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“Heaviness, tenderness . . .”

by Osip Mandelstam

translated from the Russian by Eugene Serebryany

Heaviness, tenderness—sisters, your traits are alike.
Honeybees drink a rose that is tender and heavy.
Someone passes away. Once-warm sand cooling down . . .
They are carrying yesterday’s sun in a shroud.

Heavy honeycombs, webs of tenderness—
Lifting boulders is easier than repeating your name!
All that remains is one care in this world,
A golden care: how to flee from the burden of time.

I drink clouded air; I drink it like dark water.
Time was plowed up, and a rose became earth.
Like a slow-moving vortex of soft tender roses,
Heaviness, tenderness—sisters—prepared the wreaths.


Osip Mandelstam (1891–1938) was born into a Polish-Jewish family in what was then the Russian Empire. He became one of the great poets of Russia’s Silver Age, with a keen sense of the melodies of spoken language. He often recited a finished poem before, or even instead of, writing it down. Many of his lines became proverbial. He was persecuted in the Soviet Union for his political views, especially after a 1933 poem satirizing Stalin. He died in Siberia while being transferred between prison camps.

Eugene Serebryany is a graduate student at MIT. This is his first published translation. He is grateful for the advice and mentorship of Peter Cole at Yale University. (4/2012)

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