects grow in scale
As if in numbers few -- it is so quiet --
In mirror pillows flash, a little pale,
And in round haze the bed reflects at night.

No, not the Straw in her triumphant satin,
In giant room over Nieva's black streams,
Twelve months are singing of the hour of Satan,
And pale blue ice through scalding air steams.

The breath of triumphing December rises
As if heavy Nieva were in the room.
No, not the Straw, not that which the man despises:
I've learned you, blessed words, Ligeia, doom.

I've learned you, blessed words, that man despises,
Ligeia, Seraphita, Straw, Lenore,
In giant bedroom heavy Nieva rises
And blue blood gushes from the granite floor.

Over Nieva December shines white light.
Twelve months are singing of the hour of Satan.
No, not the Straw in her triumphant satin
Instills a slow and tortuous respite.

There lives in me December's own Ligeia
Whose love sleeps in sarcophagus and burns,
And you, my little Straw, perhaps Salome,
Were killed by pity and will not return.

* In Russian Solominka, or Little Straw, nickname for Lou-Andreas Solome.

x x x
"I lost a cameo I used for grooming
On shores of the Nieva, I know not where.
I pity a majestic Roman woman" -
You uttered this to me in near despair.

But what's the point, you gorgeous Georgian maiden,
Of shaking divine ashes from the sky?
One fluffy snowflake, its beauty fading,
Melted upon the lashes of your eye.

And then you bowed the neck so short and tender.
There are no Romans and no cameo.
I pity the dark-bodied Tinotina --
A Rome for maidens on the Nieva's shore.

x x x
Hellenes were readying for war
Over a gorgeous island Salamin.
Overtaken fully by the foe
From Athens' harbor it was seen.

And now the friends and islanders
Fill our ships with their toil.
Englishmen did not love earlier
The sweetness of Europe's soil.

O Europe, you, the new Hellene,
Guard Pirius and Acropolis.
We don't need presents from the island,
A whole forest of unwelcome ships.

x x x
I'm feeling chilly. The transparent spring
Dresses Petropolis in a verdant down
But, like a jellyfish, Nieva's blue waves
Revulse me slightly and bid me calm down.
Upon the northern shores of this great river
The headlights of the autos head out far
Dragonflies soar and steely-winged bugs shiver,
Above us sparkle golden heads of stars.
But not one star will murder probably
The heavy emerald waters of the sea.
In the Petropolis of shades we will expire
Proserpina reigns above us in her power
With every breath partaking dying air,
Closer to death with every passing hour.
The goddess of the sea, mighty Athena,
Do please take off the giant stone attire.
In the Petropolis of shades we will expire.
In this place reigns not you, but Proserpina.

x x x
In Sunday marvel disbelieving
We walked through cemetery stones
The land as you well know
Reminds me of these hills at dawn
Where Russia tears itself free
Over a black and deafening sea.
From monastery mount
Meadow runs long and still.
I don't want to head south
From wilds of Vladimir.
But in this darkened, wooden
And ugly country rubble
To stay with a drunk nun
Means only trouble.
I kiss the suntanned elbow
And waxen forehead skin.
I know -- under tanned yellow -
It still is white and thin.
I kiss the place where bracelet
Has left a stripe of pale.
Taurida's flaming summer
Creates such miracle.
How soon did you grow tanner
And came to mass to bow
You kissed the cross forever
Grew proud in Moscow
To us remains but naming:
Until the end
Take from my palms forever
The holy sand.

x x x
This night has gone beyond redemption
And it is daylight where you dream.
Today the black sun has arisen
Over Jerusalem.

Sun that is yellow is still scarier.
Goodnight, sleep tight,
Jews interred my mother's remnants
In the temple of the light

And without a divine blessing
And without a priest's sash
Judeans in a light temple
To the heaven sang her ash.

And then over my mother
Voices of Israelites rung
I awoke inside my cradle,
Shining with a blacker sun.


"To this the Senate serves as witness -
Such actions do not die"
Smoked a cigar and tucked his gown,
Chess players nearby.

The dreams of honor he exchanged for plot
In god-forsaken deep Siberian wilds
And elegant cigar at poisoned lips,
The truth of bitter world having revealed.

First German oaks rustle with their leaves
Then in the shadows Europe weeps and begs
At each triumphant angle of the curve
Quadrigae's stallions stand upon hind legs.

Once in our glass blue punch glowed
And with the sound much like a samovar
A girlfriend spoke quietly from afar,
The freedom-loving Rheinian guitar.

The voices of the living scream and cry
About the citizen's sweet liberty
But victims do not wish the open sky
But rather work and constancy.

All is confused, and nobody can hear
That it is getting colder every day
All is confused, and it is sweet to hear:
Russia, Lethe, and Lorelei.


Still far away are asphodels,
Transparent-graying spring
But in the meanwhile, here,
Sand rustles, and wave rings.
But now my soul has entered
Persephone's light charms
In kingdom of the dead there are
No tanned and gorgeous arms.
Why do we trust the boat
With coffin urn's dead weight
And over amethyst waters
Black roses celebrate
My soul strives through the ether
Beyond Cape Meganom
Black sail returns from there
Carrying funeral gloom.
How fast the clouds are running
Unlighted and so soon
And black rose leaves are flying
Under this windy moon
And bird of death and weeping
Drags through a mourning stern
Huge flag of reminiscence
Behind a cypress stern.
The fan of summers opens
With sadness in my hand,
In darkness and with weeping
Amulet lost in sand,
My soul aims for that country
Beyond Cape Meganom
And black sail is returning
Carrying funeral gloom.

x x x
When on the squares in silence
We slowly lose our minds
Cruel winter offers to us
The cold and clean rhine wine

It gives in silver bucket
The Valhalla's white wine
And of a northern man
With glimmer it reminds.

But northern skalds are rougher
They know no joy of game
And northern wilds are fonder
Of amber, feast and flame.

They dream of Southern air
And magic foreign sky
And still the stubborn girlfriend
Won't even give a try.

x x x
Among the priests a young Levite
As morning sentinel for long remained
Judean night grew denser over him,
A ruined temple stood in bitter pain.

He spoke: The yellow of the sky is menace
Run, Jews, over Euphrates it is night.
And old men thought: We should not take the blame here.
This joy of Judea, this black and yellow light.

He was with us, as on the riveshore
We draped the Saturday in precious linen
And with a heavy menorah he lit
Jerusalem's night and vapour of nonbeing.

x x x
A river of golden honey from the bottle was pouring
So long and so thick that the hostess had time to speak:
"To this sad Taurides, where life does not get boring,
We jouneyed through fortune" -- and looked over the neck.
There are Bacchus's services everywhere, as if in the whole world
There were dogs and janitors only. Walk -- and no one will notice.
And like heavy barrels, the days, calm and temperate, rolled.
From far in the mountains a voice: "You won't answer, or know this."
We entered a giant brown garden when done with the tea,
With curtains like eyelids the windows were sealed over
We walked past white columns to look at the grapes swinging free,
With air like with glass strands the enchanted mountains did shower.
I said that the grape plant, like an ancient battlefield, lives
Where curly-haired horsemen battle in frizzly order,
The stony Taurides remembers the science of Greece
These rusty rows, ten of each, noble and with gold sealed over.
And in a white room, silence stands like a hiding wall,
Smells are of vinegar, paint, and fresh wine from down under.
Remember, that in a Greek house the wife was beloved by all,
Not Helen but -- for as long as she wove - another.
Golden fleece, please tell me, where are you, golden fleece --
All the way rose and roared on the journey the heavy sea waves
And leaving the ship, having labored the canvas at seas,
Odysseus was coming back home, full of time, full of space.

x x x
The wooden organ did not roar this evening.
The cradle song of Schubert to us sang
The windmill blew and in the hurricane's singing
Laughing blue-eyed intoxication rang.

The world of ancient song is green and brown,
The world of ancient song, young for all age,
Where nightingale elms' towering crowns
The forest rocks with fierce and beastly rage.

And night's return, so terrible and mighty,
That song is wild and deep just like black wine -
This poltergeist is but a visage empty
That, thoughtless, knocks upon the windowpane.

x x x
Your fabulous enunciation -
Hot whistling of a bird of prey,
Create a true representation
Of silken eyelids, I dare say.

"What" -- and the head has fallen
"Why" -- I am asking you
And far away the leaves are calling:
We live upon this planet too.

