York Literary Review

Three Poems by Osip Mandelstam

Translated from the Russian by Alistair Noon





The violins call and the valkyries fly

as the opera lumbers to a close.

On the marble stairs, the footmen mark time,

clutching their ladies’ and lords’ fur-coats.


Up in the gods, some fool claps on

as the curtain falls without a sound.

Cabmen do jigs about their bonfires.

‘So-and-so’s coach!’ They’re off. The End.




Летают Валкирии, поют смычки —

Громоздкая опера к концу идет.

С тяжелыми шубами гайдуки

На мраморных лестницах ждут господ.


Уж занавес наглухо упасть готов,

Еще рукоплещет в райке глупец,

Извозчики пляшут вокруг костров…

‘Карету такого-то!’ — Разъезд. Конец.




‘Ice cream!’ Sun. The airy biscuits.

A see-through tumbler of ice-cold water.

Into a chocolate world’s pink dawn

the daydreams fly, into Alpine milkiness.


Look sweetly once you’ve tinkled your teaspoon.

In the tiny pavilion, under dusty acacias,

accept and praise the bakers’ graces,

fragile in intricate cups you’ll consume…


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.


The gods couldn’t say which one he’ll decide on:

cream diamonds or wafer plus filling? It glitters

in the sun, but under that delicate splinter,

it’s quick to vanish, the ice that’s divine.




‘Мороженно!’ Солнце. Воздушный бисквит.

Прозрачный стакан с ледяною водою.

И в мир шоколада с румяной зарею,

В молочные Альпы мечтанье летит.


Но, ложечкой звякнув, умильно глядеть,–

И в тесной беседке, средь пыльных акаций,

Принять благосклонно от булочных граций

В затейливой чашечке хрупкую снедь…


Подруга шарманки, появится вдруг

Бродячего ледника пестрая крышка —

И с жадным вниманием смотрит мальчишка

В чудесного холода полный сундук.


И боги не ведают — что он возьмет:

Алмазные сливки иль вафлю с начинкой?

Но быстро исчезнет под тонкой лучинкой,

Сверкая на солнце, божественный лед.




I feel the winter begin,

a belated gift. I love

its onset, love that swing

no one will quite believe.


A season pretty with fright,

the start of brutal business –

faced with a vista without forest,

even the raven grows timid.


But strongest of all are the pale

blue, temple-like bulges

of rounded ice, unstable

in the streams’ unruly lullaby.




Как подарок запоздалый

Ощутима мной зима:

Я люблю ее сначала

Неуверенный размах.


Хороша она испугом,

Как начало грозных дел,–

Перед всем безлесным кругом

Даже ворон оробел.


Но сильней всего непрочно-

Выпуклых голубизна —

Полукруглый лед височный

Речек, бающих без сна…

             29-30 December 1936


Alistair Noon has published two collections with Nine Arches Press (Earth Records, 2012, and The Kerosene Singing, 2015), and several chapbooks of poetry and translations from German and Russian, including Pushkin’s The Bronze Horseman (Longbarrow Press, 2010). His translations of Osip Mandelstam have appeared widely, including in Asymptote, Cerise, Guernica and Washington Square Review. A full-length selection of his Mandelstam translations is in preparation. He lives in Berlin.

Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) is widely regarded as one of the major poets of the twentieth century, both inside and outside of Russia. Work published in his lifetime included the volumes Stone and Tristia, as well as prose, translations and children’s poetry. His later work, including The Voronezh Notebooks, no longer found publication in the increasingly authoritarian Soviet Union of the 1930s, but survived to be published in the post-Stalin era. Mandelstam died in late 1938 in a gulag transit camp in the Soviet Far East.


Return to Spring 2016 contents.