Friday, 6 September 2013

Osip Mandelstam - he who has a heart, Time hears.

Osip Mandelstam was born in 1891, in Warsaw, Poland, Osip Emilievich Mandelstam was raised in the imperial capital of St. Petersburg, Russia. Mandelstam studied at the Sorbonne, the University of Heidelberg, and the University of St. Petersburg, though he left off his studies to pursue writing. He published his first collection, Kamen, or Stone (1913), when Russian Symbolism was the dominant persuasion. Like Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov, who cleared the ground for Russian Futurism, Mandelstam departed from this old mode of expression in favor of a more direct treatment of thoughts, feelings, and observations under the aegis of Acmeism, a programme that included Nikolay Gumilev and Anna Akhmatova.  
In the 20s Bolsheviks had begun to exert an ever increasing amount of control over Russian artists, and Mandelstam, though he had initially supported the Revolution, was absolutuely unwilling to yield to the political doctrine of a regime that had executed Gumilev in 1921. The poet published three more books in 1928— Poems, a collection of criticism entitled On Poetry, and The Egyptian Stamp, a book of prose—as the state closed in on him. Mandelstam spent his later years in exile, serving sentences for counter-revolutionary activities in various work camps, until his death on December 27, 1938, in the Gulag Archipelago.

What shall I do with this body they gave me
What shall I do with this body they gave me,
so much my own, so intimate with me?

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?

I am the flower, and the gardener as well,
and am not solitary, in earth’s cell.

My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,
on the clear glass of eternity.

A pattern set down,
until now, unknown.

Breath evaporates without trace,
but form no one can deface.
In transparent Petropolis we will leave only bone

In transparent Petropolis we will leave only bone,
here where we are ruled by Proserpina.
We drink the air of death, each breath of the wind’s moan,
and every hour is our death-hour’s keeper.
Sea-goddess, thunderous Athena,
remove your vast carapace of stone.
In transparent Petropolis we will leave only bone:
Here Proserpine is our Tsarina.

Note: Petropolis, a Greek version of Petersburg, was Pushkin’s and Derzhavin’s name for St. Petersburg, Peter the Great’s granite city on the River Neva, his ‘window on Europe’. The poem was written during the early years of the Revolution.

Brothers, let us glorify freedom’s twilight

Brothers, let us glorify freedom’s twilight –
the great, darkening year.
Into the seething waters of the night
heavy forests of nets disappear.
O Sun, judge, people, your light
is rising over sombre years

Let us glorify the deadly weight
the people’s leader lifts with tears.
Let us glorify the dark burden of fate,
power’s unbearable yoke of fears.
How your ship is sinking, straight,
he who has a heart, Time, hears.

We have bound swallows
into battle legions - and we,
we cannot see the sun: nature’s boughs
are living, twittering, moving, totally:
through the nets –the thick twilight - now
we cannot see the sun, and Earth floats free.

Let’s try: a huge, clumsy, turn then
of the creaking helm, and, see -
Earth floats free. Take heart, O men.
Slicing like a plough through the sea,
Earth, to us, we know, even in Lethe’s icy fen,
has been worth a dozen heavens’ eternity.

A speechless sadness
 A speechless sadness
opened two huge eyes.
A vase of flowers woke:
splashing crystal surprise.

The whole room filled,
with languor - sweet potion!
Such a tiny kingdom
to swallow sleep’s ocean.

Wine’s slight redness,
May’s slight sunlight –
fingers, slender, and white,
breaking wafer-fragments.

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