“When red October’s dim time-server” (“Когда октябрьский нам готовил временщик”), Osip Mandelstam

lingua fennica


“Only in Russia is poetry respected, it gets people killed. Is there anywhere else where poetry is so common a motive for murder?” said Mandelstam. He wrote the following poem in November 1917 – and may well have thereby sealed his fate. He died in the Gulag in 1938. (The execution of Gumilev in 1921 demonstrates that it wasn’t only Stalin who had it in for poets.)

When red October’s dim time-server for us made
A yoke of bloodshed and of malice,
And armoured car, aggressive, then enforced blockade
And loomed an apish gunner, callous –

And “Crucify Kerensky!” irate soldier brayed,
And angry mob on cue applauded:
Then Pilate let them bring us heart on spike displayed,
And heart had stopped – its veins had clotted!

And there, reproachful shadow flickers in the gloom,
Where crimson horse-shoed buildings cluster;
As if on dull October day in misty bloom

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