‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’ (‘Let it be blessed’) by Osip Mandelstam

The reserve of weak,
sensitive eyelashes protects
your pupil in its heavenly rind,
as it looks into the distance and down.

Let it be blessed
and live long in its homeland –
cast the surprise pool
of your eye to catch me!

Already it looks willingly
at the ephemeral ages –
bright, rainbowed, fleshless,
still pleading.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam)
(His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam)
(2 January 1937)
from the second Voronezh Notebook
translated by Richard and Elizabeth McKane

‘Твой зрачок в небесной корке’

Твой зрачок в небесной корке,
Обращенный вдаль и ниц,
Защищают оговорки
Слабых, чующих ресниц.

Будет он обожествленный
Долго жить в родной стране —
Омут ока удивленный,—
Кинь его вдогонку мне.

Он глядит уже охотно
В мимолетные века —
Светлый, радужный, бесплотный,
Умоляющий пока.

Additional information: The translators chose to use the first line of the second stanza as a title for the unnamed piece rather than the first line of the first stanza as most would do with untitled poems for reference purposes. Hence the discrepancy in the title of this post between the Russian and English. Aside from this they numbered this poem as the seventeenth entry in the second of Mandelstam’s Voronezh Notebooks but I don’t know if that is a officially recognised convention when referring to the unnamed pieces in the three notebooks (as you might use regarding, for example, Shakespeare’s sonnets).

The notebooks were written while he was in exile, accompanied by his wife Nadezhda in the southwestern Russian city of Voronezh, which was a reprieve of sorts after he had been arrested during the repression of the 1930s. Mandelstam and his wife chose Voronezh, possibly, partly, because the name appealed to him. In April 1935, he wrote a four line poem that included the pun – Voronezh blazh‘, Voronezh voron, nozh meaning ‘Voronezh is a whim, Voronezh – a raven, a knife.’

The apartment building he resided in during his exile, located on Friedrich Engels Street next to the Orlyonok Park, was recently given special status.

Ленинград (Leningrad) by Osip Mandelstam

I returned to my city, familiar as tears,
As veins, as mumps from childhood years.

You’ve returned here, so swallow as quick as you can
The fish oil of Leningrad’s riverside lamps.

Recognize when you can December’s brief day,
Egg yolk folded into its ominous tar.

Petersburg! I still don’t want to die:
You have the numbers of my telephones.

Petersburg! I still have addresses,
By which I can find the voices of the dead.
I live on the back stairs and the doorbell buzz

And all night long I wait for the dear guests,
Rattling, like manacles, the chains on the doors.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam)
(December 1930)
translated by Bernard Meares (revised)

The poem recited by Konstanin Raikin who is a Russian actor, theatre director and the head of the Moscow Satyricon Theatre (since 1988)

Ленинград

Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез,
До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез.

Ты вернулся сюда, — так глотай же скорей
Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей.

Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек,
Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.

Петербург, я еще не хочу умирать:
У тебя телефонов моих номера.

Петербург, у меня еще есть адреса,
По которым найду мертвецов голоса.

Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок
Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок.

И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих,
Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.

Additional information: Leningrad was the name of St Petersburg during the Soviet era. The poem was written in 1930 when Mandelstam had just returned from the Caucasus to his hometown of St. Petersburg (Leningrad). ‘Dear guests‘ was a euphemism for the political police who now patrolled the city upon his return.

Basic breakdown of the poem: In the poem, the speaker happily announces his return home, but at the same time has a slight anxiety due to a new government having appeared in St. Petersburg. He compares the atmosphere of the city with tar but still tries to find something bright and pleasant in everything. He admits that Leningrad remains his hometown (where Mandelstam grew up when his family moved there soon after his birth) because of the addresses he has of friends and relatives there. A man very much wants to see his loved ones, so he lives on the stairs consumed with hope. However, despite all this each doorbell reminds him of a blow to the temple and the door chains remind him of heavy and unpleasant shackles.

The poem reads as an elegy in which Mandelstam mourns the changes he sees in the city he has returned to. He wants to show that it is not the best of times when a new government comes to the city. Also he reveals the anxiety felt by people during this period of change. He talks about how dear his hometown is to him but, despite his remaining connections, he does not feel safe there anymore.

The main theme is that he feels disaster is gradually approaching the city and, for him, St. Petersburg has already changed in his absence although he finds links to his past remain. Overall, the poem demonstrates Mandelstam’s pain and despair as if there is a tragic denouement regarding everything familiar he encounters but has grown hostile and anxiety inducing to him.

