Домби и сын (Dombey and Son) by Osip Mandelstam

The shrillness of the English language

and Oliver’s dejected look

have merged: I see the youngster languish

among a pile of office books.

.

Charles Dickens – ask him; he will tell you

what was in London long ago:

the City, Dombey, assets’ value,

the River Thames’s rusty flow.

.

‘Mid rain and tears and counted money,

Paul Dombey’s curly-haired son

cannot believe that clerks are funny

and laughs at neither joke nor pun.

.

The office chairs are sorry splinters;

each broken farthing put to use,

and numbers swarm in springs and winters,

like bees perniciously let loose.

.

Attorneys study every letter;

in smoke and stench they hone their stings,

and, from a noose, the luckless debtor –

a piece of bast – in silence swings.

.

His foes enjoy their lawful robbing,

lost are for him all earthly boons,

and lo! His only daughter, sobbing,

embraces checkered pantaloons.

.

.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)

His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1913)

translated by Anatoly Liberman

from the poetry collection камен (Stone)

.

‘This is a hauntingly beautiful lyric, though all the references are wrong; Oliver Twist does not spend a minute in the office, Paul Dombey never deals with his father’s clerks, no one cracks jokes in his presence, no debtor hangs himself in that novel, and the Thames is not Yellow.’

– Anatoly Liberman
The poem recited in Russian by Stanislav Komardin.

Beneath is the original, Russian Cyrillic, version of the poem.

Домби и сын

Когда, пронзительнее свиста,

Я слышу английский язык —

Я вижу Оливера Твиста

Над кипами конторских книг.

.

У Чарльза Диккенса спросите,

Что было в Лондоне тогда:

Контора Домби в старом Сити

И Темзы желтая вода…

.

Дожди и слезы. Белокурый

И нежный мальчик — Домби-сын;

Веселых клэрков каламбуры

Не понимает он один.

.

В конторе сломанные стулья,

На шиллинги и пенсы счет;

Как пчелы, вылетев из улья,

Роятся цифры круглый год.

.

А грязных адвокатов жало

Работает в табачной мгле —

И вот, как старая мочала,

Банкрот болтается в петле.

.

На стороне врагов законы:

Ему ничем нельзя помочь!

И клетчатые панталоны,

Рыдая, обнимает дочь…

‘Вооруженный зреньем узких ос’ (‘Armed with wasp-vision. With the vision of wasps…’ by Osip Mandelstam

Armed with wasp-vision, with the vision of wasps
that suck, suck, suck the earth's axis,
I'm filled by the whole deep vein of my life
and hold it here in my heart
and in vain.

And I don't draw, don't sing,
don't draw a black-voiced bow over strings:
I only drink, drink, drink in life and I love
to envy wasp-
waisted wasps their mighty cunning.

O if I too
could be impelled past sleep, past death,
stung by the summer's cheer and chir,
by this new air
to hear earth's axis, axis, axis.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(8 February 1937)
translated by Robert Chandler
the poem read by Stanislav Komardin

Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version of the poem.

Вооруженный зреньем узких ос, 
Сосущих ось земную, ось земную,
Я чую всё, с чем свидеться пришлось,
И вспоминаю наизусть и всуе.

И не рисую я, и не пою,
И не вожу смычком черпоголосым,
Я только в жизнь впиваюсь и люблю
Завидовать могучим, хитрым осам.

О, если б и меня когда-нибудь могло
Заставить, сон и смерть минуя,
Стрекало Еоздуха и летнее тепло
Услышать ось земную, ось земную.

Extra information: The wasp-waist was a fashion regarding a women’s fashion silhouette, produced by a style of corset and girdle, that has experienced various periods of popularity in the 19th and 20th centuries. Its primary feature is the abrupt transition from a natural-width rib cage to an exceedingly small waist, with the hips curving out below. It takes its name from its similarity to a wasp’s segmented body. The sharply cinched waistline also exaggerates the hips and bust.

