Monday, April 2, 2012

#2: St. Petersburg, Repeating

I attended the Summer Literary Seminars, in St. Petersburg, Russia, for two years. This was, unfortunately, a few years ago now, but I always think about those times and about going back. I loved Petersburg; the darkness, the mystery, something about the culture and not speaking the language. I fell in love with the work of Mandelstam at that time. I also feel that one is usually most attached to the first translation of the work she reads, and, even though it's not the original writing, treats that reading as the most significant. I first read Mandelstam's poems in translation by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin. This poem has followed me since I visited Petersburg, and reminds me of the time I spend there and the people I spent that time with.


We shall meet again, in Petersburg,
as though we had buried the sun there,
and then we shall pronounce for the first time
the blessed word with no meaning.
In the Soviet night, in the velvet dark,
in the black velvet Void, the loved eyes
of blessed women are still singing,
flowers are blooming that will never die.

The capital hunches like a wild cat,
a patrol is stationed on the bridge,
a single car rushes past in the dark,
snarling, hooting like a cuckoo.
For this night I need no pass.
I'm not afraid of the sentries.
I will pray in the Soviet night
for the blessed word with no meaning.

A rustling, as in a theater,
and a girl suddenly crying out,
and the arms of Cypris are weighed down
with roses that will never fall.
For something to do we warm ourselves at a bonfire,
maybe the ages will die away
and the loved hands of blessed women
will brush the light ashes together.

Somewhere audiences of red flowers exist,
and the fat sofas of the loges,
and a clockwork officer
looking down on the world.
Never mind if our candles go out
in the velvet, in the black Void. The bowed shoulders
of the blessed women are still singing.
You'll never notice the night's sun.

- Osip Mandelstam, tr. Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin

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