Monday Feature: Michaela Kahn on Osip Mandelstam

Osip Mandelstam – Russian poet in exile

Osip Mandelstam, 15 January 1891 to 27 December 1938, was a Russian poet and member of the Acmeist School of poets. He was arrested and exiled by Stalin’s repressive government in the 1930’s and sent to Voronezh in Southwestern Russia. In 1938 he was again arrested and sent to be interned in a Siberian work camp. He died that year. He said, “Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?”

This is a poem from his Voronezh notebooks in a new translation by Andrew Davies.

#37

When the goldfinch, in his airy confection,
Suddenly gets angry, begins to quake,
His spite sets off his scholar’s robes,
Shows to advantage his cute black cap.

And he slanders the hundred bars,
Curses the sticks and perches of his prison—
And the world’s turned completely inside out,
And surely there’s a forest Salamanca
For birds so smart, so disobedient.

–December 1936.

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