Last December I posted the opening of Paul Celan’s radio-essay on Osip Mandelstam — which you can read here — and earlier still some the notes Celan wrote when composing the radio-essay — which you can read here. Both come from the German variorum edition of Der Meridian, the translation of which I am finally completing these days & which should come out next year from Stanford University Press. Here now, another extract of that radio-essay — to be published in its entirety in the forthcoming issue of Mantis magazine.
1. Speaker: In 1922, five years after the October revolution, “Tristia,” Mandelstam’s second volume of poems comes out.
The poet – the man for whom language is everything, origin and fate – is in exile with his language, “among the Scythians.” “He has” – and the whole cycle is tuned to this, the first line of the title poem – “he has learned to take leave – a science”.
Mandelstam, like most Russian poets – like Blok, Bryusov, Bely, Khlebnikov, Mayakovsky, Esenin- welcomed the revolution. His socialism is a socialism with an ethico-religious stamp; it comes via Herzen, Mihkaylovsky, Kropotkin. It is not by chance that in the years before the revolution the poet was involved with the writings of the Chaadaevs, Leontievs, Rozanovs and Gershenzons. Politically he is close to the party of the Left Social Revolutionaries. For him – and this evinces a chiliastic character particular to Russian thought – revolution is the dawn of the other, the uprising of those below, the exaltation of the creature – an upheaval of downright cosmic proportions. It unhinges the world.
Let us praise the freedom dawning here
this great, this dawn-year.
Submerged, the great forest of creels
into waternights, as none had been.
Into darkness, deaf and dense you reel,
you, people, you: sun-and-tribunal.
The yoke of fate, brothers, sing it
which he who leads the people carries in tears.
The yoke of power and darkenings,
the burden that throws us to the ground.
Who, oh time, has a heart, hears with it, understands:
he hears your ship, time, that founders.
There, battle-ready, the phalanx – there, the swallows!
We linked them together, and – you see it:
The sun – invisible. The elements, all
alive, bird-voiced, underway.
The net, the dusk: dense. Nothing glimmers.
The sun – invisible. The earth swims.
Well, we’ll try it: turn that rudder around!
It grates, it grinds, you leftists – come on, rip it around!
The earth swims. You men, take courage, once more!
We plough the seas, we break up the seas.
And to think, Lethe, even when your frost pierces us:
To us earth was worth ten heavens.