Osip Mandelshtam (1891-1938)
- I have learnt by heart the lesson
- In bareheaded laments in the night.
- Oxen chew, waiting lengthens,
- The last hour of the watch in the
- And I bow to ceremonial cock-crowing
- When lifting their lading of grief
for the journey
- Eyes red with crying search the horizon
- And singing of Muses blends with the
weeping of women.
- Who can know from the word 'goodbye'
- What kind of separation lies before
- Or what the cock's clamour promises
- When a light burns in the acropolis
- And in his stall the lazy ox chews:
- Why the cock,
- The herald of new life,
- Beats on the city walls with his wings?
- And I like the way of weaving:
- The shuttle comes and goes, the spindle
- And--flying to meet us like swan's
- Look, barefooted Delia comes!
- Oh how meagre the basis of life,
- How threadbare the language of elysium!
- Everything existed of old, everything
- The flash of recognition is all that
- So be it: a translucent manikin
- On a clean clay plate--
- A squirrel's stretched-out skin:
- Bent over the wax, a girl examines
- Not for us to guess at Grecian Erebus:
- For women wax, what bronze is for
- On us our fate falls only in battles;
- Their death they die in divination.
- When Psyche, Who is Life,
Descends Among The Shades
- When Psyche, who is life, descends
among she shades,
- Following Persephone into half-transparent
- The blind swallow hurls itself at
- With Stygian affection and green twig.
- Phantoms in a throng speed towards
their new companion,
- They meet the fugitive with lamentations.
- In front of her they wring thin hands,
- Perplexed with diffident expectations.
- One holds out a mirror, another a
phial of perfumes--
- The soul likes trinkets, after all
- And dry complainings, like fine rain,
- Sprinkle the leafless forest with
- And not knowing what to do in this
- The soul senses weight and size no
- She breathes on the mirror and is
slow to hand over
- The lozenge of copper to the master
of the ferry.
- Lightheartedly Take From
The Palms Of My Hands
- Lightheartedly take from the palm
of my hands
- A little sun, a little honey,
- As Persphone's bees commanded us.
- Not to be untied, the unmoored boat;
- Not to be heard, fur-shod shadows;
- Not to be silenced, life's thick terrors.
- Now we have only kisses,
- Bristly and crisp like bees,
- Which die as they fly from the hive.
- They rustle in transparent thickets
- Their homeland thick forest of Taigetos,
- Their food--honeysuckle, mint, and
- Lightheartedly take then my uncouth
- This simple necklace, of dead, dried
- Who once turned honey into sun.
- Translations by James Greene