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by Osip Mandelstam

(translated from the Russian by Joan Aleshire)

I was washing at night in the yard—
the firmament shone with rough stars.
The starlight was like salt on an axe,
the barrel cooled from its full brim.

The gate's closed with a lock,
and the earth's as bleak as its conscience—
finer than truth, the fine canvas
where the weave barely appears.

A star melts, like salt, in the barrel,
and the freezing water is darker,
death is purer, trouble saltier,
and the earth truer and more terrible.

—Translated from the Russian by Joan Aleshire


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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