To put it bluntly Mandelstam is talking about admiring women, at least in part, in this poem.

Mandelstam was said to have had an affair with the poet Anna Akhmatova. She insisted throughout her life that their relationship had always been a very deep friendship, rather than a sexual affair. In the 1910s, he was in love, secretly and unrequitedly, with a Georgian princess and St. Petersburg socialite Salomea Andronikova, to whom Mandelstam dedicated his poem “Solominka” (1916).

In 1922, Mandelstam married Nadezhda Khazina in Kiev, Ukraine, where she lived with her family. He continued to be attracted to other women, sometimes seriously. Their marriage was threatened by his falling in love with other women, notably Olga Vaksel in 1924-25 and Mariya Petrovykh in 1933-34.

During Mandelstam’s years of imprisonment, 1934–38, Nadezhda accompanied him into exile. Given the real danger that all copies of Osip’s poetry would be destroyed, she worked to memorize his entire corpus, as well as to hide and preserve select paper manuscripts, all the while dodging her own arrest. In the 1960s and 1970s, as the political climate thawed, she was largely responsible for arranging clandestine republication of Mandelstam’s poetry.

‘Разрывы круглых бухт, и хрящ, и синева’ a.k.a. ‘Breaks in round bays, and shingle, and blue’ by Osip Mandelstam

Breaks in round bays, and shingle, and blue,
and a slow sail continued by a cloud -
I hardly knew you; I've been torn from you:
longer than organ fugues – the sea's bitter grasses,
fake tresses – and their long lie stinks,
my head swims with iron tenderness,
the rust gnaws bit by bit the sloping bank...
On what new sands does my head sink?
You, guttural Urals, broad-shouldered Volga lands,
or this dead-flat plain – here are all my rights,
and, full-lunged, gotta go on breathing them.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(4 February 1937)
translated by Andrew Davis

Below is the original Russian Cyrillic version:

Разрывы круглых бухт, и хрящ, и синева,
И парус медленный, что облаком продолжен,-
Я с вами разлучен, вас оценив едва:
Длинней органных фуг - горька морей трава,
Ложноволосая,- и пахнет долгой ложью,
Железной нежностью хмелеет голова,
И ржавчина чуть-чуть отлогий берег гложет...
Что ж мне под голову другой песок подложен?
Ты, горловой Урал, плечистое Поволжье
Иль этот ровный край - вот все мои права,
И полной грудью их вдыхать еще я должен.

Additional information:

The Volga (Во́лга) is the longest river in Europe with a catchment area of 1,350,000 square kilometres. It is also Europe’s largest river in terms of discharge and drainage basin. The river flows through central Russia and into the Caspian Sea, and is widely regarded as the national river of Russia. Eleven of the twenty largest cities of Russia, including the capital, Moscow, are located in the Volga’s drainage basin. Some of the largest reservoirs in the world are located along the Volga.

The river has a symbolic meaning in Russian culture and is often referred to as Волга-матушка Volga-Matushka (Mother Volga) in Russian literature and folklore.

The Ural Mountains ( Ура́льские го́ры), or simply the Urals, are a mountain range that runs approximately from north to south through western Russia, from the coast of the Arctic Ocean to the Ural River and northwestern Kazakhstan. The mountain range forms part of the conventional boundary between the continents of Europe and Asia. Vaygach Island and the islands of Novaya Zemlya form a further continuation of the chain to the north into the Arctic Ocean.

The Urals have been viewed by Russians as a “treasure box” of mineral resources, which were the basis for its extensive industrial development. In addition to iron and copper the Urals were a source of gold, malachite, alexandrite, and other gems such as those used by the court jeweller Fabergé. As Russians in other regions gather mushrooms or berries, Uralians gather mineral specimens and gems. Dmitry Mamin-Sibiryak (1852–1912) Pavel Bazhov (1879–1950), as well as Aleksey Ivanov and Olga Slavnikova, post-Soviet writers, have written of the region.

