Another Mandelstam Poem via Celan

From Paul Celan’s radio-essay on Osip Mandelstam, here is a further Mandelstam poem — a very literal translation of Celan’s German version. Earlier extracts of this piece can be found here, here and here.

JANUARY 1, 1924

Whoever kisses time’s sore brow
will often, like a son, think tenderly
how she, time, laid down to sleep outside
in high heaped wheat drifts, in the corn.

Whoever has raised the century’s eyelid
– both slumber-apples, large and heavy – ,
hears noise, hears the streams roar
the lying times, relentlessly

Imperious century, with loam-beautiful mouth
and two apples, asleep – yet
before it dies: to the son’s hand, so shrunken,
it bends down its lip.

Life’s breath, I know, ebbs away each day,
one more small one, a small one – and
deceased is the song of mortification, loam and plague,
with lead they seal your mouth.

Oh loam-and-life! Oh centrury’s death!
Only to the one, I’m afraid, does its meaning reveal itself,
in whom there was a smile, helpless – to the inheritor,
the man who lost himself.

Oh pain, oh to search for the lost word.
oh lid and lid to raise, sick and weak,
for generations, the strangest, with lime in your blood
to gather the grass and the weed of night!

Time. The lime in the blood of the sick son
turns hard. Moscow, that wooden coffer, sleeps.
Time, the sovereign. And no escape anywhere…
The snow’s apple-scent, as always.

The sill here: I wish I could leave it.
Whereto? The street – darkness.
And, as if it were salt, so white, there on the pavement
lies my conscience, spread out before me.

Through winding lanes, through slipways
the journey goes, somehow:
a bad passenger sits in a sled,
pulls a blanket over the knees.

The lanes, the shimmering lanes, the by-lanes
the runners crunch’s like apples under the tooth.
The strap, I can’t grab it,
it doesn’t want me to, and the hand is clammy.

Night, cartwoman, with what scrap and iron
are you rolling through Moscow?
Fish thud here, and there, from pink houses,
it steams toward you – scalegold!

Moscow, anew. Ah, I greet you, once more!
Forgive, excuse – my misery wasn’t very great.
I like to call them, as always, my brethren:
the pike’s saying and the hard frost!

The snow in the pharmacy’s raspberry light…
A clattering, from afar, an Underwood…
The coachman’s back… the roadway, blown away…
What more do you want? They won’t kill you.

Winter – beauty. And skyward the white,
the starmilk – it streams, streams away and blinks.
The horsehair blanket crunches along the icy
runners – the horsehair blanket sings!

The little lanes, smoking, the petroleum, always – :
swallowed by snow, raspberry colored.
They hear the Soviet-sonatina jingle,
remember the year twenty.

Does it make me swear and damn?
– The frost’s apple-scent, again –
Oh oath that I swore to the fourth estate!
Oh my promise, heavy with tears!

Oh whom will you kill? Whom will you praise?
And what lie, tell me, are you going to make up?
Tear off this cartilage, the keys of the machine:
the pike’s bones you lay open.

The lime in the blood of the sick son: it fades.
A laughter, blissful, frees itself –
Sonatas, powerful… The little sonatina
of the typewriter – : only its shadow!

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3 opinions on “Another Mandelstam Poem via Celan”

  1. Pierre,

    This is splendid; one can feel, sense, almost hear the weight and pull of the earth, the gravity of mortality. Am put in mind of Keats’ To Autumn, of Hölderlin, of Celan–with your sensitive mediating hand holding things together tonally. A tour de force, esp. this superb beginning…

    Whoever kisses time’s sore brow
    will often, like a son, think tenderly
    how she, time, laid down to sleep outside
    in high heaped wheat drifts, in the corn.

    Whoever has raised the century’s eyelid
    – both slumber-apples, large and heavy – ,
    hears noise, hears the streams roar
    the lying times, relentlessly

    Imperious century, with loam-beautiful mouth
    and two apples, asleep – yet
    before it dies: to the son’s hand, so shrunken,
    it bends down its lip.

    Life’s breath, I know, ebbs away each day…

  2. I hope you don’t mind if I share my version of the same with you:

    THE FIRST OF JANUARY 1924

    Whoever kissed it — the raw and painful brow
    of time — a son, he’ll often think, with warmth,
    still, how time lay down to sleep outside
    in the high piles of wheat, in the corn.

    The century’s eyelids — anyone who ever raised
    them up, two pupils drowsing, heavy and large,
    he hears the din, he hears the torrents rage,
    incessantly, torrents of mendacious ages.

    The century, imperious, its mouth
    lovely with loam, its sleeping pupils — but
    before it dies: it will still bend down
    to kiss the shrunken hand of the son.

    The breath of life, I know, subsides with every day;
    a little more, a little — and dead
    is the song of insult, loam, and plague,
    they seal this mouth for you with lead.

    O loam-and-life! O century’s demise!
    To him alone it will confide, I fear,
    your sense, in whom there was a helpless smile —
    the man who lost himself, the heir.

    O pain, o to seek the word that’s lost,
    o to raise, sick and weak, lid and lid,
    to pick the herb of night, to pick the grass,
    for the farthest races, with lime in your blood!

    Time. The lime hardens in the blood
    of the ailing son. Asleep, the wooden casket, Moscow.
    Time, the ruler. And nowhere any way out …
    Just as before, the apple scent of snow.

    This threshold that I wish I could desert.
    But to go where? The street — obscurity.
    And my conscience lies, as white as salt,
    scattered on the pavement in front of me.

    Through winding alleys, narrow passages,
    is where it’s somehow going, the journey:
    sitting in a sled, a lousy passenger
    pulling the blanket over his knee.

    The alleys, gleaming alleys, more and more;
    like apples between teeth, the runner’s crunch.
    I cannot get a grip on that loop there;
    it’s escaping me, and my hand is numb.

    Night, you toiler, rolling through Moscow,
    what kind of junk and iron do you haul?
    There, leaping fish, and there, from glowing houses,
    steaming up from the scales — such gold!

    Moscow, anew. I greet you once again!
    Forgive, excuse — it was not great, my loss.
    O brothers whom I’m always glad to name:
    the watchword of the pike, the bitter frost!

    Snow in the pharmacy’s raspberry light …
    A far-off clattering, an Underwood …
    The coachman’s back … The streets the snowdrifts hide …
    Do you want more? They will not murder you.

    The winter — lovely. Toward the sky the white,
    the milk of stars — it flows; it flows away and blinks.
    The horsehair blanket snaps against the iced
    runners — the horsehair blanket sings!

    The little alleys, smoke of kerosene, so thick,
    always — the snow that chokes, once raspberry,
    They hear the Soviet sonatina clink,
    recall the year of nineteen-twenty.

    Does all this drive me to words of abuse and hate?
    — The apple scent of frost, once more —
    O oath I swore to the fourth estate!
    O my vow, heavy with my tears!

    Whom will you still murder? Whom will you still praise?
    And tell me, what will still occur to you, what lie?
    Tear that gristle, the keys of the machine, away:
    you expose the bones of the pike.

    The lime in the blood of the ailing son: it’s gone.
    A blissful laugh is breaking free —
    Powerful sonatas … the sonatina, small,
    of the typewriter — their shadow only!

  3. Don’t mind at all, Andrew. Only way to read a poem is through all its versions, especially (but not exclusively) when you don’t know the original language.

    Tom — thanks for the kind words. Mine is of course only a translation of a translation, but I have always been fascinated by Celan’s translations. He is an absolutely amazing translator & I trust him implicitly when it comes to languages I don’t know.

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