Orioles in the woods: length of vowels alone
makes the meter of the classic lines. No more
than once a year, though, nature pours out
the full-drawn length, the verse of Homer.
This day yawns like a caesura: a lull
beginning in the morning, difficult, going on and on:
the grazing oxen, the golden languor powerless
to call out of the reed the riches of one whole note.
[Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated by Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin]
Take from my palms, to soothe your heart,
a little honey, a little sun,
in obedience to Persephone’s bees.
You can’t untie a boat that was never moored,
nor hear a shadow in its furs,
nor move through thick life without fear.
For us, all that’s left is kisses
tattered as the little bees
that die when they leave the hive.
Deep in the transparent night they’re still humming,
at home in the dark wood on the mountain,
in the mint and lungwort and the past.
But lay to your heart my rough gift,
this unlovely dry necklace of dead bees
that once made a sun out of honey. –November 1920
[Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (tr. Clarence Brown & W.S. Merwin, 1973)]