‘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.

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Боярыня Морозова (Boyarynya Morozova) [Excerpt] by Varlam Shalamov

Not love, but rabid fury, has led
God's servant to the truth. Her pride
is justified - first high-born lady
to seek a convict's fate.

Gripping her Old Believer's cross
tight as a whip between her hands,
she thunders out her final curses;
the sleigh slips out of sight.

So this is how God's saints are born...
Her hate more ardent than her love,
she runs dry fingers through her dry,
already frost-chilled hair.


by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
(1950)
translated by Robert Chandler

The poem refers to Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Russian: Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова) (21 May 1632 – 1 December 1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. She was perceived as a martyr after she was arrested and died in prison.

She became a household name after being discussed by important Russian writers and depicted by Vasily Surikov. She was also taken as a heroine by some radical groups, who saw her as a symbol of resistance to state power. The People’s Will revolutionary movement promoted her, and her virtues were praised by writers of the Soviet era such as Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov and Fazil Iskander, who “symbolically enlisted her in their own causes of resistance”.

Below is the full Russian version in Cyrillic.

 Боярыня Морозова

Попрощаться с сонною Москвою
Женщина выходит на крыльцо.
Бердыши тюремного конвоя
Отражают хмурое лицо.

И широким знаменьем двуперстным
Осеняет шапки и платки.
Впереди – несчитанные версты,
И снега – светлы и глубоки.

Перед ней склоняются иконы,
Люди – перед силой прямоты
Неземной – земные бьют поклоны
И рисуют в воздухе кресты.

С той землей она не будет в мире,
Первая из русских героинь,
Знатная начетчица Псалтыри,
Сторож исторических руин.

Возвышаясь над толпой порабощенной,
Далеко и сказочно видна,
Непрощающей и непрощеной
Покидает торжище она.

Это – веку новому на диво
Показала крепость старина,
Чтобы верил даже юродивый
В то, за что умрет она.

Не любовь, а бешеная ярость
Водит к правде Божию рабу.
Ей гордиться – первой из боярынь
Встретить арестантскую судьбу.

Точно бич, раскольничье распятье
В разъяренных стиснуто руках,
И гремят последние проклятья
С удаляющегося возка.

Так вот и рождаются святые,
Ненавидя жарче, чем любя,
Ледяные волосы сухие
Пальцами сухими теребя.

‘She came in out of the frost’ by Alexander Blok

 She came in out of the frost,
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and perfume
and resonent chatter
that did away with my last chance
of getting anywhere in my work.

Straightaway
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room

All this
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth
read aloud to her.

Barely had I reached
the earth's bubbles
which never failed to entrance me
when I realized that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.

A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons,
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.


by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(1908)
translated by Robert Chandler

‘The earth’s bubbles’ in this poem references a line from Act I, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them.” which Banquo says to Macbeth when the witches disappear after their encounter. Between 1904 and 1905 Blok wrote a poem cycle he titled ‘Bubbles of the Earth’, incorporating motifs from folk magic. In 1907 he wrote of Shakespeare, ‘ I love him deeply; and perhaps, most deely of all – in the whole of world literature – Macbeth’.

Paolo and Francesca refers to the affair between Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, both of who were married, but fell in love nonetheless. Their tragic adulterous story was told by Dante in his Divine Comedy, Canto V of the Inferno, and was a popular subject with Victorian artists and sculptors, especially with followers of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, and with other writers.

Пауль Клее (Paul Klee) by Arseny Tarkovsky

Over the meadows, beyond the mountains,
there once lived a painter called Klee,
and he sat on his own on a path
with various bright-coloured crayons.

He drew rectangles and he drew hooks,
an imp in a light-blue shirt,
Africa, stars, a child on a platform,
wild beasts where Sky meets Earth.

He never intended his sketches
to be like passport photos,
with people, horses, cities and lakes
standing up straight like robots.

He wanted these lines and these spots
to converse with one another
as clearly as cicadas in summer,
but then one morning a feather

materialized as he sketched.
A wing, the crown of ahead -
the Angel of Death. It was time
for Klee to part from his friends

and his Muse. He did.He died.
Can anything be more cruel?
Though had Paul Klee been any less wise,
his angel might have touched us all

and we too, along with the artist,
might have left the world behind
while that angel shook up our bones,
but – what help would that have been?

