Walking with Mandelstam

(Researcher’s Notes #11)

Original Text: 

Surviving the Censor: The Unspoken Words of Osip Mandelstam, ed. Allan Briesmaster (Hamilton, Ontario: Seraphim Editions, 2006): 79-80.

1Once I thought that if I walked with you to the end
2of Russian literature, bumped into Yesenin and his
3soft words, mingled with the throng that formed
4around Pushkin or waited patiently at the Senate
5Square while you threw pieces of Blok, Akhmatova
6and poor old Mayakovsky to eager readers who
7pecked at your references, I would come to
9But it was in St. Petersburg by the Kryucov where
10the water flows down to the Neptune Arches that all
11of European literature streams by, joins in your
12verse, becomes a chorus for your song that is
13steeped in old melodies, slow rhythms of centuries
15fills the air and the light grows stronger, the chorus
18the same time calling us back to the magnificent
19structures, the perfect poems that pass before us.
20There was always the trap door, the false floor, and
21falling through the mountain, the mist and the
22morning after, and here on the open road a thimble
24staggered past the sleeping guard as the camp fires
25blossomed into fragrant flames and words that once
26danced rose into the air tapping lightly on the ear so
28shells and foam and he never once had to say, “In
29my youth I travelled with him.”
30At any moment he could hurl the ancient sand from
32your eyes, you stumble onto the marketplace where
33poets hang their verses in brightly marked stalls and
34speak their poems in the language of the bluebird
35and the robin. There are a hundred voices calling
36out “I am the tour guide follow me” and this tug on
37your sleeve leads you down another street and
38further away from the end of Mandelstam’s poem
39and deeper into the lush lands, the forgotten
40foothills of poetry and prose where the door to a
41locked century remains open.
42Breathless I tried to keep up with him. I could hear
43the hoofs on the cobblestone and feel the sharpest
44points of literature piercing me and I loved that
45feeling and later I would pass my fingers over the
46page the way someone would run a hand over an old
47scar so that I could relive the moment when I was
48jarred out of my sleeping day and into the force of
49life.

Notes

8] "The names mentioned in the first paragraph are the following famous Russian poets: Sergey Yesenin (1895-1925), Aleksandr Pushkin (1799-1837), Aleksandr Blok (1880-1921), Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966, see note for p. 40), and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930)."
"Anna Akhmatova, one of the leading Russian poets of this period and a close friend of Mandelstam. She too was persecuted because of her poetry. Her poems were banned from publication, she was forced into poverty and her son was arrested twice and spent a total of fourteen years in prisons or camps. She visited the Mandelstams in Voronezh in February of 1936." (poet's notes, pp. 84-85). Back to Line
14] Ovid: classical Roman poet or erotic myths such as the Metamorphoses.
Sappho: lesbian poet of classical Greece. Back to Line
16] Virgil: classical Roman epic poet of the Aeneid. Back to Line
17] Villon: François Villon (1431-63), late medieval French poet-thief. Back to Line
23] Ariosto: Renaissance Italian epic poet. Back to Line
27] Homer: classical Greek epic poet of the Odyssey. Back to Line
31] The Divine Comedy: epic poem by Dante, grieving for his dead Beatrice, on his descent into hell and gradual ascent into Heaven. Back to Line
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
2012
Form: 
Special Copyright: 

Copyright © Rafi Aaron 2006. Published by permission of the poet and Seraphim Editions.