“Today is a drear day” (“Сегодня дурной день”), Osip Mandelstam

Portrait by Lev Aleksandrovitc Bruni
Portrait of Mandelstam by Lev Aleksandrovitc Bruni
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There were two challenges here: the six syllable lines limited the options; and it was difficult to catch the double stress at the end of each line. The metre is entirely regular, except in the fourth line of the first stanza, a variance I reproduced.
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The poem was written in 1912. I think its message is that in spite of life’s trials we must make the most of it, as fate will soon claim us.
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Today is a drear day,
Grasshoppers they don’t fret,
Escarpment it hangs grey,
Gloomy as coffin’s plate.
 .
The hissing of darts’ flight
and squawk of astute crows…
I’m frightened of dreams’ night,
the moment it soon goes.
 .
Oh, capture the fleet tide,
dismantle the store-shed,
sing anthem with bold pride
as mystery you paint red.
 .
The spirit’s exact clock’s
soft pendulum swings straight
and judgement with doom knocks,
raps hard at our shut gate.
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:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::
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Сегодня дурной день,
Кузнечиков хор спит,
И сумрачных скал сень —
Мрачней гробовых плит.
 .
Мелькающих стрел звон
И вещих ворон крик…
Я вижу дурной сон,
За мигом летит миг.
 .
Явлений раздвинь грань,
Земную разрушь клеть
И яростный гимн грянь —
Бунтующих тайн медь!
 .
О, маятник душ строг,
Качается глух, прям,
И страстно стучит рок
В запретную дверь к нам…
 .
Translation by Rupert Moreton

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