“When red October’s dim time-server” (“Когда октябрьский нам готовил временщик”), Osip Mandelstam


“Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?” said Mandelstam. He wrote the following poem in November 1917 – and may well have thereby sealed his fate. He died in the Gulag in 1938. (The execution of Gumilev in 1921 demonstrates that it wasn’t only Stalin who had it in for poets.)

When red October’s dim time-server for us made
A yoke of bloodshed and of malice,
And armoured car, aggressive, then enforced blockade
And loomed an apish gunner, callous –

And “Crucify Kerensky!” irate soldier brayed,
And angry mob on cue applauded:
Then Pilate let them bring us heart on spike displayed,
And heart had stopped – its veins had clotted!

And there, reproachful shadow flickers in the gloom,
Where crimson horse-shoed buildings cluster;
As if on dull October day in misty bloom
“Now string up Peter’s pup!” they bluster.

Amidst the state’s upheaval and the angry sham,
Enflamed with anger, finer, better
You walked a freeman, brave and giving not a damn,
Where Psyche led you, free of fetter.

And if the frenzied populace were then to tress
A golden wreath to grace another –
May still you find in distant hell descends to bless
With flighty steps our Russian Mother.


Когда октябрьский нам готовил временщик
Ярмо насилия и злобы
И ощетинился убийца-броневик,
И пулеметчик низколобый,—

— Керенского распять!— потребовал солдат,
И злая чернь рукоплескала:
Нам сердце на штыки позволил взять Пилат,
И сердце биться перестало!

И укоризненно мелькает эта тень,
Где зданий красная подкова;
Как будто слышу я в октябрьский тусклый день:
Вязать его, щенка Петрова!

Среди гражданских бурь и яростных личин,
Тончайшим гневом пламенея,
Ты шел бестрепетно, свободный гражданин,
Куда вела тебя Психея.

И если для других восторженный народ
Венки свивает золотые —
Благословить тебя в далекий ад сойдет
Стопами легкими Россия.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

3 thoughts on ““When red October’s dim time-server” (“Когда октябрьский нам готовил временщик”), Osip Mandelstam

  1. Временщик is, according to Ushakov’s dictionary, a “man of the hour”, if you will, who ends up in power thanks to proximity to the ruler: http://dic.academic.ru/dic.nsf/ushakov/766326

    That dictionary says the stress is on the first syllable, but this site says it is actually on the last one, as Mandelstam wrote:


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