So let them say that love is flighty -
Flightier hundred times is death.
The soul is striving still and mighty,
Our lips fly toward it with each breath.

And in your whisper, so much silk,
And so much air, and so much light,
That as if blinded we both drink
The sunless brew of windy night.


The essence of farewell I have extracted
From hatless laments of the sleepless night
As oxen chew, and waiting grows protracted,
And end of city vigil is in sight -
And I recall the rooster night with fear
When lost in doleful journey for too long
Into the void the tear-drenched eyes did peer
And woman's cry mingled with muse's song.

Who yet again can say farewell, unknowing
What longing and what sorrow waits for us,
What good is it to judge the rooster's crowing
When fire is burning in Acropolis;
And on the somewhere dawn of some new lifetime,
While in the shed the oxen calmly stall,
Why does the rooster, herald of new lifetime,
Flap his flamboyant wings on city wall?

And yet I love the way fate weaves her gown:
The shuttle runs, the spindle turns apace,
And straight ahead, look now, for like swan's down
The barefoot Delia is flying in your face!
Oh, of a life is but a shoddy structure
When tongue is starved so utterly for light!
All was before, all will repeat then rupture
And only recognition brings respite.

Thus it will be: A figurine, transparent,
Stands on an earthen dish that's clean and wide,
And like a snow-white winter squirrel pelt
A girl leans over wax and looks inside.
Ours not is to divine the Greek Erebus:
Wax is to her what bronze is to her mate.
Our dice falls only in the field of battle;
With divination women seal their fate.

The Tortoise

Upon Pieria's great stone cascades
The muses were conducting their first choir
And just like bees, the blind musicians made
Gifts of Ionian honey from their lyres.
From a young woman's convex forehead
Cold air blew in gusts like rays of sun
That the archipelago's tender coffins
Would open for the far-off great-grand-son.
The springtime stomps across the meadows of Hellas,
The rainbow-booted Sappho runs along
Cicadas ring as if with tiny hammers
And interweave like tendrils with sweet song.
The carpenter has built a giant tower,
For wedding day they suffocated hens
And to create the shoes the clumsy cobbler
Has stretched and tattered all the five ox skins.
Unhurried and unkempt is turtoise-lyre
Like something legless barely crawling past
She lies under the sunshine of Epirus,
Her golden stomach warming not-too-fast.
Well, who in such a shape will care for her,
Who'll turn her over while she sleeps at night?
In dreams she is awaiting for Terpander
Sensing at dawn the drying fingers' flight.
Cold dew is feeding oaks with gentle ease
The unkempt grass with erudition speaks her view,
Honeycomb falls to the delight of bees -
Oh, holy isles, exactly where are you,
Where broken bread is never eaten,
Where there is only honey, wine and milk,
Where fiddle's labor does not reach the heaven,
And languorously turns the fortune's wheel.

x x x
Let's head to other places, other science,
Where dinner is kebab and cornish hen,
And where a placard advertising trousers
Gives knowledge of the tastes of local men.
A man's tuxedo -- headless striving, fearless,
The local barber's screaming violin
And mesmerizing iron -- gives appearance
Of heaven's washers and gravity's grin.
Here women grow old in stockings, yet
Think of foreign apparel, it so seems,
And admirals in angular berets
Look like the Queen Scheherezada's dreams.
There is some grape, sun gleams from far away
And a fresh wind relentlessly blows sternly.
Swimming is hard, but stars remain the same
In the vicinity of Baghdad and of Smyrna.

x x x
In crystal swampland there is such a violence!
Beyond, Sienian mountains stand sky-clad,
Gothic cathedrals of the rocks gone mad
Hang in the air, where there is fur and silence.
From hanging staircases of kings and prophets
Organ descends, filled with the holy ghost,
Barking of German shepherds, fierce repose,
The shepherds' mutton and the judges' outfits.
Here earth is motionless, and in her castle
I drink the Christendom's dear cold air
I trust in wine and in the psalmist's prayer,
In keys and cloth of churches of Apostle.
Which line could have passed on the Crystal vase
Fastened within an ether of high notes:
And like a song of Palestine the goodwill floats
From Christian Mountain through the transfixed space.

x x x
Nature is Rome, and is reflected there.
We see images of citizen's parades
Like in blue circus, in transparent air,
On forum of the fields and forest's collonades.

Nature is that same Rome, and once more
We do not need to worry Gods in guilt,
From animal entrails to divine of war,
To pray that slaves be quiet and stones be built.

x x x
Only children's books to read,
Only children's thoughts to debate,
To spread far all that is great,
From deep sadness to rise and heed.

I am deadly tired of life,
I won't take from her any more,
But I love this earth so poor,
For another has not arrived.

In a far-away garden green-blue
On a simple swing I swung free
And high and dark fur tree
I remember in foggy spew.

x x x
Return into the lap of incest
From where you have descended, Leah,
That yellow twilight you preferred
To golden sun of Ilion.

Go forward, not a hand will touch you,
To father's chest, when night is dead,
And let the night the incest-maker
Let drop your head.

But fateful change that lasts forever
Will take place in you all the same.
You will be Leah and not Helen -
Not, not because this is your name -

And not because it is much harder
Within the veins to pour king's blood -
No, you will love a Judean
Vanish in him -- and help you God.

x x x
Behold, this air, made drunk with haze
Upon Kremlin's black square -
Maniacs shake the world in craze,
And poplars smell of fear.

From wax cathedrals' shapes are wrung,
A thick belltower forest,
Just like a robber without tongue
In stone rafters lost.

And in imprinted cathedrals,
Where it is cold and dark
Like tender muddy amphoras
Russian wine plays with sparks.

Marvelously round Uspenskiy,
Glorious in heaven's arches
And then the green Blagoveshenskiy,
It seems, suddenly lurches.

Archangelsky and Resurrection -
Like palms they flare
And fire hides in pitchers -
There's burning everywhere.

x x x
In St. Petersburg again we come together,
As though Sun inside there we interred
As though for the first time and forever
We pronounced the blessed, thoughtless word.
In black velvet of a Soviet even,
In black velvet global emptiness,
Sing the darling eyes of blissful women,
Deathless flowers blossom and caress.
Like a wildcat the city her back arches
Over the bridge the patrol stands in line
An angry motor through the darkness marches
And like a cookoo-bird begins to whine.
I need no nightly pass across the bridge
I do not fear the nightly watchmen;
And this one time for blessed, thoughtless speech
I will make prayer on a Soviet even.
The light theaterical whispering sounds
A women's sighing and their gentle charm
And deathless roses in a giant mound
Lying upon white Kypris's gentle arm.
From boredom we are warming at a campfire,
Centuries will pass without harm,
And light ashes gather and inspire
The blessed, blissful women's darling arms.
Red garden rows of gallery somewhere,
In sumptious chiffon draped, boxes stand tall,
The windup doll of army officer -
Not for vile hypocrites and for black souls.
Well then, put out our candles with your finger,
Black velvet of world emptiness, sail free,
The blissful women's shoulders are singing
And the nocturnal sun you will not see.

x x x
On a pearl shuttle you spin
A thread of silk so fragile
Come forth, you fingers agile,
Lesson in charms begin.

Movements of arms about
Their ebbs and flows in flight -
To cause some solar fright
You cast a charm, no doubt

When your broad hand's on fire
Like shell grows still and fades,
Or quenches, runs toward shades,
Or morphs into pink fire.

x x x
We have gone mad from endless jubilation
Wine in the morning, hangover at night.
Your blush, oh drunken plague without respite,
How to contain the needless celebration?

Hand-shaking ceremonial and tortuous
And kisses on the street all through the night
When river's waves grow heavy with delight
And in the night the headlights burn like torches.

Like for a fairy wolf we wait for death
And he will be the first to die, I fear,
That has a startling mouth that's red with fear
And hair that falls upon the eyes like sheathe.

x x x
Fever rustles and lisps
Grasshopper hours are churning,
And dry stove crackles - This
Means that red silk is burning.

Why do mice whet with their molars
Thinning bottom of life spent -
There a swallow for her daughter
Has my shuttle's thread unbent.

On the roof the rain speaks clear --
There black silk is burning us alive
This the cherry tree will hear
And from bottom of the sea forgive.

Because it's helpless here
As the innocent are killed
Heart is in nightingale fever
And remains warm still.

x x x
My dry and dreary life
Fire has burned down
Not a stone but tree
I am singing now.

It is light and rough;
From a single piece
Come the fisher's oars
And the oak pith.

