Kisses & Bees

Today, I have opted to use an Osip Mandelstam poem as a prompt. I apologize in advance to his memory and to his lovely poem, translations of which are here, here, and here.

In a blog post some time ago, I discussed this poem and the problems of translation.


Kisses Tattered as Bees
-after Osip Mandelstam

Your claim asserts that kisses
can be tattered
and bees emerge from
floral tussles or hive dances
in a disordered raggedness
so the two are as like
simile disperses into breeze:
loose petals and torn wings
fail to impress upon your lips
any tactile memory.

But oh, there were kisses once
so fevered they evaporated
on meeting your cool skin
while you traversed the woods
beguiled by honey’s scent–
and kisses that stung,
leaving a trail of the dead,
soft, gold-and-black bodies
in each of your footprints,
beads strung along your path.




Three days, three poems, one tenth of National Poetry Month having passed; I can do this, right? NaPoWriMo has a site that includes daily poetry prompts, if you happen to be interested. It is worth trying even if you do not plan to write a poem a day.


A little honey, a little sun

Today, something to soothe the collective psyche, to ward off anxiety and remind us that we cannot move through this life totally fearlessly, but we can move through this life.

Ann E. Michael honeybee


Take from my palm, to soothe your heart
a little honey, a little sun,
in obedience to Persephone’s bees.

You can’t untie a boat that was never moored,
nor hear a shadow in its furs,
nor move through thick life without fear.

Osip Mandelstam, tr. Clarence Brown & W.S. Merwin

There’s more to this poem–three further stanzas–and I am re-reading it today, over and over, as if to memorize its quietly unfolding lines:

For us, all that’s left is kisses
tattered as the little bees


The poignancy of that image nearly kills me. Yet, soon enough in the poem (and elsewhere), Mandelstam’s bees die; but they also hum in the night, in the woods, “in the mint and lungwort of the past.” They make a sun out of honey. They warm the chill of winter’s approach; like kisses, they can soothe our hearts.


I have read some severe criticism of translations of Mandelstam’s poetry. Brodsky’s work, Merwin’s…Russian speakers suggest no translation adheres at all closely to the original. Rose Styron and Olga Carlyle’s version is here in Paris Review. And here’s a version (tr. uncredited) in The Atlantic. A bilingual version resides here, if you happen to know Russian and can weigh in on the translation controversy (Mandelstam himself reportedly hated reading verse in translation).

But here is why I am holding this poem close to myself today:

The poem acknowledges the fear that resides in all of us.

The poem reminds us that we have much to share. That we can soothe one another’s hearts.