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

Portrait by Lev Aleksandrovitc Bruni
Portrait of Mandelstam by Lev Aleksandrovitc Bruni
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.
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.
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.
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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