Me, I'd much rather walk through a gallery
than lie in some sad cemetery.
I like to loiter with friends by paintings -
yellow-blue wildlings, follies most serious.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1957)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss German artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Here is a reading of the poem in Russian set to music featuring one of Klee’s artworks.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem.

Пауль Клее

Жил да был художник Пауль Клее
Где-то за горами, над лугами.
Он сидел себе один в аллее
С разноцветными карандашами,

Рисовал квадраты и крючочки,
Африку, ребенка на перроне,
Дьяволенка в голубой сорочке,
Звезды и зверей на небосклоне.

Не хотел он, чтоб его рисунки
Были честным паспортом природы,
Где послушно строятся по струнке
Люди, кони, города и воды.

Он хотел, чтоб линии и пятна,
Как кузнечики в июльском звоне,
Говорили слитно и понятно.
И однажды утром на картоне

Проступили крылышко и темя:
Ангел смерти стал обозначаться.
Понял Клее, что настало время
С Музой и знакомыми прощаться.

Попрощался и скончался Клее.
Ничего не может быть печальней.
Если б Клее был немного злее,
Ангел смерти был бы натуральней.

И тогда с художником все вместе
Мы бы тоже сгинули со света,
Порастряс бы ангел наши кости.
Но скажите мне: на что нам это?

На погосте хуже, чем в музее,
Где порой слоняются живые,
И висят рядком картины Клее -
Голубые, желтые, блажные…

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825 (14 December 1825) [Excerpt] by Fyodor Tyutchev

O sacrifice to reckless thought,
it seems you must have hoped
your scanty blood had power enough
to melt the eternal Pole.
A puff of smoke, a silent flicker
upon the age-old ice -
and then a breath of iron winter
extinguished every trace.


by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев
(Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)
(14 December, 1825)
translated by Robert Chandler

Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

A video of the full poem being recited in Russian.

The full original Russian Cyrillic version:

14-ое ДЕКАБРЯ 1825

Декабристам

Вас развратило Самовластье,
И меч его вас поразил,—
И в неподкупном беспристрастье
Сейприговор Закон скрепил.
Народ, чуждаясь вероломства,
Поносит ваши имена —
Иваша память от потомства,
Как труп вземле, схоронена.

О жертвы мысли безрассудной,
Вы уповали, можетбыть,
Что станет вашей крови скудной,
Чтобвечный полюс растопить!
Едва, дымясь,она сверкнула,
На вековой громаде льдов,
Зима железная дохнула —
И неосталось и следов.

На берегу (On the Bank) by Arseny Tarkovsky

He was sitting by the river, among reeds

that peasants had been scything for their thatch.

And it was quiet there, and in his soul

it was quieter and stiller still.

He kicked off his boots and put

his feet into the water, and the water

began talking to him, not knowing

he didn't know its language.

He had thought that water is deaf-mute,

that the home of sleepy fish is without words,

that blue dragonflies hover over water

and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,

that you wash if you want to wash, and drink

if you want to drink, and that's all there is

to water. But in all truth

the water's language was a wonder,

a story of some kind about some thing,

some unchanging thing that seemed

like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,

like a divination of disaster.

And in it was something from childhood,

from not being used to counting life in years,

from what is nameless

and comes at night before you dream,

from the terrible, vegetable

sense of self

of your first season.


That's how the water was that day,

and its speech was without rhyme or reason.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1954)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Beneath is the original version of the poem.

На берегу

Он у реки сидел на камыше,
Накошенном крестьянами на крыши,
И тихо было там, а на душе
Еще того спокойнее и тише.
И сапоги он скинул. И когда
Он в воду ноги опустил, вода
Заговорила с ним, не понимая,
Что он не знает языка ее.
Он думал, что вода - глухонемая
И бессловесно сонных рыб жилье,
Что реют над водою коромысла
И ловят комаров или слепней,
Что хочешь мыться - мойся, хочешь -
пей,
И что в воде другого нету смысла.

И вправду чуден был язык воды,
Рассказ какой-то про одно и то же,
На свет звезды, на беглый блеск слюды,
На предсказание беды похожий.
И что-то было в ней от детских лет,
От непривычки мерить жизнь годами,
И от того, чему названья нет,
Что по ночам приходит перед снами,
От грозного, как в ранние года,
Растительного самоощущенья.

Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.