" My turn shall also come:
I sense the spreading of a wing."
'We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,
But where there's so much as a half a conversation
The Kremlin's mountaineer will get his mention.'
(from 'Stalin' 1934)
Mandelstam was arrested for 'counter-revolutionary' activities in May 1938 and sentenced to five years in a labour camp. Interrogated by Nikolay Shivarov, he confessed that he had written a counter-revolutionary a poem which started with the lines: 'We live without sensing the country beneath us, At ten paces, our speech has no sound and when there's the will to half-open our mouths the Kremlin crag-dweller bars the way.'
In the transit camp, Mandelstam was already so weak that he couldn't stand. He died in the Gulag Archipelago in Vtoraia rechka, near Vladivostok, on December 27, 1938.His body was taken to a common grave.
The following poem seems particularly appropriate for this time of year:
“Alone I stare into the frost’s white face”
Alone I stare into the frost’s white face.
It’s going nowhere, and I—from nowhere.
Everything ironed flat, pleated without a wrinkle:
Miraculous, the breathing plain.
Meanwhile the sun squints at this starched poverty—
The squint itself consoled, at ease . . .
The ten-fold forest almost the same . . .
And snow crunches in the eyes, innocent, like clean bread.
BY OSIP MANDELSTAM
TRANSLATED BY JOHN HIGH AND MATVEI YANKELEVICH