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…

‘It’s February. Weeping take ink’ by Boris Pasternak

 It's February. Weeping take ink.
Find words in a sobbing rush
For February, while black spring
Burns through the rumbling slush.


And take a cab. Ride for a rouble
Through wheel racket and bell's throbbing
To where the downpour makes more din
Than the sound of ink and sobbing;


Where rooks in thousands, like charred pears
Windfallen from their branching skies,
Drop into puddles and bring down
Desolution into deep eyes.


Thawed patches underneath show black,
The wind is furrowed with cries, and then,
The more suddenly the more surely,
Verses sob from the pen.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1912)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Nicholas Was… by Neil Gaiman

Nicholas Was…

older than sin, and his beard could grow no whiter. He wanted to die.

The dwarfish natives of the Arctic caverns did not speak his language, but conversed in

their own, twittering tongue, conducted incomprehensible rituals, when they were not

actually working in the factories.

Once every year they forced him, sobbing and protesting, into Endless Night. During the

journey he would stand near every child in the world, leave one of the dwarves’ invisible

gifts by its bedside. The children slept, frozen into time.

He envied Prometheus and Loki, Sisyphus and Judas. His punishment was harsher.

Ho. Ho. Ho.

 

by Neil Gaiman

from Smoke & Mirrors


In 1989, Neil Gaiman and Sandman artist David McKean collaborated on a hundred word Christmas card story titled “Nicholas Was.” Below is a short animated version created by 39 Degrees North Studio.