Osip Mandelstam: a new translation



Alistair Noon writes:


"In 1934, the Russian poet Osip Mandelstam was sentenced to three years' internal exile in the central Russian city of Voronzeh. While there, he and his wife Nadezhda were befriended and supported by a young schoolteacher, Natasha Shtempel, who later helped preserve Mandelstam's unpublished work after he was deported to the Gulag, where he died in 1938. She also later wrote a memoir of the time she spent with the Mandelstams, detailing the background to some of the poems Osip Mandelstam wrote in Voronzeh. She owned a cat that was, by her own admission, of a somewhat aggressive disposition. "


The source of all trouble is feline,

and I can see it before me:

that merchant who'd peddle you seawater.

When a deal's in the air, his eyes shine

like the stagnant pool that spawned them.

Kashei the Life-Stasher tucks

into smouldering cabbage soups,

alurk for guests and good luck

along with the talking rocks

his pincers pick at and grip.

Golden nails are his nibbles.

Deep in his sleeping quarters,

this cat's not playing games.

Each fiery iris contains

a tight-shut mountain's coin-hoard.

Those irises might seem to freeze,

but while they beg and implore,

they rake up the sparks of our feasts.

Osip Mandelstam


29 – 30 December 1936


Translated by Alistair Noon


Kashei: figure in East Slavic folk tales in various guises, most usually a kind of tsar with magical powers, whose soul is hidden in inanimate objects.

This poem has not yet been published . The following are also by Alistair Noon: Concert At A Railway Station: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (Shearsman Books) and QUAD (Longbarrow Press).