Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices

Osip Mandelshtam


Translated by Alex Sitnitsky



The lore of parting came to me along with
Disheveled and bareheaded night’s complaints.
The oxen chew, and endless waiting lingers
It is the time of city’s vigils running late.
These rooster’s night rites I revere, that instant
When, hauling up a load of grief, the throng’s
Tear-stained eyes are peering at the distance
And women’s weeping was the Muse’s songs.

Who can predict, when farewell is mentioned,
What kind of parting would it be and what
Should than it mean to us — that rooster’s exclamation,
When light on the Acropolis is burned?
And at the dawn, some new existence prior
When oxen lazily chew roughage at the stall,
Why does the rooster, new life’s towncrier,
Flaps wings uneasily atop the city wall?
I love the artless yarn to be in habit:
The shuttle scurries and the spindle hums.
Lo, like a down of swans — go on and try to dab it —
Barefooted Delia flies straight into your arms!
Oh, our life’s scant fabric!; it’s much lower
This tongue of joy of ours, indeed:
What was before, will be repeated over,
Only the strike of recognition is still sweet.
Thus let it be: the figure, small, transparent,
Spreads like a squirrel pelt upon a clean, clay plate,
And bending over wax, a maiden makes apparent
What’s given to perceive about night and fate.
In battles men drown lots — to them that right is given.
For women, wax is what for men is brass.
Not men to ask of Erebus. But women
Have privilege to die while telling doom for us.

* * *

Image thy — so painful and so faint
In the fog I could not sense by touch.
«Oh, my Lord!» I did not want to say it,
By mistake I said it all too much.
Like a bird — His name — without reason
Fluttered out from the chest of mine.
Far ahead the heavy fog has risen
And an empty cage is left behind.

* * *

An inexpressible sorrow
Opened two vast eyes. And at once
The flower vase rose from the trance,
Splashing its crystal out, over
The room. It’s treated by
A languor — sweet and scented healing!
This kingdom is so small, yet willing
Dreams from the air to imbibe.
A sip of wine, of sunny May;
Crumbling the tiny biscuit, fingers
Are thin and white. The morning lingers
Disturbed with an indolent ray.

* * *

«Ma voix aigure et fausse...»
I will tell you frankly, dealing
All’s chimera — a can of beer,
Angel — mate.
Where the Hellenes were enchanted
By the charm,
From black holes I got a charter —
Shame and Harm.
And the Greeks swiped Helen
O’er foam’ waves,
As for me, the hell of
Scum upon the face.
And the emptiness will grease me
O’er my lips.
Chiding poverty will treat me
With cheap tips.
Okey-dokey, hay-ly, way-ly —
Piece of cake;
Angel Mary, swig cocktails,
Take a break.
I will tell you frankly, dealing
All’s chimera — a can of beer,
Angel — mate.

* * *

A wandering light twinkles at an awesome height.
But is that so? The stars are lying.
Transparent star, a wandering little light,
Your brother, Petersburg, is dying.
Far, at an awesome height, the dreams of earth are light
And the green star is twinkling, flying.
If you are brother, Star, to water and to sky,
You brother, Petersburg, is dying.
A monstrous ship, far, at an awesome height,
Stretching its wings, is rushing, high on.
In splendid beggary, the grin star, in the flight,
You brother, Petersburg, is dying.
Transparent spring collapsed over the earth,
Above the black Neva the wax of being melts, crying.
If you are Petersburg, oh, Star, that awesome town of yours,
You brother, Petersburg, is dying.


* * *

Homer. Insomnia. The sails are taut. The list
Of soaring ships I’ve read up to the middle.
This train of cranes, the longest brood, the riddle
Rose up and vanished over Hellas going East.
A wedge of cranes aims at another land.
The royal heads crowned with a foam of heaven.
Where are you sailing to? Indeed, without Helen
What’s Troy to you, Achean proud men.
The sea and Homer — all is driven, urged by love.
Whom should I listen to? He’s keeping silence — Homer.
The black sea dins, harangues, gushing over
The bed’s headboard to capture, to engulf.


The artist here, to us describes
Deep swoon of blossomed lilac thicket.
Those sonorous steps of paint he picked and
Put on the canvas like deep scabs.
He grasped the density of oil —
Thus, his oppressive melted summer
Was overheated by the sun and
By lilac brain expended, boiled.
Dove-color shades are going gray.
The whip, like a dry match, dies out.
As you might say, «The cooks, no doubt,
Cook the fat pigeons for the day.»
The veils are implied. Perhaps,
You’ll guess a swing then, at a distance;
The bumblebee already feasts in
That sunny, boisterous collapse.

* * *

What should I do with you, my flesh, a gift divine?
You're so familiar to me, you're so completely mine.

For that calm happiness, which lets to live, to breathe
To whom my thanks to send and whom to share with?

I am the gardener, and the flower that's his own,
In dungeons of the world I've never been alone.

My warmth, my breath, all that was not in vain,
They on the mirrors of eternity have lain.

On them will be engrave those fine designs,
Unrecognizable from resent times.

May slime of trices flows down. Nothing's lost.
Those lovely patterns -- not to cross.

* * *

The snowy hive slows down. Here --
The window's dimmer then cut glass.
A turquoise veil has been cast
So carelessly upon the chair.

Indulged by fondling of the light,
Besotted with itself, the cloth,
As if it was not touched by frost,
Assays the summer day's delight.

And if in ice-cold diamonds streaming
The frost took Aeon by surprise,
Here they are, the dragonflies
Trembling, blue-eyed and swiftly living.


She has not even been born,
As Word and Music -- both combined,
And thus for all that is alive
A strong and everlasting bond.

The breathe of sea' breasts is so placid,
The day is blank as madman's eyes,
Pale lilac of the foam lies
In the azure and turbid vessel.

O, let my mouth do acquire
The primal muteness, like a crystal,
Transparent note, a sound distant,
That from its very birth is pure!

O, Aphrodite, as foam abide!
You, Music, Word must be the same,
And by a heart a heart is shamed,
Must with the base of Life unite.

1. «My shrill and false voice...»