Nail the pilings tighter,
Knock, hammers, with all might,
About the wooden heaven
Where everything is light.

x x x
Of hunchbacked Tiflis I am dreaming
Sazandar coils and moans
On bridge with people teeming
Capital carpet-gleaming
As Kura runs below.

Restaurant from Caucasus
Where pilaf and wine abound,
A blushing waitress in her youth
Is now ready to serve you
Having served the table round.

Thick Cahetian red wine
It is sweet downstairs to drink
There it's cold, there divine
Drink in pleasure, drink two times:
You don't need alone to drink.

In the tiniests of flasks
You will find a man in bliss
Teliani if you will ask
You will float on a flask,
And in fog will float Tiflis.

x x x
For 20 years an American woman
Must go to far-away Egypt
Forswearing the Titanic's guidance
She sleeps on bottom darker than the crypt

In America the trumpets sing out loud
And monoliths arise of red steel towers
And then give away to chilly clouds
Their lips that with black tar are dusted over.

In the Louvre the ocean's daughter stands - alas -
Beautiful like poplar in her bliss
To grind sugary marble into dust
Like a squirrel she climbs Acropolis.

Understanding not a single sentence
She is reading Faustus on the train
All the while bemoaning that King Louis
On the throne of France does not remain.

x x x
Sweetness and tenderness -- like sisters alike are your marks -
The wasp and the bee suckle honey then flutter as one -
Life ends, beach sand chills overnight, and the heaven gets dark,
And carried away on black litter is yesterday's sun.

Ah, tender rosebush, delicate emanation!
To know what you are is far harder than mountain to climb!
I have but one problem remaining in this incarnation:
To raise from the shoulders of man filthy burden of time!

I drink turbid air just like water with mildew diluted:
A visage appears in the sun, heart of darkness and clots:
Two roses that once were of earth but by man were polluted
Sweetness and tenderness, bound up in double knots!

x x x
Equally with all others
I want to serve you,
Drying from jealousy
My lips turned blue.
Word does not slake
A mouth dry from despair
Without you I am breathless
In empty air.
I am no longer jealous
But yet I want you, dear,
I carry me like sacrifice
To executioner,
And no I will not call you
Not love not glee;
The wild and foreign blood
Runs now through me.
Wait for one moment
And this I will tell you:
Not joy, but torment
I find in you.
And, like a sacrilege,
Bitten in frenzy
Your tender cherry mouth
Still calls to me.
Return to me at last, love,
It's awful without you
Never more strongly
Have I felt you.
And in the midnight drama,
Asleep, awake,
I call your name out loud
Even as I shake.

x x x
A ghostlike scene is glimmering
Weak choirs of shades remain
With silk has draped Melpomene
Her temple's windowpanes
Frost crunches in the yard
Black chariots stand in row
People and objects are disheveled
Street crackles with hot snow.
Bit by bit the servants pick apart
The abandoned heap of bear furs
A butterfly flies over and departs,
And rose plants are draped in furs.
Gnats and boxes fashionably shimmer
From the theater light sweat moves in streams
On the street the flat lamps glimmer
And like clouds arises heavy steam.
Coachmen have grown tired of their voices
And the night is black as if with coal.
Do not worry, darling Eurydice,
That our winter is unearthly cold.
Sweeter than the song of the Italians
Is the sound of Russian tongue to me,
For the sounds of harps from foreign countries
Clamor in it with great mystery.
Smell of smoke rises from lean mutton
With the mounds of snow the street is ringed
From a blissful songlike semitone
Flying at us is immortal spring,
That this aria will sound forever:
"To green meadows you will return"
And to our feet falls a living sparrow
On the snow that is so hot, it burns.

Venetian Life

To me the meaning of Venetian life is clear
Bleary though it be and fruitless;
Here she stares with smile instilling fear
Through the dirty bluish window glass.
Thinning air, blue veins through skin of arm,
A green brocade and the whitening snow
From the coat they take a corpse, sleepy and warm,
And on cypress stretcher lay it low.
And inside the basket candles burn
As if pigeon flew into the shrine,
And a man is dying in his turn
In the theater and on night divine.
May no rescue come from foe or lover,
More than platinum the rings of Saturn weighs.
Block is set under black velvet cover,
Face is beautiful and looks away.
Heavy, Venice, is your dress and belt,
There are mirrors in the cypress frames
Air is faceted. In bedroom mountains melt
Of that dirty bluish glass. Nothing remains.
Fingers hold an hourglass or roses.
Green of Adriatic sea, forgive,
Why are you so quiet, Venetian hostess,
From this holiday death row how do I leave?
The black Hesper flashes in the mirror,
All will pass. The truth is dark and dour.
Man is born. The pearl dies, barely clearer.
Susanna the elders must conjure.

x x x
It is a pity that the winter falls
Mosquitoes fly no more
But you, my dear, allowed me to recall
Light-headed straw.

Dragonflies weave paths across the blue
And like a swallow, circles mode -
Is that there a basket over you
Or pompous ode?

I wish not to advise, comment, dissever -
Excuses mean as little as they feel.
The taste of whipped cream is forever
And smell of orange peel.

You push at me at random from behind
As a result of this nothing gets worse
What can I do: the most tender mind
Is fit entirely on the surface!

And then you try as with an angry spoon
The yolk of egg continually to stir.
It will get white, and now it will succumb
And still, a little more..

Everything teases, all things sing in you
As though it were roulade from Italy.
And then again your little cherry mouth
Begs for a drying grape from me.

So do not try to be smart as that
To you all is a whim, all is a minute,
There is a shadow here of your hat,
And a Venetian bautta is within it.

x x x
Here is the discus, like a golden sun -
A blessed moment - in the air it stands -
The world is held in time like apple in one's hands -
Here will be heard only the Grecian tongue.

A solemn zenith of the service to God's will,
Light of round cupolas glows in July,
That with full chest, outside of time we sigh
Of endless meadows where all time stands still.

Like noon eternal is the Eucharist -
All drink the cups, all play and sing aloud,
Before the eyes of all the cup of God
Pours with a gaiety that can't desist.

x x x
When Psyche that is life descends
After Persephone into transparent woods below
With a green branch and Stygian tenderness
Beneath her feet falls a blind swallow.

Ghosts crowd about the fugitive and hurry
To meet the new arrival with a prayer
They twist their withered weakened arms before her
Misunderstanding and with near despair.

Souls are like women and their trifles love:
Some hold a mirror, some perfumes that fizzle:
There's leafless wood of voices from above,
Dry lamentations fall in drops, like drizzle.

In light stampede not knowing where to start,
Soul does not recognize transparent grove of sage,
Breathes into mirror and then tarries to impart
The copper coin across the foggy passage.

x x x
Take from my open hands for your delight
A bit of honey and a bit of sun
As willed to us the bees of Proserpina.

Not to untie again an unmoored boat,
And not to know a shadow shod in fur,
Nor yet to conquer fear of dreary lifetime:

To us remain but kisses in the night,
Fuzzy and shivering like little bees
That fall and die as they depart the hive.

They shimmer in transparent nigthtime breeze,
Their home is haunted forest of Taigetos,
They feast on mint, and honeycomb, and spacetime.

Take then my wild gift for your delight,
A simple wreath of withered little bees
That died as they changed honey into sun.

Dusk of Liberty

Brothers, let's celebrate the dusk of liberty,
Let's celebrate this great and dusky Yule.
In boiling waters of the night like sea
The heavy wood has been submerged and pulls
In these dead years you rise above me
O sun, to judge us all and rule.
Let's celebrate the fated burden,
Which people's leader takes with tears.
Let's celebrate the twilight burden
Of power, it is very dear.
If you have heart, time, our warden,
While your ship sinks, you will hear.
In battle legions we have bound
The swallows, and now
Sun can't be seen, and all around
Things sparkle, chirp, and grow
And through dense net of dusk unbound
I cannot see the sun, and the earth flows.
But we will try: A giant, clumsy,
A screeching turning of the steering wheel.
Earth flows. Get strong, men, don't be lazy
As with a plow part the ocean. Kneel,
We will remember in Lethean frenzy
That earth has cost us ten heavens still.

x x x
On fearsome height stands wandering fire
But does star glimmer thus, or are eyes lying?
Transparent star, wandering fire
Your brother, Petropole, is dying.
On fearsome height the earthly dreams all burn
And a green star is flying.
Oh, if you be a star -- brother of earth and heaven --
Your brother, Petropole, is dying.
A monstrous ship upon a fearsome height
Wings outspread, is flying.
Green star, you, in a gorgeous plight,
Your brother, Petropole, is dying.
Transparent spring upon Nieva turned black
Has broken. Wax of immortality melts as if crying.
Oh, if you be a star -- Petropole, look back!
Your brother, Petropole, is dying.

