Epigram about Stalin [extract] by Osip Mandelstam

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)

(Autumn, 1933)

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.

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Twenty-four Years by Dylan Thomas

Twenty-four years remind the tears of my eyes.

(Bury the dead for fear that they walk to the grave in labour.)

In the groin of the natural doorway I crouched like a tailor

Sewing a shroud for a journey

By the light of the meat-eating sun.

Dressed to die, the sensual strut begun,

With my red veins full of money,

In the final direction of the elementary town

I advance for as long as forever is.

 

by Dylan Thomas


 

Fun fact: Because of his almost obsessive preoccupation with death, each birthday was a milestone that called for a celebration, and on several occasions Thomas composed a poem that expresses his sense of where he stood as a man and an artist. “Twenty-four Years” is his earliest significant version of this celebratory mode, and it is full of both the exuberance of early manhood and his already familiar feeling that death was imminent.