‘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.

Тень (Shade) by Anna Akhmatova

What does a certain woman know

about the hour of her death?

Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Beneath is the original version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

In 1940 by Anna Akhmatova

1

When you bury an epoch

You do not sing psalms at the tomb.

Soon, nettles and thistles

Will be in bloom.

And only – bodies won’t wait! –

The gravediggers toil;

And it’s quiet, Lord, so quiet,

Time has become audible.

And one day the age will rise,

Like a corpse in a spring river –

But no mother’s son will recognize

The body of his mother.

Grandsons will bow their heads.

The moon like a pendulum swinging.

And now – over stricken Paris

Silence is winging.

.

.

2

To the Londoners

Shakespeare’s play, his twenty-fourth –

Time is writing it impassively.

By the leaden river what can we,

Who know what such feasts are,

Do, except read Hamlet, Caesar, Lear?

Or escort Juliet to her bed, and christen

Her death, poor dove, with torches and singing;

Or peep through the window at Macbeth,

Trembling with the one who kills from greed –

Only not this one, not this one, not this one,

This one we do not have the strength to read.

.

.

3

Shade

What does a certain woman know
about the hour of her death?
– Osip Mandelstam

Tallest, most elegant of us, why does memory

Insist you swim up from the years, pass

Swaying down a train, searching for me,

Transparent profile through the carriage-glass?

Were you angel or bird? – how we argued it!

A poet took you for his drinking-straw.

Your Georgian eyes through sable lashes lit

With the same even gentleness, all they saw.

O shade! Forgive me, but clear sky, Flaubert,

Insomnia, the lilacs flowering late,

Have brought you – beauty of the year

’13 – and your unclouded temperate day,

Back to my mind, in memories that appear

Uncomfortable to me now. O shade!

.

.

4

I thought I knew all the paths

And precipices of insomnia,

But this is a trumpet-blast

And like a charge of cavalry.

I enter an empty house

That used to be someone’s home,

It’s quiet, only white shadows

In a stranger’s mirrors swim.

And what is that in a mist? –

Denmark? Normandy? Or some time

In the past did I live here,

And this – a new edition

Of moments lost forever.

.

.

5

But I warn you,

I am living for the last time.

Not as a swallow, not as a maple,

Not as a reed nor as a star,

Not as water from a spring,

Not as bells in a tower –

Shall I return to trouble you

Nor visit other people’s dreams

With lamentation.

.

.

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1940)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

.

.

Below are the original Russian versions of this verse in Cyrillic.

.

.

1

Август 1940

То град твой, Юлиан!

Вяч. Иванов

.

Когда погребают эпоху,

Надгробный псалом не звучит,

Крапиве, чертополоху

Украсить ее предстоит.

И только могильщики лихо

Работают. Дело не ждет!

И тихо, так, господи, тихо,

Что слышно, как время идет.

А после она выплывает,

Как труп на весенней реке,—

Но матери сын не узнает,

И внук отвернется в тоске.

И клонятся головы ниже,

Как маятник, ходит луна.

Так вот — над погибшим Парижем

Такая теперь тишина.

.

.

2

Лондонцам

И сделалась война на небе.

– Апок.

.

Двадцать четвертую драму Шекспира

Пишет время бесстрастной рукой.

Сами участники чумного пира,

Лучше мы Гамлета, Цезаря, Лира

Будем читать над свинцовой рекой;

Лучше сегодня голубку Джульетту

С пеньем и факелом в гроб провожать,

Лучше заглядывать в окна к Макбету,

Вместе с наемным убийцей дрожать,—

Только не эту, не эту, не эту,

Эту уже мы не в силах читать!

.

.

3

Тень

Что знает женщина одна о смертном часе?

О. Мандельштам

.

Всегда нарядней всех, всех розовей и выше,

Зачем всплываешь ты со дна погибших лет,

И память хищная передо мной колышет

Прозрачный профиль твой за стеклами карет?

Как спорили тогда — ты ангел или птица!

Соломинкой тебя назвал поэт.

Равно на всех сквозь черные ресницы

Дарьяльских глаз струился нежный свет.

О тень! Прости меня, но ясная погода,

Флобер, бессонница и поздняя сирень

Тебя — красавицу тринадцатого года —

И твой безоблачный и равнодушный день

Напомнили… А мне такого рода

Воспоминанья не к лицу. О тень!

.

.

4

Уж я ль не знала бессонницы

Все пропасти и тропы,

Но эта как топот конницы

Под вой одичалой трубы.

Вхожу в дома опустелые,

В недавний чей-то уют.

Всё тихо, лишь тени белые

В чужих зеркалах плывут.

И что там в тумане — Дания,

Нормандия или тут

Сама я бывала ранее,

И это — переиздание

Навек забытых минут?

.

.

5

Но я предупреждаю вас,

Что я живу в последний раз.

Ни ласточкой, ни кленом,

Ни тростником и ни звездой,

Ни родниковою водой,

Ни колокольным звоном —

Не буду я людей смущать

И сны чужие навещать

Неутоленным стоном.

О, этот воздух, смутой пьяный… (‘On the black square of the Kremlin…’) by Osip Mandelstam

On the black square of the Kremlin

the air is drunk with mutiny.

A shaky ‘peace’ is rocked by rebels,

the poplars puff seditiously.

.

The wax faces of the cathedrals

and the dense forest of the bells

tell us – inside the stony rafters

a tongueless brigand is concealed.

.

But inside the sealed-up cathedrals

the air we breathe is cool and dark,

as though a Russian wine is coursing

through Greece’s earthenware jars.

.

Assumption’s paradise of arches

soars up in an astonished curve;

and now the green Annunciation

awakens, cooing like a dove.

.

The Archangel and Resurrection

let in the light like glowing palms –

everything is secretly burning,

the jugs are full of hidden flames.

.

.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)

His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(April 1916)

translated by Thomas de Waal

Mandelstam’s poem set to music composed and performed by the singer-songwriter Larisa Novoseltseva. Performed at the House of Journalists, Moscow, on February 24, 2010. She is composer and performer of songs and ballads on poems by more than forty Russian poets, mostly of the Silver Age. Check out more of her work on YouTube!

Beneath is the original Russian language version of the poem in Cyrillic.

О, этот воздух, смутой пьяный…

О, этот воздух, смутой пьяный,

На черной площади Кремля.

Качают шаткий «мир» смутьяны,

Тревожно пахнут тополя.

.

Соборов восковые лики,

Колоколов дремучий лес,

Как бы разбойник безъязыкий

В стропилах каменных исчез.

.

А в запечатанных соборах,

Где и прохладно и темно,

Как в нежных глиняных амфорах,

Играет русское вино.

.

Успенский, дивно округленный,

Весь удивленье райских дуг,

И Благовещенский, зеленый,

И, мнится, заворкует вдруг.

.

Архангельский и Воскресенья

Просвечивают, как ладонь,—

Повсюду скрытое горенье,

В кувшинах спрятанный огонь…