The Swallow

I have forgot the word that I had meant to say.
To palace of the shades flies a blind swallow
Upon clipped wings with shadows to play.
Night's song is in oblivion sung below.
Immortelle does not bloom. I cannot hear bird's song.
Transparent are the mantles of night's horse herd
In a dry creek an empty shuttle swims along
And even grasshoppers can't hear the lost word.
Slowly like curtain it grows, or temple yet,
Suddenly Antigone seems mad and lurches
Like a blind swallow she falls toward my feet
With Stygian tenderness and with green branches.
O, if but to return the shame of see-through hands
And convex joy of dawning recognition,
I am afraid of weeping Aonids
Of fog, of ringing and of gaping apparition.
The mortal's power is to love and seek,
For him the sound into the palms will pour
But I forgot the word that I had meant to speak
And fruitless thought returns to palace dour.
Not of the same the shadow speaks in turn
The girlfriend, Antigone, the swallow..
And on the lips, just like black ice, still burns
The memory of Stygian ringing from below.

x x x
For this that your arms I could not more tightly keep -
For this that your tender saltwater lips I've foresaken -
As much as abhorrent to me is this ruin half-asleep -
I must in Acropolis wait till the city awakens.

The Aegeans ready the horse in the darkness profound,
With sharp-toothed blades into cracks they invade and rupture
Dry rustle of blood in the ears simply would not die down
Of you not a whisper remains, not a sight, not a sculpture.

How could I have thought you'd return to me, how did I dare?
Why did I abandon so early without a warning?
The rooster had not sang his song, nor the hills been laid bare,
And into the woodwork the axe had not torn yet this morning.

Like transparent tears on the walls have appeared drops of sap
And city is feeling its forested ribcage with fire
Through valves blood has rushed into life and then turned on the tap
And three times to men have the mermaids called out of the mire.

Where is my dear Troy, where's the palace, the women's hall?
The tall starling-coop of King Priam is lying in shatters
And like a dry rain wooden arrows continue to fall
And more arrows just like a nutgrove arise in tatters.

The sting of last starfleck shall painlessly flicker away,
And morning will tap on the windowpane like a gray swallow,
And slowly the day, like an ox once awakened in hay,
Will rustle awake on sharp steps, and the light will follow.

x x x
Under a coxcomb of a milky white
Isaac has built a graying pigeon cage
The crozier irritates the graying quiet
Gradations of the air the heart can gauge.

There's wandering ghost of century-old requiem
Then the grand bearing of the shroud
Genessarian* darkness in decrepit seine
Of Lenten week, a voice that weeps aloud.

Upon warm altars smoke glows
And then a priest exudes an orphaned cry
A regal man: there is clean snow
On the shoulders, and savage porphyry.

Sophie's and Peter's Grand Cathedrals that withstood
Centuries; warehouses of air and light
Grain hangars of the universal good
And corn-kilns of New Testament.

In the harsh troubled year, not to your side
The spirit drags across the steps in peace,
The wolf's trail of disaster reaches wide
And will not change over the centuries.

Free is the slave who once has conquered fear
And who beyond all measure kept, through grief,
In deep cornbins, in chilly granaries
The grain of utter and complete belief.









Translated by A. S. Kline







The sound, muffled, cautious

The sound, muffled, cautious:
of tree’s fruit, falling,

among endless singing

silent forest depths…

From the pool of light, suddenly

From the pool of light, suddenly,
you slipped out in a thin shawl –

we disturbed no one at all,

roused not a servant from sleep…

The freshly cut ears

The freshly cut ears
of wheat lie in level rows:

slim, trembling fingers press close

to slender quivering fingers.

More sluggish the snowy hive

More sluggish the snowy hive,
clearer the window’s crystal,

on a chair, a turquoise veil,

thrown there, carelessly, lies.

A tissue, self-intoxicated,

as if it never felt winter’s

touch, experiencing summer’s,

by its own delicacy, caressed:

and, if in icy diamonds

frost is eternally streaming,

here – it’s dragonflies flickering,

blue-eyed, living, and gone.

Ears stretch sensitive sails

Ears stretch sensitive sails,
dilated eyes lose fire,

over the silence swims

the night-birds’ soundless choir.

I’m poor as things natural,

as simple as the sky,

my freedom spectral

as the night-birds’ cry.

I see the moon, un-breathing,

a sky dead as canvas:

your world, strange and sickening,

I welcome, Emptiness!

Like a sudden cloud’s shadow

Like a sudden cloud’s shadow,
a sea-visitor swoops by

rippling past with a sigh,

along the embarrassed coast.

An enormous sail lifts austerely,

deathly-white, and the wave

shrinks back – not yet brave

enough to hug the shore so nearly:

and the boat, rustling the waves,

like leaves…

From a swamp, evil, viscous

From a swamp, evil, viscous,
a rustling reed, I rose to light,

passionate, tender, languorous,

breathing forbidden life.

And no one ever notices

my cold, marshy shelter,

where short autumnal minutes,

greet me with their whisper.

I delight in cruel injury

and in a life, like a dream,

I envy everyone secretly,

I secretly love everything.

How slow the horses go

How slow the horses go,
how dim the lantern’s gleam!

These strangers surely know

where they’re taking me.

I’m confident in their care,

I’m cold: sleep, my desire:

Catapulted at the corner

Towards the starry fire.

A head nodding feverishly

a strange hand, tender, icy,

and outlines of dark fir trees,

there – unseen by me.

Light sheds its meagre ray

Light sheds its meagre ray,
coldly in the damp forest.

I carry Sorrow, a grey

bird, sluggish, in my chest.

What to do with the wounded bird?

Solid, restrained, the silence:

the bells, out of the misted

bell-tower, have been stolen.

And the heights stand,

like a white empty turret,

mute and orphaned,

of mistiness and quiet.

Morning, endless tenderness,

part real, part dreaming –

unrelieved drowsiness –

misted thoughts shifting.

A troubled sigh of leaves

A troubled sigh of leaves
a black wind rustling by,

a flickering swallow draws

a circle on the darkened sky.

There’s quiet contention

in my tender dying heart

between deepening twilight

and daylight burning out.

Over night-filled woods,

a copper moon’s presence.

Why so little music,

and so much silence?

I hate the starlight

I hate the starlight’s
monotonous spectrum.

Hail, ancient delirium –

tower’s arrowed heights!

Be lace, be stone,

be a cobweb spell:

pierce the empty zone

with the finest needle.

My turn will arrive –

I sense the wing’s sweep.

Yes – but where will my live

arrows of mind leap?

Or I’ll return, my move

and time worked through:

there – I couldn’t love,

and here – I’m afraid to…

The Casino

I don’t worship premeditated joys,
sometimes Nature’s a grey blemish,

when, slightly tipsy, I’m destined

to the colours poverty employs.

The anchor scrapes sea-depths,

wind toys with a ruffled cloud,

my spirit, lifeless as a shroud,

hangs above the infernal abyss.

But I love the casino on the dunes,

its misted window’s endless views,

crumpled cloth, the light’s thin cover:

and, surrounded by greenish water,

with the wine in its glass, like a rose,

I love to trace the gulls’ winged tremor.

Poisoned grain: exhausted air

Poisoned grain: exhausted air.
Such difficult ills to cure!

Joseph, sold into Egypt,

couldn’t be saddened more!

Bedouin, on horseback, shut

their eyes: their star-lit faces,

extract past images, plucked

from the day’s vague traces,

that hardly need discovering:

he lost his quiver in the sand,

he traded a horse – happenings

on happenings hazily disband:

and if it’s sung, truly,

wholeheartedly – what lingers

fades out at last: leaves only

the space, stars, the singer!

Note: Osip is the Russian equivalent of Joseph.


She turned right round, O sorrow,
towards indifferent onlookers.

Turned stone, from her shoulders

a shawl, quasi-classical, flowed.

Ominous voice – drunk with pain –

rising from heart’s depths there:

like this – as indignant Phaedra –

Rachel once held the stage.

