Poe and Beyond

Leon Burnett has supplied the following as a follow-up to last week’s meeting:

Manet-Poe-Raven

Édouard Manet, lithograph (1875)

In 1912, Osip Mandelstam wrote a poem about the reading of one of Poe’s poems. The translation is by Robert Tracy in Osip Mandelstam’s Stone (Princeton University Press, 1981).

We cannot stand the strain of awkward silence –
After all, it annoys when a soul is not right.
And in the general confusion, a man stepped out to recite;
They welcomed him with joyful cries: “Commence!”

An invisible man was standing there – I knew him:
A nightmare man was reading “Ulalume”.
Meaning is vanity and words mere sound
When phonetics are handmaid to the seraphim.

Edgar sang of the House of Usher on his harp,
The madman drank water, came to himself, stood dumb.
I was out on the street. The silken whistle of autumn –
And warm round my throat, a tickle of silken scarf …

Note: The poem was first published in Giporborei, 1913, when the last line read:

I don’t have a scarf to wrap round my throat.

The change was made in January 1937.

The Russian text (with the change made in 1937) reads:

Мы напряженного молчанья не выносим —
Несовершенство душ обидно, наконец!
И в замешательстве уж объявился чтец,
И радостно его приветствовали: просим!

Я так и знал, кто здесь присутствовал незримо:
Кошмарный человек читает «Улялюм».
Значенье — суета, и слово только шум,
Когда фонетика — служанка серафима.

О доме Эшеров Эдгара пела арфа.
Безумный воду пил, очнулся и умолк.
Я был на улице. Свистел осенний шелк…
И горло греет шелк щекочущего шарфа…

See http://rvb.ru/mandelstam/01text/vol_1/01versus/01versus/1_102.htm

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