Tag Archives: Osip Mandelstam

Marginalia, no.140

What’s meaning but vanity?  A word is a sound –
One of the handmaidens of the seraphim.

~ Osip Mandelstam

Of course even to say so requires a sense behind the sound.  The immaculate musicalities of utterance should be no more than scaffolding to the basilica.  Mandelstam ironically turns round the lament from Ecclesiastes to affirm instead that ‘vanity is all.’

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Like a Starling


Much we have to fear,
big-mouth beside me!

Our tobacco turns into dust,
nut-cracker, friend, idiot!

And I could have whistled through life like a starling,
eating nut pies…

But clearly there’s no chance of that.

~ Osip Mandelstam

Mandelstam once wrote that “only in Russia is poetry respected – it gets people killed.”  He was last seen at a gulag transit station in Vladivostok in 1938.

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