Note: A memory of a poetry recital in January 1914. Rachel (1820-1858), the French classical actress, caused a European sensation with her interpretation of Racine’s Phèdre.

Horses’ hooves clattering there

Horses’ hooves clattering there,
in a crude, and simple century:

the yardmen in heavy furs,

on wooden benches, sleepy.

A knocking at the iron gate

stirs the royally-lazy doorman:

whose wolfish yawns rate

with those of the Scythians!

When, Ovid, with senescent love

mixed snow and Rome, and sang

of ox-wagons on the move

in the march of barbarians.

Note: Ovid was exiled to Tomis (modern Constantza), in the Black Sea region, by Augustus.

By candlelight it’s sweet to dream

By candlelight it’s sweet to dream
of unprecedented Liberty.

In the night, weeping, Loyalty:

cries: ‘Once more, stay with me.

I’ll merely place a crown

on your head, that’s all,

so, loving, you may bow

to Liberty, as to Law…’

‘I’m wedded to Liberty,

as to Law, that’s why

I never shall remove

this crown, so light.’

Though we’re lost, in space,

doomed to die, should we

regret our act of faith,

our lovely constancy?

Not crediting the miracle of re-birth

For Marina Tsvetayeva

Not crediting the miracle of re-birth,
we strolled through the cemetery.

– You know, everywhere the earth

still recalls those hills to me,



where Russia halts abruptly

above a black, and empty sea.

The wide fields sloping down

from monastic hillsides, sheer.

I’d no wish to travel south

from spacious Vladimir,

but to stay in that shadowy

village, filled with god’s fools,

with a veiled and misty

nun – spelt disaster, too.

I kiss your sunburnt elbow

and then a wax-like show

of brow, still pale below

a strand of shadowy gold.

I kiss the bracelet’s circle

of white left on your wrist:

ardent summers’ miracles

are worked thus in Tauris.

How soon you ran, darkening,

to the Saviour’s meagre icon,

and couldn’t be torn from kissing:

yet in Moscow, ever the proud one!

And for us, just a name remains –

miraculous sound for years to come.

Take from me, these grains,

of sand, I pour from my palm.

Note: Tauris: the Crimea. Sand: poetry, memories, time.

The stream of golden honey pouring viscous

The stream of golden honey poured, so viscous,
slow from the bottle, our hostess had time to murmur:

‘Here, in sad Tauris, where fate has brought us,

we shan’t be too bored’ – glancing over her shoulder.

Everywhere the Bacchic rite, as if all were merely

dogs and watchmen – go, and you’ll see nothing –

the days like heavy barrels rolling by quietly:

far off, hut-bound voices – no response or meaning.

After tea we entered the huge brown garden,

dark blinds lowered like eyelids over windows,

past white columns to inspect the grapes then

glassy air sluicing the sleepy mountain slopes.

I said: ‘The vines live on here in ancient wars,

and curly-haired horsemen fight in leafy rows,

the science of Hellas in stony Tauris – these are

the noble golden acres, the rusty furrows.’

Well, like a spinning wheel, silence in the white room,

smelling of vinegar, paint, new wine in the cellar.

Remember the wife loved by all, in the Greek home,

how long she spent weaving? – Not Helen – that other.

Golden Fleece, where are you Golden Fleece?

The journey: a roar of ocean’s heavy waves.

Leaving his ship, its canvas worn by the seas,

Odysseus returned, filled with time and space.

Note: The Argonauts sailed into the Black Sea to seek the Golden Fleece. Mandelstam weaves in the wandering Odysseus returning to Penelope, and the Crimean worship of Bacchus/Dionysus (as witnessed by the Maenads’ murder of Orpheus).

Still far away are Spring’s

Still far away are Spring’s
transparent-grey asphodels.

For a while waves seething,

sand rustling to itself.

But like Persephone my spirit

enters insubstantial circles:

sweet sunburnt arms don’t fit

in the kingdom of lost mortals.

Why do we trust the weight

of a funeral urn to some vessel,

on amethyst water celebrate

a black rose festival?

My spirit aspires there

beyond Meganom’s misty cape:

and after the burial, from there

will come – a sail’s dark shape!

How swift the storm clouds flow

in their shadowy column,

where black rose-flakes blow

beneath a wind-tossed moon.

Bird of death and mourning,

Memory, trails its huge

funereal flag, veiling

the stern of cypress-wood.

And rustlings unfold

the bygone years’ sad fan,

where an amulet was darkly closed,

with a shudder, in the sand.

My spirit aspires there

beyond Meganom’s misty cape:

and after the burial, from there

will come – a sail’s dark shape!

Note: Cape Meganom, in the Crimea, juts into the Black Sea. Mandelstam weaves in an element from the myth of Theseus, who displayed a black sail in error as he returned to Athens, causing his father to leap to his death. Persephone is the goddess of the underworld. The amulet is buried love, poetry, memory, as are the rose-flakes of his mother’s funeral. There may also be a reference here to an amulet with a Hebrew inscription given to Pushkin, who was exiled to the Crimea like Ovid. See Pushkin’s poem ‘The Talisman’.


When Psyche-Life goes down to the darkness

When Psyche-Life goes down to the darkness,
through translucent leaves, chasing Persephone,

a blind swallow, with Stygian tenderness

and a green twig, hurls itself at her feet.

A crowd of ghosts rush to meet this shade,

greeting their new companion with sadness,

wringing their weak hands before her face,

bewildered, but with a shy trustfulness.

One holds out a mirror, another a phial of scent –

the soul’s feminine you see – truly loves trinkets,

and transparent voices, with their dry plaintiveness,

like a fine rain, sprinkle the leafless forest.

Unsure how to begin, among all these tender

cries, she doesn’t recognise the transparent trees,

and breathes on the mirror, slow to hand over,

her lozenge of copper, the misted crossing’s fee.

Because I could not keep hold of your arms

Because I could not keep hold of your arms,
because I relinquished your lips, briny, tender,

I must wait in the dense acropolis for dawn.

How I loathe these ancient, weeping timbers!

The Achaeans ready the Horse in the dark,

their toothed saws cut deep, into the walls,

nothing can quiet the blood’s dry talk,

for you there’s no name, image, sound at all.

How could I think you’d return, how could I dare!

Why, before it was time, did I break from you?

The cock’s not crowed, the gloom’s still there,

the hot axe, within, has still not cut through.

Resin oozes from the walls, a transparent tear,

and the town can sense its own wooden ribs,

but blood, storming, has rushed the ladders,

thrice the men have been called from faithless lips.

Where’s dear Troy, the royal, the maidenly house?

Priam’s tall nest for starlings will be shattered.

And the arrows fall in dry wooden showers,

springing, hazel shoots, out of bare earth.

The last pinpricked stars painlessly fading,

the grey swallow, morning, taps at the window,

and sluggish day, an ox on straw, waking

stirs from long sleep, shaggy from its pillow.

Note: For the meeting of Helen and Odysseus in Troy, and her calls to the Greek warriors hidden in the Horse, see Odyssey IV: 235-289.

Stamping on the tender meadow, I leapt

Stamping on the tender meadow, I leapt
into the choir of shadows, with a melody

of a name: the thin mist of sound still left

melting, at that moment, into memory.

At first I thought the name was – Seraph,

and I fought shy of such a weightless body:

Yet merged with it, when a few days had passed,

dissolving into that dear shadow, readily.

Again wild fruit falls from the apple tree,

and before me a secret image glows,

and curses itself, and blasphemes,

and swallows jealousy’s hot coals.

But happiness rolls by, a golden hoop,

performing someone else’s bidding,

and you chase the Spring’s mildness, too,

air the palm of your hand goes cutting.

And we don’t leave, it’s so arranged,

these spell-bound circles.

They lie there, tightly swaddled,

Earth’s vibrant virginal hills.

We shall meet again in Petersburg

We shall meet again in Petersburg,
as though there we’d buried the sun,

and for the first time, speak the word

the sacred, the meaningless one.

In black velvet of the Soviet night,

in the velvet of earth’s emptiness,

flowers still flower everlasting, bright,

women sing, beloved eyes are blessed.

The city is arched there like a lynx,

the bridge-patrol stands its ground,

an angry motor dissects the mist

crying out with a cuckoo’s sound.

I don’t need a pass for tonight,

I have no fear of the guard:

I’ll pray in the Soviet night.

for the sacred meaningless word.

Amid the theatre’s soft rustling

I hear a girl’s startled: ‘Ah!’ –

and Cypris holds everlasting

roses, clasped in her soft arms.

