“You aren’t yet dead” (“Еще не умер ты”), Osip Mandelstam

Cherdyn in 1912

Mandelstam wrote this at the beginning of 1937, a year before he died on his way to the Gulag. He and Nadezhda were in exile in the city of Voronezh. Their time there was something of a reprieve – they had previously endured great hardship in exile in Cherdyn in the Northern Urals. In her last letter to Osip, which he probably never received, Nadezhda wrote of that time:

Do you remember how we dragged whatever we’d found for our miserable feasts to wherever it was we’d pitched our tent? Do you remember how good the bread was when the miracle was granted and we ate it together? And last winter in Voronezh – the joyous poverty and the poetry… I remember coming back from the bath house having bought eggs or sausages or something. A cart with a load of hay was passing. It was still cold, and I was freezing in my jacket (and still we must freeze: I know you are cold now). That day I remember now. And I realise that that winter, those days, those trials – they were the best and final happiness that will come to us in this life.

You aren’t yet dead, and you are not as yet alone,
As long as with your beggared lover
By joy of wide expanses of the plains you’re thrown
As dark and cold and blizzards cover.

In lavish destitution and in mighty dearth
Then live in peace and consolation.
For blessed then the days and nights on earth
And sinless is sweet occupation.

Unhappy he, who shadow-like is scared
By yelp, who’s by the wind prostrated,
And poor is he, whom death has scarcely spared,
Whom shadow-begging leaves unsated.


Еще не умер ты, еще ты не один,
Покуда с нищенкой-подругой
Ты наслаждаешься величием равнин
И мглой, и холодом, и вьюгой.

В роскошной бедности, в могучей нищете
Живи спокоен и утешен.
Благословенны дни и ночи те,
И сладкогласный труд безгрешен.

Несчастлив тот, кого, как тень его,
Пугает лай и ветер косит,
И беден тот, кто сам полуживой
У тени милостыню просит.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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