Osip Mandelstam: The Stalin Epigram


[Source: Wikimedia Commons]

Osip Mandelstam never wrote this poem down. Only a handful of his most trusted friends ever heard it. One of them betrayed him. After his arrest in the fall of 1934, his interrogator at the Lubiyanka Prison in Moscow confronted him with this hand-written copy. Here is a translation by Max Hayward (quoted in Nadezhda Mandelstam, Hope Against
Hope
, p. 13.):

The Stalin Epigram

We live, deaf to the land beneath us,
Ten steps away no one hears our speeches,

But where there’s so much as half a conversation
The Kremlin’s mountaineer will get his mention.

His fingers are fat as grubs
And the words, final as lead weights, fall from his lips,

His cockroach whiskers leer
And his boot tops gleam.

Around him a rabble of thin-necked leaders –
Fawning half-men for him to play with.

They whinny, purr or whine
As he prates and points a finger,

One by one forging his laws, to be flung
Like horseshoes at the head the eyes or the groin.

And every killing is a treat
For the broad-chested Ossette.

Osip Mandelstam

See the Russian text and an alternateEnglish translation by A. S. Kline, Wikipedia.

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