To the translator

Forget it. Don’t tempt yourself with tongues
Whose blood is not your own.
Better to bite a lightbulb, eat an urn.

How long the haunting, how high the cost, that sky-wide
scream
Of the bird we cannot name —
Like a happy man undone by an alley-flash of lace.

In the end, when the soul rends a man toward that timelessness
It was his whole ambition to express,
To speak a denatured thing is to fling the first dirt on your
own cold face.

Happy Tasso, bittersweet Ariosto, how they enchant us,
enchant us,
Until they don’t. And if it’s they who come, in the hour of ice,
Throbbing their blue-brained truths, their starved and larval
eyes?

So: you, then. Your animal urge. Your primal pride.
To you is given this sponge dipped in vinegar, bitter wad
Of silence: you, who thought love of sound alone could lead
to God.

— Osip Mandelstam
(1933)
translated by Christian Wiman

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