О́сип Мандельшта́м / Osip Mandelstam: “Maddening cherry brandy”


Hagia Sophia


Hagia Sophia:  it was at this place

The Lord ordained that peoples and Caesars halt.

Your dome is, in a witness’s phrase,

As if hung by a chain from heaven’s vault.


And when Ephesian Diana allowed the looting

Of a hundred and seven green marble columns

For alien gods, it proved for ages yet to come

A monument to Justinian.


But what was it your generous builder meant

When he laid down apses and exhedrae,

As great his spirit as his intent,

Indicating to them east and west?


And bathing in the world, the shrine inspires awe,

Its forty windows are a celebration of light;

On the dome’s supporting vaults, the four

Archangels cause the most delight.


And the wisdom of his hemispherical dome

Shall outlive peoples, outlast the ages still to come,

While the full-voiced sobbing of the Seraphim

Shall not let its darkened gilding dim.








Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез,
До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез.

Ты вернулся сюда, так глотай же скорей
Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей,

Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек,
Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.

Петербург! я еще не хочу умирать!
У тебя телефонов моих номера.

Петербург! У меня еще есть адреса,
По которым найду мертвецов голоса.

Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок
Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок,

И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих,
Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.






I returned to my city, familiar as tears,

As veins, as mumps from childhood years.


You’ve returned here, so swallow as quick as you can

The cod-liver oil of Leningrad’s riverside lamps.


Recognize when you can December’s brief day:

Egg yolk folded into its ominous tar.


Petersburg, I don’t yet want to die:

You have the numbers of my telephones.


Petersburg, I have addresses still

Where I can raise the voices of the dead.


I live on the backstairs and the doorbell buzz

Strikes me in the temple and tears at my flesh.


And all night long I await those dear guests of yours,

Rattling, like manacles, the chains on the doors.








Я скажу тебе с

последней прямотой…


"Mа Vоiх аigrе еt fаussе..."
Paul Verlaine

Я скажу тебе с последней
Все лишь бредни, шерри-бренди,
Ангел мой.

Там где эллину сияла
Мне из черных дыр зияла

Греки сбондили Елену
По волнам,
Ну а мне - соленой пеной
По губам.

По губам меня помажет
Строгий кукиш мне покажет

Ой-ли, так-ли, дуй-ли, вей-ли,
Все равно.
Ангел Мэри, пей коктейли,
Дуй вино!

Я скажу тебе с последней
Все лишь бредни, шерри-бренди,
Ангел мой.



I’ll tell you bluntly…


"Mа Vоiх аigrе еt fаussе..."
(My sour, false Voice...)
Рaul Verlaine

I’ll tell you bluntly

One last time:

It’s only maddening cherry brandy,

Angel mine.


Where the Greeks saw just their raped

Beauty’s fame,

Through black holes at me there gaped

Nought but shame.


But the Greeks hauled Helen home

In their ships.

Here a smudge of salty foam

Flecks my lips.


What rubs my lips and leaves no trace?

— Vacancy.

What thrusts a V-sign in my face?

— Vagrancy.


Quickly, wholly, or slowly as a snail,

All the same,

Mary, angel, drink your cocktail,

Down your wine.

I’ll tell you bluntly

One last time:

It’s only maddening cherry brandy,

Angel mine.







Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938) was from a Polish-Jewish

family and grew up in St.Petersburg (later Leningrad), Russia.

His first poems appeared in 1913, and, after The Revolution

and Stalin’s increasing tendency toward totalitarianism,

Mandelstam made no effort to hide his non-conformist views.

Seized at a Moscow reading in 1934, he was banished from “the

big cities”.  During The Great Purge of 1937, accused of

anti-Soviet views, he was arrested again and died en route to a

Gulag camp in Siberia.


Translations from Russian into English:   Bernard Meares