Aya Sophia, Osip Mandelstam

Steve Evans, from Citizen of the Word


Mandelstam wrote this in 1912, when he was twenty-one – and when he could still travel.

The second stanza was the biggest challenge here. I might have pretended to be American, and said “one hundred seven” of the pillars, but that would have made it impossible to fit the marble in; as it is, I had to leave out the fact that the marble pillars are green. I suppose “fluxion” might be a little contrived…


Aya Sophia – wondrous building planted
For God to judge the peoples and the kings!
Your dome, said one who saw it once, enchanted,
Suspended seems to be by heaven’s strings.

And all the ages ape Justinian’s pattern,
Who, when desiring others’ gods to loot
Was granted by Diana the Ephesian
A hoard of marble pillars to uproot.

But what was occupying generous builder’s
Deliberation, when with lofty soul
He deftly placed your apses and exedras,
Aligning them along an east-west pole?

A lovely place of peaceful thoughts prevailing,
With forty windows, jubilant with light.
And there, beneath the dome, as if they’re sailing
The four archangels are your chief delight.

This wise and round, symmetrical, construction
Will outlast men and ages as of old,
And sobbing echo of the seraphs’ fluxion
Will not distort its glint of darkened gold.


Айя-София,- здесь остановиться
Судил Господь народам и царям!
Ведь купол твой, по слову очевидца,
Как на цепи, подвешен к небесам.

И всем векам – пример Юстиниана,
Когда похитить для чужих богов
Позволила эфесская Диана
Сто семь зеленых мраморных столбов.

Но что же думал твой строитель щедрый,
Когда, душой и помыслом высок,
Расположил апсиды и экседры,
Им указав на запад и восток?

Прекрасен край, купающийся в мире,
И сорок окон – света торжество.
На парусах, под куполом, четыре
Архангела – прекраснее всего.

И мудрое сферическое зданье
Народы и века переживет,
И серафимов гулкое рыданье
Не покоробит темных позолот.

Translation by Rupert Moreton


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