Osip Mandelstam

Translated by Eugene Ostashevsky for Oya Ataman

January 1, 1924

Whoever kissed time on its exhausted crown With filial tenderness will then Remember how time lay down to sleep In the grain snowdrift past the window. Whoever raised the century's sickly eyelids -- Two large and round sleepy apples -- Will always hear din -- how roared the rivers Of times false, deaf and dead. Two sleepy eyes, two apples has the sentinel Century, and a lovely clay mouth But dying he shall cleave To the embarrassed hand of his now aging son. I know: each day life's exhale grows more faint. A little longer and they'll cut This simple tune about clay offenses And pour lead down the throat. O life of clay! O dying of the century! I fear you may be known Only by him who shows the errant smile Of those who've lost themselves. What a dull pain -- to search for the word lost, Raising up sickly eyelids, With sediment in blood to gather Night-blooming grasses for the foreign tribe. Time: century. The sediment of lime In sick son's blood hardens. Like a wooden case, Sleeps Moscow. The sentinel century grants no place to run. Snow smells of apples as it did before. I want to run from my threshold. Where to? The street is dark And, like salt sprinkled over paving, White conscience shows before me. Along the byways, crooks, coops, holes, Close by and barely, last-minute, I, private passenger in a fish-fur coat, Keep trying to button up the sledge rug. One street, another glimmers past, The sledge's crunch in the cold recalls an apple's, The buttonhole evades the effort, All the time slipping from the grasp. With what metallic, iron-mongering clamor The winter night clangs down the streets of Moscow, Bangs like a frozen fish or whistles clouds of steam From pink teahouses -- like schools of silver roach. Moscow. Moscow again. I say, hello, Don't pout, it is not so bad now, As an old acquaintance I accept the terms Of brotherly cold and pikefish justice. The chemist's sign raspberry-colors snow. Somewhere the typewriter clicks and clacks. A cabman's back. A half-a-yard of snow. What else do you want? No one will touch you, No one will kill you. Gorgeous is winter. The goat sky scatters stars and shines Like milk. The sledge rug rubs its horsehair Against the gelid runners. It rings. Who was it blackened crooked lanes with kerosene, And swallowed snow, raspberry jam, ice? They'll ever molt their scaly Soviet sonatina, With nineteen-twenty on their tongues. Could I betray to shameful denigration -- Again cold air smells of apples -- Oaths of allegiance to the fourth estate And vows so great we wept? Whom else will you kill? Whom else will you celebrate? What other lies will you invent? There's the rasp of the typewriter -- quick, rip out a key! And you'll find a pikefish bone. That sediment of lime in sick son's blood Will then dissolve. And he'll ring with rapt laughter. Yet these typewriters' simple sonatina Is just a shadow of sonatas other, greater. [1924, 1937]


3. O butterfly, o Muslim, In a split shroud of muslin, So living, so dying, So giant, so as you are! Your burnoose is over your head With its large, hairy proboscis. O shroud spread out like a flag, Fold your wings -- I'm frightened! 7. And Schubert on the wave, and Mozart in the aviary, And Goethe whistling on a twisting path, And Hamlet cutting thoughts with timorous steps Counted the masses' pulse and believed the many. Perhaps the whisper came before the lips And leaves had spiraled in the treelessness, And those to whom we consecrate experience Formed features prior to experience. 8. The toothy paw of the maple Goes plunging in round corners, Draw your finger on butterfly speckles To make figures appear on walls. Some mosques are composed of the living And I now hazard a guess: All we are is Hagia Sophia With an infinite many of eyes. 9. Tell me, surveyor of deserts, Geometer of Arabic sands, Is the license of lines Stronger than billowing wind? "I do not care for its shuddering Nervous Judaic patter: It molds matter out of mutter And drinks mutter out of matter." [1933-1934]

The Tortoise

On the stony slopes of Pieria Nine muses circled in a dance So that their blind lyricists, like bees, Give us mellifluous Ionic honey. A breath of lofty air wafted from A virginal and convex forehead So that far-off posterity might open The tender coffins of the archipelago. Spring, stomping, runs down Helladic meadows, Sappho tries on polychromatic boots And with their ringing folksong hammers Cicadas forge a golden folksong ring. The carpenter raised up the roofbeams high And chickens' necks were wrung for the wedding feast, The clumsy cobbler stretched out all five Ox skins to carve them into shoes. How sluggish is the lyre-tortoise! How barely, without feet she crawls. She lies under the sun of Epirus, And quietly her golden belly glows. O, who is going to be nice to her, Who'll turn her over as she sleeps? She even in her dreams awaits Terpander, Longing to tremble at dry fingertips. Oaks drink the chilly waters of a well Amid the noise of simplehaired grass And fragrant lungwort gladdens wasps. O where, where are you, blessed isles, Where no one breaks the loaf in two and bites, Where there are only milk, honey and wine, Where creaky labor doesn't darken heaven And easily the wheel turns? [1919]