Translated from Celan’s German by Pierre Joris

[Continued from posting on 5/7/10]

1. Speaker: 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.

2. Speaker:

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 ...
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.

1. Speaker: The horizons are darkening – leave-taking takes pride of place, expectations wane, memory reigns on the fields of time. For Mandelstam, Jewishness belongs to what is remembered:

This night: unamendable,
with you: light, nonetheless.
Suns, black, that flare up
before Jerusalem.0,05c hoch

Suns, yellow: greater fright –
sleep, hushaby.
Bright Jewish home: they bury
my mother dear.

No longer priesterly,
robbed of grace and salvation,
they sing a woman’s dust
out of the world, in the light.

Jews’ voices, silent they kept not,
mother, how loud it sounded.
I wake up in my cot
by a black sun, surrounded.

2. Speaker: In 1928 a further volume of poems appears – the last one. A new collection joins the two previous ones also gathered here. “No more breath – the firmament swarms with maggots” – : this line opens the cycle. The question about the wherefrom becomes more urgent, more desperate – the poetry – in one of his essays he calls it a plough – tears open the abyssal strata of time, the “black earth of time” appears on the surface. The eye, talking with the perceived, and pained, develops a new ability: it becomes visionary: it accompanies the poem into its underground. The poem writes itself toward an other, a “strangest” time.

1. Speaker: 1 JANUARY1924

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, carwoman, 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!

2. Speaker: That’s how to escape contingency: through laughter. Through what we know as the poet’s “senseless” laughter – through the absurd. And on the way there what does appear – mankind is absent – has answered: the horsehair blanket has sung.

Poems are sketches for Being: the poet lives according to them.

In the thirties Osip Mandelstam is caught in the “purges.” The road leads to Siberia, where we lose his trace.

In one of his last publications, “Journey to Armenia,” published in 1932 in the Leningrad magazine “Swesda,” we also find notes on the matters of poetry. In one of these notes Mandelstam remembers his preference for the Latin Gerund.

The Gerund ! that is the present participle of the passive form of the future.

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