Osip Mandelshtam

Orioles are in the woods, and vowels’ length
In tonic verses is the single measure known.
But only once a year does nature know in strength
Duration in her meter, as in Homer’s own.

Caesura-like’s the yawning of that day’s expanse;
Ease and a labored lengthiness from morning on.
The oxen pasture, and in golden indolence
A whole note’s richness from the reed is barely drawn.


As in the descant of a girlish choir,
With separate voice sings every tender church.
Stone arches under the Dormition’s spire
Bring visions of tall eyebrows in an arch.

Here, where archangels man the battlements,
I gazed on wondrous heights over the city.
In the Acropolis pangs gnawed me once
For Russian names and for a Russian beauty.

Where pigeons reel in burning blue, dream plants
The Garden—is it not marvelous somehow?—
And that a nun sings Orthodoxy’s chants:
Tender Dormition—Florence in Moscow.

Moscow’s five-domed cathedrals, bathed in their
Italian and Russian spirit, seem
Like bright Aurora rising in the air,
But in fur coat and with a Russian name.


Sleeplessness. Homer. Taut sails. I have read
The catalogue of ships just halfway through:
That lengthy brood, that cranelike retinue
That Hellas once saw rising overhead.

Like cranes in wedge to a distant destination—
God’s foam is on the heads of kingly men—
Where are you bound? If Helen had not been,
What would Troy be to you, Achaean nation?

The sea and Homer—it’s love that moves the whole.
Which shall I listen to? Now Homer’s silent,
And the black sea, declaiming, heaves in violent
Crashes that reach my pillow with their roll.