Osip Mandelstam, ‘Tristia’
I’ve mastered the great craft of separation,
Amidst the bare unbraided pleas of night,
Those lingerings, while oxen chew their ration,
The watchful town’s last eyelid shutting tight.
And I revere that midnight’s rooster’s death scant,
When shouldering the wayfarer’s sack of wrong,
Eyes stained with tears were peering at the distance,
And women’s wailings were the Muse’s song.
Who is to tell, when hearing separation,
What kind of parting this may resonate,
Foreshadowed by a rooster’s exclamation,
As candles twist the temple’s colonade?
Why, at the dawn of some new life, new era,
When oxen chew their ration in the stall,
That wakeful rooster, a new life’s town crier,
Flaps it’s torn wings atop the city wall?
And I adore the worsted yarn’s behaviour,
The shuttle buzzes and the spindle hums.
Look how young Delia, barefooted, braver
Than down of swans, glides straight into your arms.
O, our life’s lamentable course fabric,
How poor the language of our joy indeed.
What happened once, becomes a worn-out matrix,
Yet recognition is intensely sweet.
So be it thus: a small, translucent figure,
Spread like a squirrel pelt across the clean
Clay plate. A girl bends over it; her eager
Gaze scrutinizes what the wax may mean.
To ponder Erebus, that’s not for our acumen.
To women, wax is as to men steel shine.
Our lot is drawn only in war; to women,
It’s given to meet death while they divine.