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Versions of a Mandelstam quatrain: The Voronezh Variations

for Veronika Bowker

Raven: vóron; nozh: blade, winds me out, re-winds me:
The blade must fall, the raven’s free yet binds me.
Returns, re-venues, misses me and finds me,
Vorónezh, ravensblade whose whim defines me.


Vóron, a raven, nozh, a snitch: ditched by
Voronezh, like unstitched leaves, reached by
Voronezh, rehitched, stitched up by the bitch
Voronezh, the raven with the snitch.


Ravensditch, Ravensbruck, Ravensbeak,
Let me go, let me come, or else you will seek
me in vain, Voronezh, having dropped my life
on a whim, raven whose beak is sharp as a knife...


Alternatively: Crow, the Crow’s bright blade.
Will you crow now Voronezh, now I have gone...?
Will you drop me or gather me in your masquerade,
crow, joker, with your sharp beak of black crow-shade.


Thieving magpie, Voronezh, black and sharp as night.
Will you drop your loot or pick it up and punish
your son with it, as a raven or magpie might,
you who are only a joke yourself, Voronezh?


This is no joke, Voronezh. I am not Poe’s Raven.
I will not come knocking for you to drop the latch
and lock me out. I have no knife to prise my way in.
but I will return Voronezh, sharp as a raven’s snitch.


Let me go, return me to my lost home,
Voronezh, I’m still yours though you drop me
you black joke, Voronezh, you cannot stop me
singing, even under your crow-black dome.

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About the translation:
Osip Mandelstam
George Szirtes
Original language:
2014 Number 3 - The Singing of the Scythe

About the author

George Szirtes


George Szirtes

George Szirtes was born in Budapest in 1948, and came to England with his family after the 1956 Hungarian Uprising. He was educ... » Read more


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