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MANDELSTAM, Osip


Impressionism


For us the artist reproduced

The lilac in the deepest faint,

And on the canvas he diffused

Like scabs, the piercing steps of paint.


He grasped the density of paint,

And the parched vision of his summer,

Warmed up within the lilac brain,

Dilated in a stifling slumber.


The lilac shadow’s growing lush,

A whistle or a whip is quenching.

You’d say the cooks in dinner rush

Are dressing pigeons in the kitchen.


The swings are faintly discerned,

And veils are vaguely manifested,

And in this sun-drenched smogarsbord

A bumble bee reigns uncontested.


Translated by Dina Belyayeva


The Stone
…..
Insomnia. Homer. Sails, taut.

I read the catalog of ships, did not get far:

The flight of cranes, the young brood’s trail

high above Hellas, once, before time and time again.


Like that crane wedge, driven into the most foreign –

The heads, imperial, God’s foam on top, humid –

You hover, you swim – whereto? If Helen wasn’t there,

Acheans, I ask you, what would Troy be worth to you?


Homer, the seas, both: love moves it all.

Who do I listen to, who do I hear? See – Homer falls silent.

The sea, with black eloquence beats this shore,

Ahead I hear it roar, it found its way here.
…..
////////////////////////////////////////////
…..
The listening, the finely-tensed sail.

The gaze, wide, empties itself.

The choir of midnight birds,

swimming through silence, unheard.


I have nothing, I resemble the sky.

I am the way nature is: poor.

Thus I am, free: like those midnight

voices, the flocks of birds.


You, sky, whitest of shirts,

you, moon, unsouled, I see you.

And, emptyness, your world, the strange

one, I receive, I take!

…..


Stalin epigram

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.


translated by W.S. Merwin and Clarence Brown,





Only to read childrens’ books


Only to read childrens’ books,

only to love childish things,

throwing away adult things,

rising from saddest looks.


I am wearied to death with life.

There’s nothing it has that I want,

but I celebrate my naked earth,

there’s no other world to descant.


A plain swing of wood;

the dark, of the high fir-tree,

in the far-off garden, swinging;

remembered by feverish blood.

                   


Kinderboeken lezen, meer niet,


Kinderboeken lezen, meer niet,

Slechts te denken in kindergedachten,

Het volwassen gedoe te verachten,

Op te staan uit een peilloos verdriet.


'k Ben het leven zo dodelijk zat,

Nimmer zal ik het kunnen aanvaarden,

Toch bemin ik mijn schamele aarde,

Want ik heb nooit een andre gehad.


Verre tuinen, verborgen in 't groen,

Houten schommels om stil op te dromen,

En ik zie weer de donkere bomen,

Hoog en zwart, in een mistig visioen.


vertaling Marja Wiebes en Margriet Berg




Heaviness, Tenderness


Heaviness, tenderness—sisters, your traits are alike.

Honeybees drink a rose that is tender and heavy.

Someone passes away. Once-warm sand cooling down . . .

They are carrying yesterday’s sun in a shroud.


Heavy honeycombs, webs of tenderness—

Lifting boulders is easier than repeating your name!

All that remains is one care in this world,

A golden care: how to flee from the burden of time.


I drink clouded air; I drink it like dark water.

Time was plowed up, and a rose became earth.

Like a slow-moving vortex of soft tender roses,

Heaviness, tenderness—sisters—prepared the wreaths.


Translation : Eugene Serebryany


Tristia 116

Take from my palms, to sooth your heart,

a little honey, a little sun,

in obedience to Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat that was never moored

nor hear a shadow in its furs,

nor move through thick life without fear.

For us, all that’s left is kisses

tattered as the little bees

that die when they leave the hive.

Deep in the transparent night they’re still humming,

at home in the dark wood on the mountain,

in the mint and lungwort and the past.

But lay to your heart my rough gift,

this lovely dry necklace of dead bees

that once made a sun out of honey.


Tristia 119

I could not keep your hands in my own,

I failed the salt tender lips

so I must wait now for dawn in the timbered Acropolis.

How I loathe the ageing stockades and their tears.

The Achaeans are constructing the horse in the dark,

hacking out the sides with their dented saws,

Nothing quiets the blood’s dry fever, and for you

there is no designation, no sound , no modelled likeness.

How did I dare to think you might come back?

Why did I tear myself from you before it was time?

The dark has not faded yet, nor the cock crowed,

nor the hot axe bitten wood.

Resin has seeped from the stockade like transparent tears

and the town is conscious of its own wooden ribs,

but blood has rushed to the stairs and started climbing

and in dreams three times men have seen the seductive image.

Where is Troy, the beloved? The royal, the queenly roof.

Priam’s high bird house will be hurled down

while arrows rattle like dry rain

and grow from the ground like shoots of a hazel.

The pin-prick of the last star vanishes without pain,

morning will tap at the shutter, a gray swallow,

and the slow day, like an ox that wakes on straw,

will lumber out from its long sleep to cross the rough haycocks.