Neither Here nor There, Osip Mandelstam


The title’s mine – I think it fits. This poem was written in 1912, and is part of Mandelstam’s first collection, “Камень” (“Stone”). There’s quite a struggle for the translator here – the first line means simply “I hate the light”, but all sorts of tricks are called for if metre is to be respected. I fear that simplicity of expression, which Mandelstam and other poets of the Acmeist movement so valued, is thus sacrificed.

Despise stars’ leaden chain
Do I, their dullard’s fire.
Greet I old rage insane –
Turret’s protruding spire.

Boulder, become as mesh,
Gossamer’s dainty web,
Firmament’s empty chest
Pierce with thin needle’s stab

Fate will me soon have caught –
Sweeping I feel its wing.
So where is fevered thought
Heading with fitful swing?

Left to my own life’s share –
Finally homewards strayed:
Love is beyond me there,
Here – I’m of love afraid.


Я ненавижу свет
Однообразных звезд.
Здравствуй, мой давний бред —
Башни стрельчатой рост!

Кружевом, камень, будь
И паутиной стань,
Неба пустую грудь
Тонкой иглою рань.

Будет и мой черед —
Чую размах крыла.
Так — но куда уйдет
Мысли живой стрела?

Или, свой путь и срок
Я, исчерпав, вернусь:
Там — я любить не мог,
Здесь — я любить боюсь…

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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