Osip Mandelstam

The magic ship can never be recovered.
The room is filled with blue tobacco-mist.
A mermaid stands before us, seaweed-covered
and green-eyed.  She's ashamed that she has missed

the point and never learned the art of smoking.
The burning cinders scald her parted lips.
She doesn't notice that her dress is smoking,
that ashes fall from its green silken wisps.

The sea-farers found neither pipes nor pipe-stems:
the emerald depths hold on for all they're worth.
It's hard to get accustomed to the lights and
breathe the dry and bitter vapors of the earth.

translated from the Russian by Olga Kamensky

Read the original in Russian

Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938) was one of the most well-known poets of the Russian Silver Age, and a central figure of the "Acmeist" school of poetry. He was born in Warsaw, spent part of his childhood in St. Petersburg, and studied in Paris and Heidelberg before returning to Russia. Mandlestam also wrote essays, literary criticism, and memoirs, and worked as a translator and newspaper correspondent for a living. In response to the criticisms of Stalin and his regime in some of his poetry, the Soviet government sent the poet first into internal exile, then to a camp in Siberia, where he died.

Olga Kamensky is a translator, writer, and student. She was born in Russia, grew up in New York, and has lived in France and Israel. Her translations have appeared in The Harvard Advocate.