Posts filed under ‘W.S. Merwin’

We shall meet again, in Petersburg

Osip Mandelstam

Listen

We shall meet again, in Petersburg,
as though we had buried the sun there,
and then we shall pronounce for the first time
the blessed word with no meaning.
In the Soviet night, in the velvet dark,
in the black velvet Void, the loved eyes
of the blessed women are still singing,
flowers are blooming that will never die.

The capital hunches like a wild cat,
a patrol is stationed on the bridge,
a single car rushes past in the dark,
snarling, hooting like a cuckoo.
For this night I need no pass.
I’m not afraid of the sentries.
I will pray in the Soviet night
for the blessed word with no meaning.

A rustling, as in a theater,
and a girl suddenly crying out,
and the arms of Cypris are weighed down
with roses that will never fall.
For something to do we warm ourselves at a bonfire,
maybe the ages will die away
and the loved hands of the blessed women
will brush the light ashes together.

Somewhere audiences of red flowers exist,
and the fat sofas of the loges,
and a clockwork officer
looking down on the world.
Never mind if our candles go out
in the velvet, in the black Void. The bowed shoulders
of the blessed women are still singing.
You’ll never notice the night’s sun.

(Translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin)

Of all the omissions from our list of poets so far, none is perhaps as surprising to me personally as the absence of Mandelstam. I can’t imagine what I was thinking.

Mandelstam, along with Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, is an old favourite. His poetry has that supra-lyrical quality of transcending understanding – a quality best seen, though in a very different way, in the poetry of Pablo Neruda. I couldn’t explain to you what it is about a poem like this one that I find moving, almost haunting. But something about it speaks to me across time and space, makes me experience a nostalgia for a lost Russian youth that I (obviously) never had. Just the first four lines of this poem are weighted with such sadness, such an intensity of longing, that they alone leave me moved and vulnerable.

I particularly love “maybe the ages will die away / and the loved hands of the blessed women / will brush the light ashes together” because it makes me think, inevitably, of Eliot: “The worlds revolve like ancient women / gathering fuel in vacant lots” lines published, I remind myself, a mere 3 years before Mandelstam’s poem, which was written in November 1920.

[falstaff]

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May 31, 2007 at 10:10 am 5 comments

Saddest Poem – II

Pablo Neruda (Tr. By W.S. Merwin)

Rivera has recorded W.S. Merwin’s translation of the Saddest Poem. His original recording can be found here.

Listen

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, ‘The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.’

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice. Her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this one I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

[blackmamba]

February 14, 2006 at 12:55 pm 4 comments


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