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Osip Mandelstam: two poems



It's twice I've died, but I have to live now:

this town's in high spirits, high-cheeked and pretty,

though water has left its mind unstable...

How well that rich layer lies on the plough,

how well the steppe sits on a crankshaft in April.

The heavens out here are your Buonarotti.


4 April 1935


*****


Black Earth


Hallowed and black, it's all under nurture,

all horse's shoulder, all air and care,

all of it crumbling, one huge choir –

my land and liberty's clods of damp turf.


The black turns blue as they plough at dawn;

foundation of unarmed labour, a thousand

hills whose murmurs succumbed to the foreshare:

the district doesn't fit with the land that surrounds us.


It's a sledgehammer though, a faux pas, this earth:

it allows no appeals as you thud down your head,

with its mouldering flutes, puts your ears on alert,

will till them for spring with its morning clarinet.


How well that rich layer lies on the plough,

how well the steppe sits on a crankshaft in April!

So I greet you, Black Earth: be round-eyed and stout…

The black-tongued silence that's found in labour.


April 1935



Both poems are translated by Alistair Noon and can be found in The Voronezh Workbooks, published this year by Shearsman Books. The following are also by Alistair Noon: Concert At A Railway Station: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (Shearsman Books) and QUAD (Longbarrow Press).

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