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.


Ol' Possum & me & Edmund Burke & Franz Wright &...

Just discovered that my 2nd marriage (in 1992) took place on TS Eliot's birthday.


Went down into the depths of the library stacks today (basement level B) to retrieve a copy of Edmund Burke's essay on the Beautiful & the Sublime. Discovered that the book I was looking for was slightly mis-catalogued (turned out to be a collection of essays on Milton, including a brief excerpt from Burke). But I thought perhaps I had written down the wrong catalog # (PR instead of PN), so I hiked over to the PNs. There by chance I found a book by a scholar named Ziolkowsky, on modern fictional representations of Jesus. I took it up to my work desk. I logged onto Digital Emunction (the group blog to which I've become addicted & attached myself leech-wise), where there was an animated discussion about Franz Wright & his poem in this week's New Yorker, which I had read a few days earlier. I took another look at the poem... & suddenly it struck me that Wright had (intentionally or no) written an allegorical poem, in which Wm Burroughs figured as Christ (here's the poem). An interesting day, for a librarian. Advent season.


Beethoven, Ol' Possum, & me


(p.s. turn the volume control way down before you play this!)

Followers of this blog might have learned how much I adore Beethoven's late String Quartet in A minor (Opus 132). It has turned up here & there in my poetry... never fails to move me. So I was amazed to discover, just this evening (in a NY Times article about a performance at Lincoln Ctr last night), that this work meant a great deal also to TS Eliot; some consider it a major influence on his Four Quartets. (The concert was a dual reading/performance of both works. Wish I could have been there!)

Anyway, this got me so excited I went & pounded out an improvised bing-bong Henry version (or massacre) of a couple themes in Op. 132... please forgive the Russian-bell effect...

Henry's aphorism

Every literary award is a consolation prize.