Limping, unwillingly half-faltering across the empty ground, with light, uneven steps, she barely overtakes her friends whose lighter, youthful steps she steps beyond. A crippled freedom leads her, enlivening her step, and, as she steps, she clarifies the readiness I feel: spring weather is the grandmother of coffins. What Spring begins today begins forever…
There are women, sisters of the damp, raw earth, whose every step is resonant with weeping. To lead the dead, to be the first to greet the resurrection is their calling. To hold or grasp their tenderness is criminal. To part from them is unimaginable… An angel offers us today – tomorrow, cratered earth, its worms – and after – just a feeling… For us, what was has grown beyond our reach – undying flowers. Heaven is chaste, the sky untouched, what will be only promised.
Translated by Tony Brinkley
The poem is untitled in the original. It is the last of the poems from the Voronezh Notebooks, and is dated 4 May 1937. The woman in the first part is Natasha Stempel. She is also one of the women in the second part along with Nadezhda Mandelshtam and Anna Akhmatova. The three of them were largely responsible for rescuing the Notebooks after Mandelshtam’s death and preserving them for publication. I have revised the translation slightly since I sent it to Hungarian Review by way of a New Years greeting.