Osip Mandelstam

Muzyka tvoikh shagov

Музыка твоих шагов
В тишине лесных снегов,

И, как медленная тень,
Ты сошла в морозный день.

Глубока, как ночь, зима,
Снег висит как бахрома.

Ворон на своем суку
Много видел на веку.

А встающая волна
Набегающего сна

Вдохновенно разобьет
Молодой и тонкий лед,

Тонкий лед моей души —
Созревающий в тиши.

Retrieved from public domain

The refrain of your steps

The refrain of your steps
Through the silence of the forest snows

Like a gentle shadow makes its way,
You descended on a frosty day.

The wintertime as deep as night,
Like a crown, the snow hangs tight.

While perched upon its shoot, the crow
Has watched the ages come and go

But now a rising wave will come
And bring with it imminent sleep

And with exhilaration breach
the fragile, undeveloped ice

The tender ice that shrouds my soul —
Maturing in the silent whole.

Translated by Alexander Dumanis and Natalia Vygovskaia

Osip Mandelstam’s poetic language is famous for multiple alliterations, original rhythmic patterns and delicate embroidery of images – shadows of the palimpsestic past where Greek and Roman poetic tradition would converge with the Golden age of the Russian verse. His tragic fate as of many independent thinkers perished in the labor camp under Stalin’s regime adds a tragic connotation to his personality (His short epigram about Stalin is generally considered the one to blame for his exile and camp imprisonment).

Mandelstam wrote the poem when he was 18. He took some classes in poetry at that time and had been exploring the possibilities of the poetic meter. ‘’The refrain of your steps’’ renders the lightness of being of a young man falling in love, mastering new poetic tools to express himself, searching for landmarks of his uniqueness. Music, in other words, rhythm of the poem is accompanied by the choree metric foot – the poet describes life of his soul by sounding a winter day in the snow forest. Natural landscape becomes the setting to find the way to speak about maturing and love. What is spectacular about it is that the meter literally renders the steps of the poet’s love strolling in the winter forest. This physicality creates a mesmerizing effect when the reader can hear not only the music of the steps but also the poet’s spiritual change.

The translation of the poem required much attention to its rhythm and rhyming so that it was as close to the original one as possible and was able to render its acoustic enchantment.

Prepared by Natalia Vygovskaia

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