Monday, March 30, 2009

Shadow Embrace

I like the way these elongated shadows embrace the tree like needy hooks or fantastic thorns. Aren't there great patterns and textures in the bark? Such an invitation to fingertips. And that March washed-blue sky shining in the background.

There is a blind niche in the azure:
in each blessed noon
one fateful star trembles,
hinting at the depth of night.
-- Osip Mandelstam, tr. by Clarence Brown & W.S. Merwin

Mandelstam wrote a poem (#133) containing this deep and piercing stanza in 1922. It became part of Poems, published in 1928. I found it in The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, translated from the Russian by Brown and Merwin, New York Review Books, 2004, translation copyright 1973. (See page 43, third stanza.)

Mandelstam was arrested and exiled in 1934, after he read a work denouncing Stalin. I found it fascinating that his wife, Nadezhda, memorized his writing, so that it would be preserved even if his papers were lost or destroyed. When his exile ended in 1937, he returned to Moscow, but was arrested again and sentenced to hard labor in Siberia. According to the book notes, he was "last seen in a transit camp near Vladivostok."

Here is Mandelstam's belief about the necessity of poetry:

The people need poetry that will be their own secret
to keep them awake forever,
and bathe them in the bright-haired wave of its breathing.
-- Osip Mandelstam, tr. by Clarence Brown & W.S. Merwin

(From the introduction, p. xiii.)

The photograph was taken on my hill, just the other afternoon. Click on image to enlarge.


wendy lewis said...

mandalstam's come up a few times lately. read a book by John Crowley (The Translator) which centers around the defection of a Russian poet to America, one of his students and the Cuban missle crisis. i had to stop a few times to think about the potency of what it was to live in a country where one might be shot for being a poet; they fueled revolutions. not only poets but their readers memorized poems for safe-keeping.

Christine said...

Hey there, Wendy! I have that book on your author recommendation and am anxious to read it. Thanks for the thoughts ... really, it is quite startling. Go to today's post, 5/6, for a poem from Dancing in Odessa by Ilya Kaminsky (who writes about Mandelstam).