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.

Namaste.

 

Poems that help us to endure

I’ve recently completed reading Eugenia Semyonovna Ginzburg’s memoir Journey into the Whirlwind. What has struck me about the memoir is, in particular, Ginzburg’s reliance on poetry as a means to enduring prison, deprivation, oppression.

In several selections, she reiterates how reciting or recalling poetry–Pushkin, Pasternak, Blok, Mandelstam, and lesser-known (to us Westerners) poets such as Tyutchev, Chorny & Nekrasov–gave her hope or encouraged her to keep on in the face of awful situations, or just to remind her that others have endured harsh and terrible conditions and found the means to express themselves despite it all.

I believe poems–and art of all varieties–help us to endure. Some poets who have helped me to endure include Anna Akhmatova, Mark Doty, Mary Oliver, Gregory Orr, John Donne, Yehudi Amichai, Stanley Kunitz, Donald Hall, Emily Dickinson, Adrienne Rich, Marie Ponsot, and others. Too many to name.

Who has helped you to endure? Whose art, whose poetry, whose stories, whose music?

When we reflect on these creations, perhaps we can learn more about ourselves.