Bored, by a fire we warm ourselves,

perhaps the centuries will pass,

and beloved hands, women’s, blessed,

will gather up the weightless ash.

Somewhere sweet Orphean choirs sound,

dark the beloved pupils of their eyes,

and programmes, fluttering to the ground,

fall towards the stalls, like doves in flight.

You might as well blow out our candles then:

in the black velvet of earth’s emptiness

women’s shoulders, rounded, blessed, still sing,

but the night sun will not shine here, a guest.


Note: Cypris is probably a reference to Venus the goddess of Love, named Cypris after her island of Cyprus, who appears in Massenet’s 1906 opera, Ariane (Ariadne), which involves the story of Theseus, Phaedra, and Ariadne who goes to Persephone’s realm to beg for Phaedra’s life. All these are potent motifs for Mandelstam. The black sun also refers to Pushkin’s burial by night, he representing the buried, suppressed and silent word of the exile, representing pure Russia. Orpheus was the legendary poet, Orphean implies both melodious like his singing, and secret, arcane, like the Orphic rites.

In the yard, I was washing, at night

In the yard, I was washing, at night –
Harsh stars were fiercely shining.

Like salt on an axe, rays of starlight,

the rain-barrel freezing, brimming.

The gates are shut with a padlock,

and earth’s bleak, in all conscience –

you’d scarce find anything more basic,

more pure, than truth’s clean canvas.

the cold water grows blacker,

like salt, a star melts in the barrel,

death grows purer, trouble saltier,

earth more truthful, more terrible.

Exhaustion’s rosy foam on his fleshy lips

Exhaustion’s rosy foam on his fleshy lips,
the bull paws furiously at the green breakers:

he snorts: no oarsman – a sensualist,

his spine unused to burdens, hard labour.

Now and then, a dolphin leaps in an arc,

and a prickly sea-urchin comes into view,

tender Europa, hold him, forever, in your arms –

what yoke could be more desirable, too?

Bitterly she witnesses that mighty splashing,

the swollen sea around seethes in the deep,

terrified by the water’s oily gleaming,

she’d like to slip down from that hairy steep.

Oh, it’s the creak of rowlocks she’d prefer,

the lap of a wide deck, a flock of sheep,

and flickering fish beyond a tall stern –

but the oar-less oarsman swims further out to sea!


A hint of wing in the lifted
head. But the coat’s flapping.

In the closed eyes, arms’ quiet,

there’s nervous energy hiding.

Here’s one who flies and sings,

and the word, in flames, hammered,

until congenital awkwardness,

by inborn rhythm’s conquered.

I was only bound childishly to the world of power

I was only bound childishly to the world of power,
I dreaded oysters, viewed guardsmen with suspicion –

and don’t owe a particle of my spirit to it, either,

however much I hurt myself trying to be someone.

I never stood under a bank’s Egyptian portico,

frowning with dumb importance, in a beaver mitre,

never, for me, to the crackle of hundred rouble notes,

did a gipsy girl dance, by the lemon-coloured Neva.

Sensing future executions, I fled from the roar

of revolutionary events, to the Black Sea nymphs,

ah, with the beauties of those times – those tender

European ladies – the confusion, stress, grief I glimpsed!

But why does the city, to this day, still retain

its ancient rights over my thoughts and feelings?

Its insolence, with fire and frost, has grown again:

self-satisfied, condemned, frivolous, un-ageing!

Perhaps I saw in some picture book, in the nursery,

Lady Godiva, with a mane of straggling ginger,

so I still go on repeating to myself, secretly,

Lady Godiva, farewell…I don’t remember, Godiva…

For the future ages’ resounding glory

For the future ages’ resounding glory,
for their noble race of human beings,

I was deprived of my cup at the feast,

my own honour, and joyous things.

Our wolfish era runs at my shoulder,

but there’s no wolf’s blood in me,

better to crush me like a hat deeper

into a Siberian fur’s hot sleeve –

so I’ll see no cowardice, no filthy mire,

no blood-drenched bones on the wheel,

so that blue polar foxes may shine

all night, in primal beauty, for me.

Take me into the night, where the Yenisey

flows, where pines reach the starlight,

because there’s no wolf’s blood in me,

and only an equal shall take my life.

Note: The world's sixth largest river in terms of discharge, the Yenisey runs from south to north across the great expanse of central Siberia.

We live, not sensing our own country beneath us

We live, not sensing our own country beneath us,
ten steps away they evaporate, our speeches,

but where enough meet for half-conversation,

the Kremlin mountain man’s our occupation.

They’re like slimy worms, his fat fingers,

his words, as solid as weights of measure.

In his cockroach moustaches there’s a beam

of laughter, while below his top boots gleam.

Round him a mob of thin-necked henchmen,

he toys there with the slavery of half-men.

Whoever whimpers, whoever warbles a note,

Whoever miaows, he alone prods and probes.

He forges decree after decree, like horseshoes –

in groins, foreheads, in eyes, and eyebrows.

Wherever an execution’s happening though –

there’s raspberry, and the Georgian’s giant torso.

Note: This anti-Stalin poem led to the poet’s arrest in 1934.

Black Earth (Chernozem)

Too weighty, too black, all that’s piled up,
all that’s heaped, shrinks, what’s well-aired,

all of it crumbles, all shaping a chorus –

moist clods for my oxen, my earth!

In days of spring ploughing – black, near blue,

and for peaceful work the solid ground –

a thousand heaps of furrowed speech –

something unbounded within its bound!

Yet the earth’s – a blunder, the butt of a tool:

you can’t move it by falling down at its feet:

it sharpens the hearing, a mildewed flute,

your ears with that cool dawn clarinet meet.

How pleasing the rich layers to the blade,

how silent the steppe, in April’s ploughing…

Well: live long, black earth: be firm, clear-eyed –

here there’s a black-voiced silence working.

Today makes no sense to me

Today makes no sense to me,
yellow-mouthed it exists –

dockyard gates stare at me

through anchors and mist.

Slow, slow, in faded channels,

a battle-convoy slides by,

while narrow pencil-box canals

show blacker under sheets of ice.

I shall perform a smoky rite

I shall perform a smoky rite:
disgraced, I see, in the opal here

a seaside summer’s strawberries –

cornelians split into two halves

agates, antlike, their brothers,

but a pebble from deep waters,

a simple soldier’s dearer to me,

that no one wants – grey, wild.

Note: Opala in Russian is ‘disgrace’.

Like a belated gift

Like a belated gift,
Winter’s palpable to me:

and I’m in love with

it’s first uncertain sweep.

It’s terror’s beautiful,

like the start of what’s dreadful:

even the ravens fearful

of its leafless circle.

But most intense, fragile –

is its bulging blueness:

half-formed ice, that fills

the river, lulling, sleepless…

I’m still alive: I’m still not alone

I’m still alive: I’m still not alone,
with a beggar-woman beside me

I take delight in the huge empty zone,

the haze, the blizzards, and the freeze.

In beautiful poverty, luxurious distress,

living alone – consoled, and quietly –

these days, these nights, are blessed,

and innocent labour echoes sweetly.

Unhappy he, whom, like his shade,

barking scares, the wind scythes through,

and poor the one, half-alive, who’s made

to beg for mercy from a shadow.

Oh, sluggish, asthmatic spaciousness

Oh, sluggish, asthmatic spaciousness –
I’m full of it, to the point of rebellion! –

the view’s wide open, catching its breath –

there’s a blindfold needed here for my vision!

I’d rather have put up with layered leaves

of sand along the Kama’s toothed shores,

I’d have clung there to its shy sleeves,

its bends, its precipices, and pores.

A second, an age – I’d have been working

envying outfalls from every rapid there,

listening to the growth of fibrous rings

beneath the surface of the flowing timber.

Don’t compare: the living are incomparable

Don’t compare: the living are incomparable:
with a kind of tender dread I consented

to the flatness of the plains, and the circle

of the heavens made me feel afflicted.

I appealed to my servant, the air,

waiting for service, for messages,

prepared for a journey, swam the arc

of never-to-be-started voyages.

I’m ready to go – where there’s more sky –

but pure longing now won’t set me free

from the still-youthful hills of Voronezh,

to those, clear, and wholly-human, of Tuscany.

Note: Mandelstam was exiled temporarily to Voronezh in 1933.

