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by Osip Mandelstam


translated from the Russian by Joan Aleshire

Insomnia. Homer. Taut sails.
I've read to the middle of the list of ships:
this long flock, this train of cranes,
that once rose over Hellas.

Like a wedge of cranes over strange borders—
a godlike foam on the heads of kings—
where are you sailing? If it weren't for Helen,
what would Troy itself be to you, Achaean men?

Both the sea, and Homer—everything—is moved by love.
To whom shall I listen? And here Homer is silent,
and the dark sea, orating, stirs,
and with a heavy crash rolls up to the pillow.


Joan Aleshire is the author of three books of poems: Cloud Train (Texas Tech), This Fair (QRT), and The Yellow Transparents (Four Way), and has taught in the MFA Program at Warren Wilson College since 1983. (1998)

Osip Mandelstam published his first book, Stone, before the Russian Revolution of 1917. By the 1920s, he was shunned by the Soviet establishment for refusing to write in praise of the state. He died in a prison camp in Siberia in 1938; his poetry and prose was preserved by his wife and friends and was published in New York in a collected edition in 1955. (1998)

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