Monday, December 6, 2010

Poets going on, even while they can't go on

Whoever finds a horseshoe

"We look at a forest and say:
Here is a forest for ships and masts,
Red pines,
Free to their tops of their shaggy burden,
To creak in the storm
In the furious forestless air;
The plumbline fastened to the dancing deck
Will hold out under the wind's salt heel.
And the sea-wanderer,
In his unbridled thirst for space,
Dragging through damp ruts a geometer's needle,
Collates the rough surface of the seas
With the attraction of the earth's lap.

But breathing the smell
Of resinous tears oozing through planks,
Admiring the boards of bulkheads riveted
Not by the peaceful Bethlehem carpenter but by that other-
Father of journeys, friend of seafarers-
We say:
These too stood the earth,
Awkward as a donkey's backbone,
Their crests forgetful of their roots,
On a celebrated mountain ridge;
And howled under the sweet cloud-burst,
Fruitlessly offering the sky their precious freight
For a pinch of salt.

Where shall we begin?
Everything pitches and splits,
The air quivers with comparisions,
No one word is better than another,
The earth hums with metaphors.
And light two-wheeled chariots,
Harnessed brightly to flocks of strenuous birds,
Vying with the snorting favourites of the race-track.

Three times blest he who puts a name into song;
A song adorned with a name
Survives longer among the others,
Marked by a fillet
That frees it from forgetfulness and stupefying smells,
Whether proximity of man or the smell of a beast's pelt
Or simply a whiff of thyme rubbed between the palms.

The air dark like water, everything alive swims like fish,
Fins pushing aside the sphere
That's compact, resilient, hardly heated-
The crystal in which wheels move and horses shy,
The moist black-earth every night flung open anew
By pitchforks, tridents, hoes and ploughs.
The air is mixed as densely as the earth-
You can't get out, to get inside is arduous.

Rustling runs through the trees like a green ball-game;
Children play knucklebones with the vertebrae of dead animals.
The fragile calculation of the years of our era ends.
Let us be grateful for what we had:
I too made mistakes, lost my way, lost count.
The era rang like a golden sphere,
Cast, hollow, supported by no one.
Touched, it answered yes and no,
As a child will say:
I'll give you an apple, or: I won't give you one;
Its face an exact copy of the voice that pronounces these words.

The sound is still ringing although its source has ceased.
The horse foams in the dust.
But the acute curve of his neck
Preserves the memory of the race with outstretched legs
When there were not four
But as many as the stones on the road,
Renewed in four shifts
As blazing hooves pushed off from the ground.

Whoever finds a horseshoe
Blows away the dust,
Rubs it with wool till it shines,
Hangs it over the treshold
To test,
So that it will no longer have to strike sparks from flint.
Human lips
which have nothing more to say
Preserve the form of the last word said.
And the arm retains the sense of weight
Though the jug
splashes half-empty
on the way home.

What I am saying at this moment is not being said by me
But is dug from the ground like grains of petrified wheat.
on their coins depict a lion,
a head;
Various tablets of brass, of gold and bronze
Lie with equal honour in the earth.
The century, trying to bite through them, left its teeth-marks
Time pares me down like a coin,
And there is no longer enough of me for myself."

My time

"My time, my brute, who will be able
To look you in the eyes
And glue together with his blood
The backbones of two centuries?
Blood, the builder, gushes
From the earth's throat.
Only parasites tremble
On the edge of the future . . .

To wrench our age out of prison
A flute is needed
To connect the sections
Of disarticulated days . . .

And buds shall swell again,
Shoots splash out greenly.
But your backbone is broken,
My beautiful, pitiful century.
With an idiot's harsh and feeble grin
You look behind:
A beast, once supple,
Ponders its paw-marks in the sand."

-Osip Mandelshtam, 1923

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