Three versions of Mandelshtam’s Vozmi na radost’ (November 1920)
Take in happiness from the palms of my hands
not too much sunshine and not too much honey,
as the bees of Persephone commanded.
Not to be untied the untethered vessel,
not to be heard in treading fur the shadow,
not to be mastered in dormant life terror.
The only things left to us are kisses,
that are covered in fur, like the minute bees
that expire having flown away from the hive.
They murmur in clear labyrinths of night,
their homeland – forest of Taigestos dormant,
their nourishment – time, lungwort, peppermint.
Take then in happiness my wild present,
an unprepossessing dried out necklace
of dead bees that changed honey into sunshine.
Happily you can take it off my hands
that have been sticky with others’ lightness
say ideal communities of the dead.
Fleets that have never been recalled posting
shades that are not reported but felt as
terror of the lives that would have been sleep.
All I ever want to do is kiss you,
kisses as felt as small carriers of shades
that die themselves when they leave community.
They grumble about inextricable night
their matria – enchanted forests for adults
sustained just by native herbal endurance.
The wildness of a gift is happiness
the dry ice of shades felt around your neck
carriers of the light as arcadian stick.
You’ve taken happiness out of my hands like what the bees make and what the politicians make only not in the same way of course because you also give it back without asking that an embarkation register its exports at sight or thinking it might be worthwhile to hear the slightest invasive footsteps on trophy skins laid over our hearth as the ever growing sleep that clouds each bosky conception of life in this dearth of kisses god your kisses from another side of this grave world and revolution your kisses fretting about my skin and our hearth never leaving that fire without leaving me dead and alone in flight again flight from all our homelands their murmurings complaints and even worse silences about bags and parts in sleepy forests where people feed on the times their own fluoride smiles brushed clean with sticks against the others’ coming to our grass the taking which out of my hands is savagest content a stale reminder of communion with the dead and an ornament to your sex that comes back into light.
[Tom Jones teaches English at the University of St Andrews, working mostly on poetic theory and eighteenth-century literature. Transactions Grotesques was published by Barque in 2002, and a pamphlet of translations, Akhmatova, by Perdika in 2007.]
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