“Ты, меня любивший фальшью…” (You, who loved me) by Marina Tsvetaeva

You, who loved me with the deceptions
Of truth – and the truth of lies,
You, who loved me – beyond all distance!
– Beyond boundaries!

You, who loved me longer
Than time – your right hand soars! –
You don’t love me any more:
That’s the truth in six words.

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(12 December 1923)
from Uncollected Poems
translated by David McDuff

Ты, меня любивший фальшью…

Ты, меня любивший фальшью
Истины – и правдой лжи,
Ты, меня любивший – дальше
Некуда! – За рубежи!

Ты, меня любивший дольше
Времени. – Десницы взмах!
Ты меня не любишь больше:
Истина в пяти словах.

The poem recited by the Russian actress Alla Demidova

Additional information: The final line translates more accurately as ‘(the) truth in five words’. ‘You, who loved me – don’t’ is as close as I can, clumsily, get to five words (although you could use ‘anymore’ instead of ‘any more’ too) for the penultimate line while maintaining the structural consistency of the translator’s preceding lines. Then again it’s easy to be a critic. This is David McDuff‘s professional translation so ignore my amateur criticisms – I just found some of the translation choices he made unusual.

Благословляю ежедневный труд… (I bless the daily labour) by Marina Tsvetaeva

I bless the daily labour of my hands,
I bless the sleep that nightly is my own.
The mercy of the Lord, the Lord’s commands,
The law of blessings and the law of stone.

My dusty purple, with its ragged seams…
My dusty staff, where all light’s rays are shed.
And also, Lord, I bless the peace
In others’ houses – others’ ovens’ bread.

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(21 May 1918)
from Bon-Voyages (1921-22)
translated by David McDuff

The poem recited in Russian by Anna Smirnova

Благословляю ежедневный труд

Благословляю ежедневный труд,
Благословляю еженощный сон.
Господню милость и Господень суд,
Благой закон – и каменный закон.

И пыльный пурпур свой, где столько дыр,
И пыльный посох свой, где все лучи…
– Ещё, Господь, благословляю мир
В чужом дому – и хлеб в чужой печи.

Excerpt from Ученик (The Disciple) by Marina Tsvetaeva

2
There is a certain hour like a shed burden,
When in ourselves we tame our pride.
Hour of discipledom – in every lifetime
Triumphant, and not to be denied.

A lofty hour when, having laid our weapons
At feet shown to us by a pointing Hand,
We trade for camel hair our martial porphyry
Upon the sea’s expanse of sand.

O this hour, like the Voice that raises
Us to greater deeds from the self-will of days!
O hour, when our dense volume presses on us
We bow to earth like the ripe ears of maize.

The ears have grown, the festive hour is over,
The grain is longing for the grinding mill.
The Law! The Law! The yoke which in the earth’s womb
I lust after still.

Hour of discipledom. But visible’s
Another light – yet one more dawn has glowed.
Be blessed, and follow in its steps,
You, sovereign hour of solitude.

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(15 April 1921)
from Ремесло (The Craft) (1923)
translated by David McDuff

Information: The cycle is dedicated to Prince Serge Wolkonsky, also referred to as Sergei Mikhailovitch Volkonsky (Серге́й Миха́йлович Волко́нский), who was the grandson of the Decemberist Sergei Volkonsky. Serge was a theatre figure and writer whom Tsvetaeva met in Moscow in 1919, and in 1921 “rewrote him cleanly – out of pure delight and gratitude – his manuscript … and she didn’t write a line of hers, and I didn’t have time, and suddenly she broke through the Apprentice.” Tsvetaeva‘s friendly relationship with Volkonsky continued abroad for many years.

Beneath is the original form of the poem in Cyrillic. It is the second part of the poem series Ученик which can be translated as ‘apprentice’, ‘disciple’, ‘pupil’ or ‘learner’:

Ученик

2

Есть некий час…

Тютчев.

Есть некий час — как сброшенная клажа:
Когда в себе гордыню укротим.
Час ученичества, он в жизни каждой
Торжественно-неотвратим.

Высокий час, когда, сложив оружье
К ногам указанного нам — Перстом,
Мы пурпур Воина на мех верблюжий
Сменяем на песке морском.

О этот час, на подвиг нас — как Голос
Вздымающий из своеволья дней!
О этот час, когда как спелый колос
Мы клонимся от тяжести своей.

И колос взрос, и час весёлый пробил,
И жерновов возжаждало зерно.
Закон! Закон! Ещё в земной утробе
Мной вожделенное ярмо.

Час ученичества! Но зрим и ведом
Другой нам свет, — ещё заря зажглась.
Благословен ему грядущий следом
Ты — одиночества верховный час!

(15 апреля 1921)