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  • Menagerie, and: The Sky Is Pregnant with the Future . . .
  • Osip Mandelstam (bio)
    Translated by Russian Alex Cigale (bio)


A repudiated word is “peace” in this world At the beginning of a disgruntled era; An orb shining from the depths of a cave And the air of the mountain clans—ether; An ether that we either failed to learn or Refused to breathe. The reed pipes’ gurgling Once again resembles the bleating of goats.

Whilst the lambs and the male cattle were Pasturing on the flanks of the cloud banks And the amiable eagles alit there, On the broad sleepy shoulders of cliffs— Herman had hand-raised one from a chick And the lion had sworn an oath to Brittany, And the Gallic wattle had materialized By a magic trick out of the cock’s comb.

In our day the barbarians come to possess The sacred mace-like club of Heracles And the black earth’s cracked from drought, Ungrateful, as in the olden times. I’ll take up in my hand a dry stick And coax from it the living fire. May all the animals I had disturbed And scattered recede into the blind night.

The cock and lion, the broadly frown-browed Eagle and the tame and gentle bear cub— To contain war we will build a cage And warm by the fire our animal hides. And I will loudly sing the wine of time— Of the source and cradle of Italian speech— And of the Slavic and Germanic linens Swaddling the pre-Aryan infant bed. [End Page 135]

Italy, haven’t you had enough troubles To stir up all of Rome’s chariots in alarm And with the clucking of domestic fowl Flown your coop over the wattle fence? And you, my woman neighbor, be not Offended. The eagle preens and cackles; What if for your homemade sling shot The heavy stone serves no purpose?

Having locked the animals in the menagerie, We will sink down into a millennial peace, And the Volga will become more watered And the Rhinian trickle all the more brave. And all of mankind grown wiser will revere, Unconsciously, the stranger in their midst, Like a half-god, in the ruckus of this dance Along the shores of the great rivers of earth.

january 1915 (1916) [End Page 136]

The Sky Is Pregnant with the Future . . .

Yet once again the prating cackle of war Is upon the ancient foothills of the world, And the propeller, glistening with its blade, Resembles the whetted bone of a tapir.

The formula equating wing with death: Having escaped from algebraic orgies, He remembers the broader dimensions Of other playthings made of ebony,

The sorceress night, that hotbed of enmity, Of creatures with stubby and splayed feet, And the newly born propensity of gravity— Such were the origins of the rule of the few.

And so, prepare yourself to live in time’s Hegemony; here, neither tapir nor wolf exist, And the sky is pregnant with the future, That satiating grain of the well-fed source.

For just today those that were victorious Managed to avoid flight’s burial ground By tearing the wings off the dragonfly For execution with hammer and claw.

So let us listen to the thunder’s sermon, That we, grandchildren of Sebastian Bach, Both in the east and in the west, may raise A monument made of organic wings.

And let us toss onto the feasting earthling’s Table the apple of wind’s howling fury, And on the platter made of glass place, In the middle of it, a cloud’s victual. [End Page 137]

Let us cast over everything anew a tablecloth Woven of the taffeta threads of eternity, Exchanging words, pleasantries, compliments, Favor each other with the honor of first toast.

In this round world, on peaceful fatelyhood, I dawn the living blood turn an icicle blue, And in that pregnant future fathoms deep The greater goldenrod buzzes and hums.

And you, flitting there in time’s paucity, Under the scourge of war privileging the few— You have at least the honor of mammal kind, At a minimum the conscience of the shrew!

The more sorrowful the more bitter...


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pp. 135-138
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