Voronezh Notebook

Osip Mandelstam

January 9, 1937

When, among downcast branches
The sorcerer stirs
The whooshing of bay or
Chestnut coats,

The wintering bullfinch—
That faded, lazy knight,
Small but powerful,
Doesn’t want to sing.

Under the overhang of sky,  
Under the arch of his brow,             
I’ll quickly be seated
In the lilac sled.

January 9, 1937

Hanging around Koltsov
Like a falcon caught in a ring;                     
No messenger for me,
My house has no stoop.

My ankle tethered to
A blue wood of pine.
The view flung wide open,
A herald without orders.

Hummocks roam the steppe,
And on they go and go
The nights, small nights, overnights—
A transport for the blind.

January 20, 1937

As, somewhere, the sky’s stone wakes the earth,
Knowing no father, falls the fallen verse.
The inexorable is, for the artist, innovation, 
Could not be different; and he is judged by no one.

January 21-22, 1937

I hear it clear, the early ice
Rustling under the bridges
And recall the bright hops,
How it floated overhead.

From callous stairs, from city squares                    
With their blocky palaces
The whole circle of his Florence
Alighieri praised more fiercely                                 
With exhausted lips.

So also my shadow chews               
With its eyes that gritty granite,                  
And sees at night a row of blocks               
That in the daytime seemed like houses.

Or my shadow beats around the bush,
And yawns a little in your company.

Or makes noise among the people,
Basking in their wine and sky, 

Feeding crumbs of bitter bread
to the ever-nagging swans.

January 24, 1937

I love breathing the frost,
To see breath’s winter confession:
I am I, reality—reality. . . 

The boy, red as a lamp,
Small sovereign of his sled,
the boss, sails by.

While I—at quarrel with both world and will—
Indulge the sled’s affliction—
In silvery parentheses, in tassels fringed—

So that the age may fall more lightly
than a squirrel—half the sky in felted boots,
all feet—down to the gentle river.

translated from the Russian by John High and Matvei Yankelevich

Click here to read Osip Mandelstam’s poetry from the Spring 2012 issue, and here to read three more poems from the Winter 2013 issue.