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3 Poems by Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam and Clarence Brown, translated from the Russian by W.S. Merwin

dated January 16, 1937, Voronezh

I am alone staring into the eye of the ice.
He is going nowhere. I came from there.
A miracle: the plain ironed to the end
of time, pleated without a wrinkle, is breathing.

The sun squints, a starched pauper;
calm grimace, source of calm.
The forests stretch to ten figures, almost as they should be.
The eyes bite on virgin bread, on snow.

* * *


What can we do with the plains’ beaten weight?
No one can believe the slow hunger in them.
We think it’s theirs, the vast flatness, but on the journey
to sleep, there it is in ourselves, there it is.

Farther and farther the question spreads—where are they going
and coming from? And crawling across them
is that not the one whose name we shriek in our sleep—
the Judas of nations unborn?
* * *


Oh the horizon steals my breath and takes it nowhere—
I’m choked with space!
I get my breath back, there’s the horizon again.
I want something to cover my eyes.

I’d have liked the sand better—a life in layers
along the sawing shores of the river.
I’d have clung to the shy streams,
the eddies, hollows, shallows.

We’d have worked well together, for a moment,
for a century. I’ve wanted rapids like those.
I’d have laid my ear under the bark of drifting logs
to hear the rings marching outward.

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