From Mandelshtam's second collection of poetry, Tristia (1922)


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Osip Mandelshtam Osip Mandelshtam

Kevin Kinsella Translated by Kevin Kinsella



Solominka, when you cannot sleep,
You wait anxiously in your huge room
For the heavy ceiling to lower its sad
Weight over your sensitive eyes.

Dry little straw, sonorous Solominka,
Drinking death has put you at rest.
The dear little straw is dead.
No, not Salome, Solominka.

Sleepless objects grow heavy
And so quiet, as if there were less of them.
The white pillows glimmer faintly in the mirror.
The bed is reflected in its round pool.

The twelve months sing the hour of death
And pale-blue ice streams through the air.
No, it is not Solominka in solemn satin,
In the huge room above the Neva.

Solemn December lets out its breath
As if the heavy Neva were in the room.
No, not Solominka—It is Ligeia dying:
I have learned you blessed words.


I have learned you, blessed words:
Lenore, Solominka, Ligeia, Seraphita.
Pale-blue blood seeps from the granite.
The heavy Neva is in the room.

Solemn December shines above the Neva.
The twelve months sing the hour of death.
No, it is not Solominka in solemn satin
Slowly inhaling the wearisome peace.

In my blood it is Decemberish Ligeia,
Whose blessed love sleeps in the sarcophogus.
But that little straw, perhaps Salome,
Was killed by pity, never to return.

“I lost a precious cameo. . .”

“I lost a precious cameo
Along the banks of the Neva.
I feel sorry for the beautiful Roman,”
You said to me on the verge of tears.

But lovely Georgian, why
Disturb the dust of a sacred tomb?
Another feathery snowflake
thawed on the fan of her eyelash.

Timidly, you bent your neck,
But no cameo—no Romans.
I feel sorry for the tanned Tinotine,
Roman girl on the banks of the Neva.

“To read only children's books. . .”

To read only children's books,
To think only children's thoughts,
To throw away all adult things,
To rise from a deep sadness.

I am deathly tired of life,
I expect nothing from it.
But because I've seen no other
I love my poor earth.

In a far-off garden I swung
On a simple wooden swing
And in a hazy fever I remember
Fir trees, dark and tall.

“Out of our minds with the easy life. . .”

Out of our minds with the easy life:
Wine in the morning, hung over by evening.
How can I quell this mounting gaiety,
Your glow, oh drunken plague?

From the agonizing ritual of a handshake
And nocturnal kisses on the street
When speech flows heavily
And lamps burn like torches.

We wait for death like a fairy-tale wolf,
But I'm afraid the first to die
Will be the one with the anxious, red mouth
And bangs falling over his eyes.

“Heaviness and Tenderness are twin sisters. . . ”

Heaviness and Tenderness are twin sisters:
Bees and wasps both suck the heavy rose.
Burning sand cools down. A man dies.
And yesterday's sun is carried off in a black cart.

Ah, heavy honeycombs and tender nets.
It's easier to lift stone than to repeat your name.
I have but one care left on earth:
The golden need to ease the burden of time.

I drink the cloudy air like muddy water.
Time is turned over. The rose was once dirt.
Tender roses spin sluggishly in thick whirlpools—
Roses, heavy and tender, twined in twin wreaths.

Venetian Life

Gloomy and sterile Venetian Life—
The meaning is clear to me.
Here: With a cold smile she looks
Into the decrepit, blue glass.

Delicate air. Blue, leathery veins.
White snow. Green brocade.
All placed on cypress stretchers,
Warm and drowsy from the cape.

Candles burn, burn in baskets.
As if a dove had flown to the ark,
At the theater and in celebration,
A man is dying.

Because there is no cure for love or fear,
Saturn's rings are heavier than platinum.
Black velvet drapes the beautiful face
And the block.

In the cypress mirror frame,
Venetsya, your heavy hair.
Your air is cut glass. In the bedroom
Blue mountains of cut glass dissolve.

Only an Adriatic-blue bottle and a rose
Are in her fingers. Forgiveness!
Why stay silent, Venetyanka?
How can I escape this celebration of death?

Black Hesper flickers in the mirror.
Everything passes. The truth is dark.
A man is born. A pearl dies.
And Susannah must await the elders.