12.23.2009

Note on Mandelstam (& "the axis of the earth")

There's a short poem in O. Mandelstam's Second Voronezh Notebook which begins :

"Armed with the eyesight of slender wasps"

(see L. Schnairsohn's translations & commentary). Schnairsohn & others have remarked on the wordplay in this poem, on the etymology of (Russian) os - connecting "wasps", "axis" (of the earth), "Osip" (Mandelstam) and "Iosef" (Stalin). Schnairsohn's version reads, in part :

I don't paint, or sing, or draw
a black–voiced bow; I only pierce
the skin of life, and love
to envy wasps, powerful and sly...

I wish that someday I too could be forced
By a sting of air and summer heat,
To pass over sleep and death, and hear
The axis of the earth, the axis of the earth...


I've found a curious subtext to the speaker's desire to listen to the "axis of the earth" in G. de Santillana & H. von Dechend's unusual book, Hamlet's Mill, where (in appendix #14, pp. 377-383) they explore the Indo-European roots of a complex of words & syllables having to do with manth-, math-, mundus, mundil, mnd, etc. They relate these roots to various mythological & etymological meanings of "axis" or "axis-whirler", the cosmic "churn" which rotates the world-axis...

"Mandelshtam" itself contains echoes of "almond stem" or "almond branch"... but here we have a more archaic (Indo-European) layer of meaning. In the poem, Mandelstam puns repeatedly on his (& Stalin's) first name; yet this unspoken (conceptual) pun lurks there as well, on his patronymic.

2 comments:

Irina said...

Noting the word axis and the implicit connotations of sight and movement, a parable of rotation and the association with the perfection of a sphere. A globular world out on an orbit.

Somehow, in the background of this poetry, an unnamed intuition emerges: that of a bevy of wasps, buzzing and swirling about in a rotation or ‘churn’, on pointed filaments of sight.

RC said...

Henry,thanks for the Mandelstam link.