Mary Angela Douglas
Mandelstam's Ghost Returns Too Early - Poem by Mary Angela Douglas
to Osip Mandelstam
someone has turned the moon's wick down
and I can't see where the
vague wolves gather
there's tar on the breeze
a perfume from Space
but I'm not the same one
I can't keep it straight
why Song is still caught in
my windy throat
and your smile is ravishing yet snows
on these familiar scenes
the moon's turned up, the earth
less featureless now
is this where we escaped the moat
dripping like trees in the green of summer
by winter canals?
mary angela douglas 16 june 2014
Note on the poem: if you listen carefully you can sense perhaps if not hear the interlocutory presence of Anna Akhmatova to whom, Mandelstam is speaking, or thinks he is speaking.
Whether or not she hears him I do not know. Whether or not she is still on earth herself I do not know but I think this is true. That is the meaning, one of them, of his 'returning too early'.
I imagine her in one version writing at her desk a few years after he has died. But like the notebook variations of, Dostoyevsky, the many pathed woods of possibility, some or all of these versions are true in the labyrinth of Time as long as you do not forget: these poets were on the earth and left their words for you to find...
P.S. the happiest secret of this poem that I am telling only you is that Mandelstam, although confused in the poem does not remember his pain on earth. That is one reason the wolves are vague to him or the wolves are vague because Russia has altered in that way. And Mandelstam has forgotten almost all of his pain on earth, at least, the details as well as Akhmatova's pain, Nadezhda's pain, the pain of all Russia. He remembers escaping although, in the end, he did not. At least, on this side of the equation.
The escape from the moat, a fairytale image. He must have longed to escape so much in reality. But some vestige of pain or the memory of pain remains which is why, there is the image of the summer trees after soft rains by winter canals.
He has not yet forgotten everything.
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