I Was Washing At Night Out In The Yard by Osip Mandelstam

I was washing at night out in the yard,

the heavens glowing with rough stars,

a star-beam like salt upon an axe,

the water butt cold and brim full.

 

A padlock makes the gate secure,

and conscience gives sternness to the earth –

hard to find a standard anywhere

purer than the truth of new-made cloth.

 

A star melts in the water butt like salt,

cold water in the butt is blacker still,

death is more pure, disaster saltier

and earth more truthful and more terrible.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(Tbilisi, 1921)

translated by Peter France


 

A poem written in respone to the news of Nikolay Gumilyov‘s execution.

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The Sixth Sense by Nikolay Gumilyov

Good is the wine that is in love with us,

and good is bread, our generous friend;

and good the woman who brings us torment

yet yields her sweetness to us in the end.

 

But what are we to do with sunset fires?

With joys that can’t be eaten, drunk or kissed?

And what are we to do with deathless verse?

We stand and watch – as mysteries slip past.

 

Just as some boy too young to know of love

will leave his play to gaze, his heart on fire,

at maidens swimming in a lake, and gaze

and gaze, tormented by obscure desire;

 

or as within the gloom of ancient jungle

some earthbound beast once slithered from its lair

with wing buds on its back, still tightly closed,

and let out cries of impotent despair;

 

so year on year – how long, Lord, must we wait? –

beneath the surgeon’s knife of art and nature,

our flesh is wasted and our spirit howls

as one more sense moves slowly to creation.

 

by Николай Степанович Гумилёв (Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov)

(1920)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

An influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He cofounded the Acmeist movement and was Anna Akhmatova’s husband who was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

Some Things Succeed And Some Things Fail by Georgy Ivanov

Some things succeed, and some things fail;

everything’s nonsense that passes away…

 

But even so this reddish-brown grass

which grows by a gate in the fence will last.

 

… If Russian speech has the power to go

back to the land where the Neva flows –

from Paris I send these muddled words,

though even to me they sound absurd.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1950)

by Stephen Capus

Where Can I Hide In This January? by Osip Mandelstam

Where can I hide in this January?

Wide-open city with a mad death-grip…

Can I be drunk from sealed doors? –

I want to bellow from locks and knots…

 

And the socks of barking back roads,

and the hovels on twisted streets –

and deadbeats hurry into corners

and hurriedly dart back out again…

 

And into the pit, into the warty dark

I slide, into waterworks of ice,

and I stumble, I eat dead air,

and fevered crows exploding everywhere –

 

But I cry after them, shouting at

some wickerwork of frozen wood:

A reader! A councillor! A doctor!

A conversation on the spiny stair!

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1937)

translated by Andrew Davis

When A Man Dies by Anna Akhmatova

When a man dies

His portraits change.

His eyes look at you

Differently and his lips smile

A different smile. I noticed this

Returning from a poet’s funeral.

Since then I have seen it verified

Often and my theory is true.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

One Mirror Must Mirror Another by Georgy Ivanov

One mirror must mirror another;

each mirror mismirrors the other.

 

Not that evil cannot be defeated,

only that we cannot escape defeat;

 

I believe in the ash left behind by the fire;

not in the music that burned my life.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

a.k.a. Georgy Ivanov

(1950)

translated by Robert Chandler

After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.

 

For despair is our final refuge –

as if, midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

by Robert Chandler