Three Poems

Osip Mandelstam


The grey Spring of asphodels
is still far off and transparent.
Perhaps the wave still boils
and you'll catch the rustling of the sand.
But here, like Persephone, my soul
has begun to circle round,
and the kingdom of the dead will hold
no shapely, sun-tanned hands.

Why then do we entrust
the urn's burden to a boat,
across the water's amethyst
for our festival of black roses?
Through the fog, the course of my soul
is set, out past Meganom,
and after my burial, the black sail
will return from that cape where it's gone.

How rapidly the beams run over
the ridge that lay unillumined,
and the flakes of those black roses
flutter beneath the moon's wind.
The edge of that huge flag
of recollection, the bird
of grief and death will drag
on behind the cypress stern.

The melancholy paper fan
of past years opens with a rustle.
Towards the spot in the sand
where an amulet hid with a warm shudder,
through the fog, the course of my soul
is set, out past Meganom,
and after my burial, the black sail
will return from that cape where it's gone.


Concerto at a Railway Station

There's no way to breathe, and the night sky teems
with worms. No star's voice comes through,
although there's a music above that God sees.
The station shivers with the singing of the Muses –
filled with violins amid the steam,
torn by whistles, once again the air fuses.

A sphere of glass. A park's proportions.
An iron world whose entrancement is deep.
A coach speeds off with a peacock's call,
to a noisy feast in misty Elysium,
victorious, it makes a forte-piano roar.
I'm late. And afraid. And asleep.

Violin chords in the bustle and crying.
Into the station's glass forest I go.
The night choir's first notes are wild,
the rotting hotbeds keep the scent of roses,
and this is where my shadow spent the night
beneath a glass sky, among crowds of nomads.

Everything seems to be music or foam.
It shivers like a beggar, this world of iron.
I lean into glass hallways. Like violin bows,
our eyes feel the hot steam and go blind.
Where are you off to? At the wake for the shadow
the music sounds for us a last time.



You brute of a century, who could look
into the centres of your eyes
and with their blood glue back
two centuries to a severed spine?
Blood the builder flows from the throat
of everything terrestrial.
It's only on the era's threshold
that the parasite will tremble.

As long as creation stays alive,
it hauls around its vertebrae.
A wave will play, as if its rise
were the spine that we can't see.
The century's new-born lands
resemble the soft gristle of a child.
Dragged by the head, like a lamb,
life heads off to the knife.

To free the century from confinement,
so that the new world might appear,
we'll have to take a flute to bind
the knees of our tangled era.
This is the century that heaves
human anguish like a wave,
and in the grass the viper breathes
by the century's golden ratio.

The buds continue to swell,
the green leaves of crops will splash.
Hey, my terrible, splendid century,
your spine's now thoroughly smashed.
Cruel and weak, with that senseless smile,
you turn your eyes back towards us,
a wild beast that used to be lithe,
now on the trail of its own claws.

Blood the builder flows from the throat
of all terrestrial things,
the warm gristle of the ocean
laps at the coast like a hot fish.
And from the birds' high gauze,
the moist masses in the blue,
indifference pours and pours
onto your fatal wound.


translated from the Russian by Alistair Noon