To be forever on the road

To be forever on the road

A marvelous metaphor to describe poetry and its relationship to speaking; I like this notion of realising that speaking is being on the road, and of a word turning out to be longer than we thought.What distinguishes poetry from automatic speech is that it rouses us...
A quotation is a cicada

A quotation is a cicada

Having built this ever expanding website partly as a way to share the thousands of quotations captured over decades of reading, I like Mandelstam’s strong assertion.  And poet as he is, he uses irresistibly original similes – a quotation as an...
From pantheon to palate

From pantheon to palate

A piled up commentary of poets on poets: Heaney on Mandelstam on Dante.  Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938), who died in uncertain circumstances following his second arrest under Stalin’s purge-fest, took Dante with him when he was sent into internal exile and wrote an...
Where every word starts with ‘a’

Where every word starts with ‘a’

I love Mandelstam’s poetic summary of place, here the city of Sukhum, where he says every word starts with A and you should start your study of Caucasian alphabets. ‘Sukhum: a city of mourning, tobacco, and fragrant vegetable oils.  Here is where one...
Straight as an avenue of poplars

Straight as an avenue of poplars

When was the last time you received – or wrote – an 18 page letter?  I think I have managed to write one or two in my life and that’s even allowing for my quite large handwriting. What was in this letter, completely covered in a tall, straight hand...
Brick-coloured sunsets

Brick-coloured sunsets

Something warming in this, until you see the context. I recall ‘brick-coloured sunsets’ tinted by a haze of pollution in Shanghai. And note the additional surprising triologism: water-melon emptiness. ‘Nowhere, never, have I felt with such force...
Flea-bitten hermits

Flea-bitten hermits

‘On the island of Sevan, which is conspicuous for two most dignified architectural monuments that date back to the seventh century, as well as for the mud huts of flea-bitten hermits only recently passed away…’ Source: Osip Mandelstam, Journey to...
Pink of old roses

Pink of old roses

Musty pink makes me think of an old breed of faded rose, or a soft-worn damask, or one of the thatched houses I saw in a village near Liverpool earlier this week. Source: Osip Mandelstam, Journey to Armenia (London: Notting Hill Editions, 2011), p....
Raspberry-grey boulevards

Raspberry-grey boulevards

Trying to imagine a raspberry-grey boulevard, and can only think of the grey of the road itself combined with a pink wash from a shaft of setting sun. Other colour related triologisms to follow. ‘Pissarro’s raspberry-grey boulevards, flowing like the...
A mess of broken eggs

A mess of broken eggs

An arresting image for catastrophe – an omelette.  Too prosaic?  Smashing eggs can certainly make a hell of a mess, but I keep questioning this, somehow an omelette doesn’t equate to ‘catastrophe’. But nor can I forget it. ‘The omelette of catastrophe’ Source: Osip...
A timeless calm

A timeless calm

I loved this one.  Something about Tatar children bathing horses in Alushta that conveys a secure, happy world and an activity repeated over generations.  I hope I can be calm like those Tatar children. And how did the idea come to Mandelstam?  Did he see these...
Serenade in fur coat

Serenade in fur coat

Had to read this one a couple of times – it’s imaginative and convoluted.  First the image of ‘the body heat of your vision’ and then that tumbling phrase, ‘singing a serenade in a fur coat behind a double set of windows’.  I hope it never happens to you. ‘Standing...
Milky metaphors

Milky metaphors

Milky quietude sounds like something to be welcomed, whereas a curdling whey of silence is to be escaped.  I like this double latte metaphor, turning over two sides of quietness. ‘A milky quietude ensued.  The whey of silence curdled.’ Source: Osip Mandelstam, Journey...
Time and poets

Time and poets

This summary of where Mandelstam places the poet versus the ‘man of letters’ on the time spectrum intrigues me.  Yes, there are poets who converse with readers waiting in the future: Homer and Keats come to mind.  But there are also poets who write for their own time,...

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