Like feminine silver, it’s forged here

Like feminine silver, it’s forged here,
what fought with oxides and alloys,

and it’s quiet work that silvers

the plough’s iron, the poet’s voice.

Hearing, hearing early ice

Hearing, hearing early ice
rustling under bridges,

I remember, swimming joyous

tipsy, in above my head.

From callous stairs, squares,

angular palazzos, gripped

by his own Florence, Alighieri

sang more fully,

from exhausted lips.

So too my shade picks

at granite grains, by night

it sees a row of blocks

that seemed houses in the light.

or my shade yawns aloud,

and twiddles its thumbs,

or makes noises in the crowd,

by wine and sky made warm,

and feeds the bitter bread

to importunate swans…

Note. Dante was exiled from Florence. He complained of the bitter taste of another man’s bread, and of how hard it was to climb and descend another man’s stair (see: Paradiso Canto XVII). His shade picked its way through the underworld in his Divine Comedy.

Gaps of the curved bays, jetsam, dark-blues

Gaps of the curved bays, jetsam, dark-blue,
and the slow sail extended into a cloud –

barely knowing your worth, yet parted from you:

sea-weed’s false-hair longer than organ fugues –

smelling there of long-standing falsehoods.

My mind’s tipsy with an iron tenderness,

and rust gently gnaws at the sloping ground…

Why under my head is there this alien sand?

You – guttural Urals, broad-shouldered Volga,

flat-lands round – here are all my rights – you,

with all my lungs, I must breathe more of you!

Armed with a wasp’s narrow sight

Armed with a wasp’s narrow sight,
sucking the axis of earth, the axis of earth,

I smell all: the more comes to light,

and I learn it all, I learn it by heart.

I don’t paint, and I don’t sing,

I don’t scrape a black-voiced bow here,

I only strike at life with my sting,

and love to envy sly waspish power.

Oh, if summer’s heat, air’s sting,

would only make me, from death

from sleep someday escaping,

feel the axis of earth, the axis of earth…

I’m sinking down, down, down

I’m sinking down, down, down,
plunged deep in a fortress, a den of lions,

under this leavening downpour of sound –

more than the Pentateuch, stronger than lions.

How close, close, your summons nears –

a demand like childbirth, of the first-born –

a thread, made of Oceanian pearls,

the meek baskets of Tahitian women.

Mother of songs, made to chasten us,

approach, deep-voiced resonant singer!

All our rich daughters’ sweet-shy faces,

primal Mother, aren’t worth your little finger.

Yet time’s still unbounded for me.

And I’ve followed the universe’s

rapture, like an organ, sotto-voce,

accompanying a woman’s voice.

I lift this greenness to my lips

I lift this greenness to my lips,
this sticky promise of leaves,

this breach of promise, Earth –

mother of snowdrops, maples, oak-trees.

Bowing to the humblest root,

see, how I’m blinded, dazed,

this explosion, to one’s eyes

isn’t the splendour too great?

Frogs, croaking, couple in spheres,

like corpuscles of mercury,

twigs turn into branches,

and mist’s a milky fantasy.

A Greek flute’s theta and iota

A Greek flute’s theta and iota –
as if words weren’t enough for the ear –

un-carved, and unaccountable,

ripened, toiled, crossed the frontier.

Impossible to leave it behind:

clenched teeth can’t deny it,

the tongue can’t prod it into line,

the lips can’t dissipate it.

The flautist knows no peace –

it seems to him he’s alone,

that he formed his native sea

from lilac clay, long ago.

With distinct, ambitious murmur,

relentless remembering lips, he

hastens to gather the sounds,

cherish them, neatly, stingily.

Later we’re unable to repeat him,

clods of clay in the palms of the sea,

and when I’m filled with the ocean,

my measure can only be disease.

And my lips are unable to sing,

there is murder too at the root.

Involuntarily, waning, waning,

I diminish the power of the flute.

Potters made its power, this azure isle

Potters made its power, this azure isle –
green Crete. And baked their offerings

in sounding earth. Can’t you recognise,

underground, the beat of dolphins’ fins?

And it’s easy to recall the sea

in clay made joyful by firing,

while the pot’s cold mastery,

cools the flame of sea, and seeing.

Give me back my labour, azure isle,

vanishing Crete, that work of mine,

and from the breasts of the fertile

goddess, fill the jars with wine.

Long ages before Odysseus,

all this existed, and was sung,

before food and drink, for us,

were ‘my’ or ‘mine’ on the tongue.

But renew, and shine for me,

the ox-eyed sky’s starriness,

and the flying fish – fortuity,

and the sea, saying – ‘Yes’.


The Stalin Epigram

Translated by W. S. Merwin

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.










I despise the light
Of monotonous stars.
Hello, my old delirium,-
The tower's crenellated pinnacle!

Stone, turn to lace
Become a spider web,
With your thin needle, wound
The empty breast of the sky.

My own turn will come-
I feel the spread of my wings.
Yes-but where will the arrow
Of living thought fly?

Perhaps having used up my path
And time, I will come back:
There-I could not love,
Here-I fear loving...







Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.
I've read through half the list of ships:
This spun-out brood, this train of cranes
That once ascended over Hellas.

A wedge of cranes to foreign shores,-
Your kings' heads wreathed in spray,-
Where are you sailing? Were it not for Helen,
Achaeans, what would Troy have been to you?

The sea and Homer - love moves all.
Where should I turn? Here Homer is silent,
While the Black Sea clamors oratorically
And reaches my pillow with a heavy roar.







"The pagan senate is your proof
That deeds like these will never die!"
He lit his pipe and wrapped his dressing gown around
While chess was being played nearby.

Ambitious dreams he'd traded for a hut
In Siberia's wild reaches,
And a fancy pipe between acid lips
That spoke truth in a sorrowful world.

And German oaks rustled for the first time,
While Europe wept in snares,
And black teams of four reared up
On crossroads of triumph.

Punch used to burn blue in their glasses,
And accompanied by the samovar's hiss
A friend from the Rhine,
A freedom-loving guitar, murmured softly.

Lively voices would still get exercised
About society's sweet freedom.
But blind heaven, rejecting sacrifice,
Prefers hard work and loyalty.

All is muddled, and there's no one to recount
That everything grows gradually cold,
All is muddled, yet how lovely to repeat:
O, Russia, Lethe, Lorelei.







Let us now praise freedom's twilight,
The glorious twilit year!
Into the midnight boiling waters
A massive forest of snares is lowered.
You rise above obscure years, -
O sun, O judge, my people.

Let us praise the fateful burden
The people's leader takes up tearfully. -
Let us praise power's gloomy burden,
Its yoke unbearable.
Those with a heart must hear, time,
That your ship is sinking.

We have bound swallows
Into battle legions - and now
We cannot see the sun; all nature
Warbles, flutters, lives;
Amidst the nets of thick twilight
The sun is lost, and the earth sails.

Well, let us now try an enormous, clumsy,
And squealing turn of the wheel.
The earth sails on. Take courage, men.
Parting the ocean like a plow,
We will remember even in Lethean frost,
That to us the earth was worth ten heavens.

Moscow, May 1918






Sisters heaviness and tenderness, your traits are one.
Bees and wasps suck the heavy rose.
Man dies. The heated sand cools,
And a black stretcher bears away yesterday's sun.

Ah, heavy honeycombs and tender seines,
One may sooner lift a stone than say your name!
For me a sole concern remains on earth:
A golden concern, to flee the burden of time.

I drink the clouded air like a dark stream.
Time's tilled by a plow, and a rose was the earth.
In the slow whirlpool are heavy, tender roses,
Weaving heaviness and tenderness into twin wreaths.







I've forgotten the word I meant to say.
A blind swallow returns to the palace of shadows
On clipped wings, to play with transparent things.
A night song's sung in unconsciousness.

Birds are silent. The immortelle won't bloom.
Transparent are the manes of midnight's herd,
An empty bark floats on a dried up river,
Among grasshoppers words loose consciousness.

Some sort of tent or temple grows slowly;
Now flings itself up like mad Antigone,
Now throws itself down like a dead swallow
With Stygian tenderness and a green twig.

If only I could regain the shameful sighted fingers,
And the palpable joy of knowledge.
I am so afraid of the Muses' lament,
The mist, the ringing, the abyss.

To love and know are mortals' powers,
Sound, too, will flow into their fingers,
But I've forgotten what I meant say,
And disembodied thought returns to the palace of shadows.

