Goldfinch, friend, I'll cock my head - let's check the world out, just me and you: this winter's day pricks like chaff; does it sting your eyes too?
Boat-tailed, feathers yellow-black, sopped in colour beneath your beak, do you get, you goldfinch you, just how you flaunt it?
What's he thinking, little airhead? - white and yellow, black and red! Both eyes check both ways – both! - will check no more – he's bolted!
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam) (9-27 December 1936) translated by Andrew Davis
The original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem
Мой щегол, я голову закину — Поглядим на мир вдвоем: Зимний день, колючий, как мякина, Так ли жестк в зрачке твоем?
Хвостик лодкой, перья черно-желты, Ниже клюва в краску влит, Сознаешь ли — до чего щегол ты, До чего ты щегловит?
Что за воздух у него в надлобье — Черн и красен, желт и бел! В обе стороны он в оба смотрит — в обе!— Не посмотрит — улетел!
Extra information: The RSPB website has information, a bird identifying ‘questionnaire’ if you’ve seen any you don’t recognise, sound clips of bird calls, videos and more about goldfinches and many other species of birds. It might be an interesting distraction if you haven’t looked at it before.
The image of a goldfinch or starling is a repeated motif in the poetry of Mandelstam. (if you can’t read Russian then just put the text of the linked page, or it’s page address, into GoogleTranslate which gives a surprisingly eloquent translation).
Horseshoe-heavy, he hurls his decrees low and high:
In the groin, in the forehead, the eyebrow, the eye.
Executions are what he likes best.
Broad is the highlander’s chest.
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
translated by Alexandra Berlina
Interesting additon: In the Autumn of 1933 Mandelstam composed an epigram about Stalin, which he performed at seven small gatherings in Moscow, which ends with the above lines. Mandelstam was arrested six months later but instead of being executed (by being shot) he was exiled to the Northern Urals. Why was this considering ‘executions’ are what [Stalin] loves best’? A cruel irony or possibly that this relative leniency was due to Stalin taking a personal interest in Mandelstam’s case and being concerned about his own place in Russian literary history? After Mandelstam’s attempted suicide the usual sentence was commuted to one of being banished from the largest cities in Russia. Mandelstam and his wife, Nadezhda, settled in Voronezh where he went on to write the three Voronezh Notebooks. In May 1938 he was arrested again and sentenced to five years in the Gulag. He died in a transit camp near Vladivostok on 27 December 1938.