I understand I think why chelovek Rm Service was bored by Merwin/Brown Mandlestam Selected Poems. There are many 70s Merwin mishaps there; it's never entirely pleased me either. There are better translations. But it was a good project at the time. Some of them are beautiful. Clarence Brown wrote a very good monograph-biography of M.

It would be a pity not to see (through 20-20 hindsight) through the weaknesses & bowdlerizing. The miracle of these little poems' even reaching the light of day is one of THE great tales of 20th century civilization (cf. Hope Against Hope, etc.).


What has held out against oxidation
and adulteration, burns like feminine silver,
and quiet labor silvers the iron plow
and the poet's voice.

"feminine silver" = MERCURY


Once a line of verse, in disgrace, father unknown,
fell from the sky like a stone, waking the earth somewhere.
No supplication can alter the poet's invention.
It can only be what it is. No one will judge it.

"father unknown"

[trans. by Brown/Merwin. written in 1937, the year OM died in exile. The poems want to be read in context, as much context as possible. The context is suffering, hunger, exile & persecution. & a scribbling, muttering compositor.]

He's always looking off into the distance, at the forest, the steppe, the taiga.


Oh the horizon steals my breath and takes it nowhere -
I'm choked with space!
I get my breath back, there's the horizon again.
I want something to cover my eyes.

I'd have liked the sand better - a life in layers
along the sawing shores of the river.
I'd have clung to the sleeves of the shy current,
to eddies, hollows, shallows.

We'd have worked well together, for a moment,
a century. I've wanted rapids like those.
I'd have laid my ear under the bark of drifting logs
to hear the rings marching outward.

- Voronezh ("raven-knife"), 16 Jan. 1937

Here he seems to be talking to me. The river design mediates the vast empty plains of exile, and elegant St. Petersburg, his architectural tinker-toy native home. Yes, the last stanza I interpret as being about my poem July.

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