Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Fierce Mandelstam makes many claims on the word "salt":
Untitled (#126)

I was washing outside in the darkness,
the sky burning with rough stars,
and the starlight, salt on an axe-blade.
The cold overflows the barrel.

The gate's locked,
the land's grim as its conscience.
I don't thnk they'll find the new weaving,
finer than truth, anywhere.

Star-salt is melting in the barrel,
icy water is turning blacker,
death's growing purer, misfortune saltier,
the earth's moving nearer to truth and to dread.
Conflate of seer and sear! And this stanza from a poem called "1 January 1924":
The age. In the sick son's blood the deposit of lime
is hardening. Moscow's sleeping like a wooden coffin.
There's no escaping the tyrant century.
After all these years the snow still smells of apples.
I want to run away from my own doorstep,
but where? Out in the street it's dark,
and my conscience glitters ahead of me
like salt strewn on the pavement.
The transcendent vies with the earthly to suffer our intelligence. Near death:

Pear blossom and cherry blossom aim at me.
Their strength is crumbling but they never miss.

Stars in clusters of blossoms, leaves with stars—
what twin power is there? On what branch does truth blossom?

It fires into the air with flower or strength.
Its air-white full blossom-bludgeons put it to death.

And the twin scent's sweetness is unwelcoming.
It contends, it reaches out, it is mingled, it is sudden.

Voronezh. 4 May 1937

From The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam, Clarence Brown and W.S. Merwin, trans.

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