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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Song of a Last Encounter by Anna Akhmatova

I walked without dragging my feet

but felt heavy at heart and frightened;

and I pulled onto my left hand

the glove that belonged to the right.

 

There seemed to be countless steps,

though I knew there were only three,

and an autumn voice from maples

whispered, ‘Die with me!

 

I have been undone by a fate

that is cheerless, flighty and cruel.’

I repied, ‘So have I, my dearest –

let me die one death with you…’

 

The song of a last encounter:

I glanced up at a dark wall:

from the bedroom indifferent candles

glowed yellow… And that was all.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1911, Tsarkoye Selo)

from Вечер (Evening, 1912)

translation by Robert Chandler


This is an alternative version of same poem translated as Song of the Last Meeting by D. M. Thomas.