The transparent thing keeps repeating something else,
Something about a swallow, a woman, Antigone...
But on my lips, like black ice, burns
The recollection of Stygian ringing.







For your delight, take from my palms
A little sun, a little honey,
As Persephone's bees have ordered us.

You can't cast off an unmoored boat,
Or hear a shadow shod in fur,
Or conquer fear in this primeval life.

All that remains for us are kisses,
Furry, like tiny bees
That die as they quit their hive.

They rustle in night's transparent thickets,
They nest in the primeval Taiget forest,
They feed on time, Spirea, mint.

For your delight, then, take my savage present -
This plain dry necklace
Of dead bees who turned honey to sun.







Because I couldn't  hold onto your hands,
Because I betrayed your salty tender lips,
I must await dawn in this ancient acropolis.
How I hate the odor of hoary wooden huts!

The Achaeans harness their horses in darkness,
Bite hard into the walls with their toothed saws,
The dry tumult of blood will not be soothed,
For you there is neither name, sound nor mold.

How could I think you'd return, how could I dare?
Why did I tear myself from you prematurely?
The night hadn't thinned and the cock hadn't crowed,
And into the wood the hot ax hadn't plunged.

The sap stood on the walls like a transparent tear
And the city could now feel its wooden ribs,
But blood gushed to the ladders and launched the attack,
And thrice the men dreamed a seductive image.

Where is dear Troy? The regal and virginal home?
It will be destroyed, the high birdhouse of Priam.
And arrows fall like desiccated wooden rain,
Other arrows will grow like nut trees on the ground.

The last point of starlight dies without a struggle,
Like a gray sparrow dawn will knock at the window,
And the languid day, like an ox awake in the straw,
Stirs on streets rough with lingering sleep.

December 1920






    Graphite Ode   

          We will only understand by hearing,
          What was scratching and struggling there...

A powerful junction, a star with a star,
A flinty path from the old song,     
The language of flint and air,
Flint with water, a ring with a horseshoe.
On the soft slate of the clouds
A milky graphite sketch -
Not the apprenticeship of worlds,
But fleecy somnolent raving.

We sleep on our feet in the thick night
Under a warm sheepskin hat.
The spring flows back up to the quarry, babbling
Like a fine chain, foaminess, speech.
Fear writes here, Disjunction writes here
With a milky lead stick,
Here a rough draft ripens
By apprentices of swift water.

Steep cities of goats,
Mighty flint strata;
And yet another ridge -
Ovine abodes and churches!
The sheer slope preaches to them,
The water teaches them, time sharpens them,
And the transparent forest of the air
Has long been surfeited by it all.

Like a dead hornet from the nest
The motley day's tossed out in shame.
And raptor night brings
A piece of burning chalk to feed the graphite.
To wipe away the day's impressions
From the iconoclastic board
And like a fledgling shake from your hand,
The visions already transparent!

The fruit was being picked. The grapes were ripening.
The day was raging, as days rage.
A tender game of tag,
At noon the coats of angry sheep dogs.
Like trash from icy heights -
The inner side of green images -
The hungry water falls,
Whirling and romping, like a cub.

Like a spider crawling toward me -
And at an awesome height
Where every junction's splashed with moonlight,
I hear the graphite squeak
I break up the night, blazing chalk
For an instantaneous solid jotting.
I exchange noise for the singing of arrows
Exchange order for an angry vulture.

Who am I? No simple mason,
No roofer, no shipbuilder, -
A double-dealer, with a two-faced soul,
Friend of the night, pioneer of the day.
Blessed is he who called flint
An apprentice of running water.
Blessed is he who tied a thong
To the mountains' foot on solid earth.

And now I study the diary
Of scratches left by graphite summer,
The language of flint and air,
With a layer of darkness, a layer of light;
And I want to thrust my fingers
Into the flinty path from the old song,
As into a wound, closing into a junction -
Flint with water, a ring with a horseshoe.

1923, 1937







I returned to my city that I know like my tears,
Like my veins, like childhood's swollen glands  

You've come back here, so swallow at once
The cod liver oil of Leningrad's river lamps,

Recognize, right away, the brief December day,
Egg yolk commingled with ominous tar.

Petersburg! I'm not yet ready to die!
You've still got my telephone numbers.

Petersburg! I still have the addresses
Where I can call on the speech of the dead.

I live on a back staircase, and the clapper
Yanked out with flesh hits me in the temple,

And all night through I wait for precious guests,
Rattling like shackles the chains on the doors.

December 1930






Mа Vоiх аigrе еt fаssе...

I will tell you with the utmost
All is folly - sherry-brandy, -
Angel mine.

What would glisten beautifully
to the Greeks
Gapes to my eyes from black sockets
Like some freak.

While the Greeks made off with Helen
In their ships,
All I get is salty foam
Across the lips.

I'll be smeared with emptiness
Across the mouth
I'll be taunted with the fist
Of penury.

Oh, whatever, gust or bluster -
Never mind;
Have a cocktail, angel Mary,
Guzzle wine.

I will tell you with the utmost
All is folly - sherry-brandy, -
Angel mine.

2 March 1931






For the thundering valor of ages to come,
For the lofty tribe of humankind,-
I'm deprived of a cup at my fathers' feast,
Of happiness, and of my honor.

The age's wolfhound leaps on my neck,
But by blood I'm no wolf:
Better push me, like a hat, into the sleeve
Of a hot fur coat of the Siberian steppe...

So that I don't see cowards or thin mud,
Or bloody bones in a wheel;
So the blue foxes can shine for me
In their primeval beauty all night long.

Take me into the night, where the Yenisei flows
And the pines reach to the stars,
For by blood I'm no wolf
And only an equal can kill me.

17-18 March 1931, completed 1935







There was an old man, bashful as a boy,
An awkward, timid Patriarch...
What swordsman will defend nature's honor?
Well, passionate Lamarck of course.

If all that lives is a mere blot
In a short, escheated day,
Then on Lamarck's ladder
I will take the lowest rung.

I will descend to the annelids and the cirripeds
Rustling among lizards and snakes,
Along resilient gangways, along forms
Like Proteus I'll shrink and vanish.
I'll put on a mantle of horn,
Rejecting my warm blood,
I'll grow suckers and like a tendril
Pierce the ocean foam.

We have gone through the ranks of insects
With eyes brimful as wineglasses.
He said: "nature is all in chasms,
There is no sight-you are seeing for the last time."

He said: "Enough of harmony,-
You loved Mozart in vain:
A spidery deafness is taking over,
Here the abyss is stronger than our strength."

And nature has deserted us
As if we are no use to her.
She has put away the spinal chord,
Into a dark scabbard like a sword.

And she forgot the drawbridge,
Failed to lower it in time
For those whose grave is green,
breath red, and laughter lithe...








Here the artist drew for us
The dead swoon of a lilac bush,
Spread paint's plangent layers
Like scab on canvas.   
He understood the density of oil-
His clotted summer,
Broiled by a violet brain,
Diffuses into sultriness.
See how the violet shadow deepens,
A whistle or whip fades out like a match,-
You'll say: the cooks in the kitchen
Are fixing greasy pigeons now.

Here's the suggestion of a swing,
Half-painted veils
And in this twilight disarray
The bumblebee rules.







An idler with a magic walking stick;
Tender Batiushkov lives by my side.
He walks through poplar alleys beyond the bridge,
Sniffs a rose and sings of Zaphna.

Not for a moment believing we're apart,
I bowed down to him, it seems:
And with feverish envy I shook
His cold hand in a pale glove.

He chuckled. I intoned: thank you.
Embarrassed, I couldn't find the right words:
- No one else - such twisting sounds...
- And never - such a murmur of waves...

He, inarticulate, yet brought with him
Our torments and our riches -
Rustle of verse and the bell of brotherhood
And the harmonic downpour of tears.

And he who mourned Tasso answered me:
- I am still a stranger to praise;
It's just that the grape flesh of poems
Happened to freshen my tongue...

Well! Raise your brows in wonder
You city-dweller, friend of city-dwellers,
Like blood samples, pour eternal dreams
From goblet to goblet...

18 June 1932






Schubert on the water, and Mozart in the birds' din,
And Goethe whistling on the winding path,
And Hamlet, thinking with fearful steps,
All felt the crowd's pulse and believed the crowd.
It's possible the whisper was born before the lips

And leaves were spiraling in treelessness,
And those to whom we dedicate our trials
Acquired their features before we tried.

November 1933 - January 1934, Moscow



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