Tristia

There is, I know, a science of separation
In night’s disheveled elegies, stifled laments,
The clockwork oxen jaws, the tense anticipation
As the city’s vigil nears its sun and end.
I honor the natural ritual of the rooster’s cry,
The moment when, red-eyed from weeping, sleepless
Once again, someone hoists the journey’s burden,
And to weep and to sing become the same quicksilver verb.

But who can prophesy in the word good-bye
The abyss of loss into which we fall;
Or what, when the dawn fires burn in the Acropolis,
The rooster’s rusty clamor means for us;
Or why, when some new life floods the cut sky,
And the barn-warm oxen slowly eat each instant,
The rooster, harbinger of the one true life,
Beats his blazing wings on the city wall?

I love the calm and custom of quick fingers weaving,
The shuttle’s buzz and hum, the spindle’s bees.
And look — arriving or leaving, spun from down,
Some barefoot Delia barely touching the ground . . .
What rot has reached the very root of us
That we should have no language for our praise?
What is, was; what was, will be again; and our whole lives’
Sweetness lies in these meetings that we recognize.

Soothsayer, truth-sayer, morning’s mortal girl,
Lose your gaze again in the melting wax
That whitens and tightens like the stretched pelt of a
squirrel
And find the fates that will in time find us.
In clashes of bronze, flashes of consciousness,
Men live, called and pulled by a world of shades.
But women — all fluent spirit; piercing, pliable eye —
Wax toward one existence, and divining they die.

— Osip Mandelstam
(1918)

One thought on “Tristia

  1. Pingback: Paul Boccaccio › Linkdump June

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