Heart Happy (cathy_edgett) wrote,
Heart Happy

A Poem for a Life!


Here are two translations of Osip Mandelstam's poem, Epigram against Stalin, which he may have only spoken and not written down until he was betrayed.  

The Stalin Epigram
by Osip Mandelstam
Translated by W. S. Merwin

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot-rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.

Epigram Against Stalin
Osip Mandelstam
Translated by Esther Allen from Jose Manuel Prieto's Spanish version.

We live without feeling the
  country beneath our feet,
our words are inaudible from ten
  steps away.
Any conversation, however brief,
gravitates, gratingly, toward the
  Kremlin's mountain man.
His greasy fingers are thick as 
his words weighty hammers
  slamming their target.
His cockroach mustache seems
  to snicker,
and the shafts of his high-topped
  boots gleam.

Amid a rabble of scrawny-necked
he toys with the favors of such
One hisses, the other mewls, one
  groans, the other weeps;
he prowls thunderously among
  them, showering them with
Forging decree after decree, like
he pitches one to the belly,
  another to the forehead,
a third to the eyebrow, a fourth in
  the eye.

Every execution is a carnival
that fills his broad Ossetian chest 
  with delight.


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