The Ofi Press Magazine

International Poetry and Fiction from Mexico City

Poetry in Translation:  Osip Mandelstam

Poems by Osip Mandelstam (Russia)

Translations by Alistair Noon (UK/ Germany)

Published in Issue 35 of The Ofi Press.

 

 

No, not the moon, but a clock's bright face

dazzles my eyes. Well am I to blame

I can touch the stars’ milky light?

 

Poet Batyushkov, son of a parson,

just spouts on. “What's the time?” they asked him.

“Eternity”, he replied.

 

1912

 

 

 

 

“Ice cream!” Sun. The airy biscuits.

A see-through tumbler of icy water.

Into a world of chocolate’s pink dawn

the daydreams fly, into the Alps' milkiness.

 

Throw sweet looks and tinkle a teaspoon…

In the tiny summerhouse, under dusty acacias,

accept and praise the bakers’ graces

from intricate cups, take the delicate food…

 

The roaming ice-box, its lid bright-coloured,

will be here soon – the barrel organ’s friend.

And the street boy keeps his greedy attention

on that full coffer with its marvellous coldness.

 

Gods wouldn’t know which one he’ll decide on:

diamond creams or waffle with filling?

But it soon disappears beneath the splinter,

glittering at the sun, an ice that's divine.

 

1914

 

 

 

 

I miss mosquitoes in winter,

buzzing about our home no more.

But you, my friend, have made me think

of some light-headed straw.

 

Fashion circles in the air

like a swift, and dragonflies drone.

Is that some basket snug round your hair,

or a new kind of fluffed-up poem?

 

I won’t go giving you advice:

there's no point saying what I mean.

But still, the aroma of orange rind

lives on, and the taste of cream.

 

You think things through at random,

and that's the worst way to proceed.

What can I do? Your tender brain

transfers the world outside.

 

The spoon you were whisking a yolk with

has worked itself into a rage.

The yolk’s all white, now it’s broken,

but the spoon keeps whisking away.

 

I know that it's not your fault.

Inside-out dresses and school grades –

what good are they? For you’ve been born

to squabble on the theatre stage.

 

Inside, you tickle and sing

like the Italian roulade on this plate.

And now your slender, cherry lips

request a bunch of dry grapes.

 

No need to be clever – relax.

Your moments approach and pass.

The shadow from your knitted hat

is a kind of carnival mask.

 

1920