The region served as a military stronghold during Peter the Great’s Great Northern War with Sweden, during Stalin’s rule when the Magnitogorsk Metallurgical Complex was built and Russian industry relocated to the Urals during the Nazi advance at the beginning of World War II, and as the center of the Soviet nuclear industry during the Cold War. Extreme levels of air, water, and radiological contamination and pollution by industrial wastes resulted. Population exodus resulted, and economic depression at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union, but in post-Soviet times additional mineral exploration, particularly in the northern Urals, has been productive and the region has attracted industrial investment.

Внутри горы бездействует кумир… (Deep in the mountain the idol rests) by Osip Mandelstam

Deep in the mountain the idol rests
in sweet repose, infinite and blest,
the fat of necklaces dripping from his neck
protects his dreams of flood tide and of slack.

As a boy, he buddied with a peacock,
they gave him rainbow of India to eat
and milk in a pink clay dish,
and didn't stint the cochineal.

Bone put to bed, locked in a knot,
shoulders, arms and knees made flesh,
he smiles with his own dead-silent lips,
thinks with his bone, feels with his brow,
and struggles to recall his human countenance...


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
from the first of the Voronezh Notebooks
(10-26 December 1936)
translated by Andrew Davis

Interesting information: The poem recounts certain Buddhist imagery, such as the peacock, from accounts of the life of Siddhartha Gautama a.k.a. Gautama Buddha.The female of the cochineal insect species is crushed to make red pigment for food colouring amongst other uses.

Beneath is the original Russian Cyrillic verison of the poem. I couldn’t find a recital of it on Youtube but feel free to add one in the comments please if you know of one:

Внутри горы бездействует кумир…  

Внутри горы бездействует кумир
В покоях бережных, безбрежных и счастливых,
А с шеи каплет ожерелий жир,
Оберегая сна приливы и отливы.

Когда он мальчик был и с ним играл павлин,
Его индийской радугой кормили,
Давали молока из розоватых глин
И не жалели кошенили.

Кость усыпленная завязана узлом,
Очеловечены колени, руки, плечи,
Он улыбается своим тишайшим ртом,
Он мыслит костию и чувствует челом
И вспомнить силится свой облик человечий.

Мой щегол, я голову закину (Goldfinch, friend, I’ll cock my head) by Osip Mandelstam

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
A recital of the poem by Mikhail Kozakov
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).

‘You’re not alone. You haven’t died’ by Osip Mandelstam

You're not alone. You haven't died,
while you still,beggar-woman at your side,
take pleasure in the grandeur of the plain,
the gloom, the cold,the whirlwinds of snow.


In sumptuous penury, in mighty poverty
live comforted and at rest -
your days and nights are blest,
your sweet-voiced labour without sin.


Unhappy he, a shadow of himself,
whom a bark astounds and the wind mows down,
and to be pitied he, more dead than alive,
who begs handouts from a ghost.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Andrew Davis

‘I’ll say this in a whisper, in draft’ by Osip Mandelstam

I'll say this in a whisper, in draft,
because it's early yet:
we have to pay
with experience and sweat
to learn the sky's free play.

And under purgatory's temporal sky
we easily forget:
the dome of heaven
is a home
to praise forever, wherever.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Robert Chandler

The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

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

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


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.

‘What did they do’ by Boris Slutsky

What did they do

with the relatives of Christ?

What did they do with them?

No written source

will tell you a damned thing –

nothing but crossings out, emptiness.

What the hell did they do with them?

 

What did they do

with those simple people,

simple craftsmen, men who worked on the land?

Were all marched off to some nearby wilderness,

lined up and machine-gunned?

 

Whatever happened then, two centuries later

there were no demands for compensation or calls for revenge?

Total posthumous rehabilitation of Jesus

led to no rehabilitation of kin.

 

And now flowers are growing from the relatives of Christ.

Below them lie depths, above them rise heights,

yet world history had found no place

for those relatives of Christ.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Robert Chandler