O, this slow, short-breathed, open space!

Original by Osip Mandel’shtam
Translation by Don Mager

O, this slow, short-breathed, open space! —
I am full of it to the point of refusal, —
And when the vista gets back its breath —
Cover both eyes with bandages!

I would’ve better borne its complicated moods
On the churning sands of the Kama’s shore:
There I would have held onto her shy sleeve,
Her eddies, her banks and her sinking pits.

I would’ve worked well with her — an age, or an instant —
Envious of the siege of invading rapids, —
I would’ve listened for fibrous bark-rings
Of the logs coursing down through her currents . . .

16 January 1937

translation from Russian by Don Mager

Osip Emil’evish Mandel’shtam (1891-1938) was a Russian poet and essayist. He was a founding member of the influential Acmeist movement during the Silver Age before the Russian Revolution. Acmeism opposed the dominant Symbolist aesthetic and placed emphasis on clarity of the word and precision of the image. His first volume Stone (1913) impacted Russian poetry for the next two decades. In the 1930s he ran afoul of the Soviet authorities and was sent to a gulag in Siberia with his wife Nadezhda (1890-1970). Her autobiography Hope Against Hope—one of the great autobiographies of all time—recounts their years under Stalinist persecution. He was brought back and banished from Moscow to “internal exile” in the city of Voronezh where for three years he and Nadezhda struggled to survive while he wrote some of his most astonishing poems collected in Voronezh Notebooks—a manuscript hidden from the authorities until the “Khrushchev thaw” in 1956. In 1938 he was re-sentenced to hard labor and died near Vladivostok in transit to a far-eastern gulag.

Don Mager’s chapbooks and volumes of poetry are: To Track The Wounded One, Glosses, That Which Is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns, The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook, Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He is retired and was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University where he also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian. Translations have appeared In Life And Legends, UCity Review, Interim, River Styx, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, The Los Angeles Review, Ezra, Roger The New Renaissance, The New Press Literary Quarterly. New Orleans Review, and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He lives in Charlotte, NC with his partner of 35 years, Bill.