a bright disc
without contour in the haze of summer night.

 Three poems by Joachim Sartorius translated by Pauline Fan










by Joachim Sartorius


sieht der Mond aus

durch das lange Rohr

auf wackligem Stativ,

aufgestellt am Rand des Taksim-Platzes;

aber der Blick kostet nur 500 Lira,

der Mann dreht an Rädern,

du beugst dich über eine kleine Linse

und siehst ihn, nah,

weiß und kühl, Krater und Täler,

selbst den schwarzen Fleck de beauté –

heruntergekommen etwas,

aber nicht halb so schäbig und wirklich

wie der Taksim mit seinem Verkehr,

den verwelkten Büchern auf staubigen Ständern

und klingelnden Mandelverkäufern.

Du gehst in den Menschen über den Platz.

Die Oleanderbüsche stehen

in ihrem runden Schatten

unter dem Neonlicht.

Der Mond ist klein, eine helle Scheibe

ohne Relief im Dunst der Sommernacht.

Nur du weißt, wie er aussieht,

ohne Leben,

präzis weiß und kühl, fast blau.


by Joachim Sartorius

The moon looks

the worse for wear

through the long cylinder

on a shaky frame

set up at the edge of Taksim Square;

but the view costs just 500 lira,

the man swivels the wheels,

you bend over a small lens

and see it, near,

white and cool, craters and valleys,

even its black mark de beauté–

somewhat the worse for wear,

yet not nearly as shabby or real

as Taksim and its traffic,

the withered books on dusty racks,

the noisy almond vendors.

You walk across the square through the crowd.

Oleander bushes bask

in circular shadows

under halos of neon.

The moon is small: a bright disc

without contour in the haze of summer night.

You alone know what it looks like,


precisely white and cool, almost blue.

translated from German by Pauline Fan


by Joachim Sartorius

Vor dem Hotelfenster der Dnjepr,

ein Meer mit weißen Sandbänken.

                                    Im Hotelzimmer

über akkurat durchgeschlagenen Kissen

eine Birkenallee im Winter, in Öl,

wie ich sie heute hundertmal gesehen habe,

ohne zu ermüden,

in einem flachen, rückständigen Land,

von Kriegen heimgesucht, friedlich heute,

von einer Stille, die die Sprache der Frösche

und der Störche noch stiller macht.


Keine Schiffe auf dem Dnjepr. Ich

führe so gerne hinunter nach Odessa,

wo es fröhlich ist, pontisch hell,

mit Frauen und anderen Alleen

und irrenden Wolken, spiritblau.


by Joachim Sartorius

Outside the hotel window the Dnieper,

a sea with white sandbanks.

                        In the hotel room,

above accurately disheveled pillows

a birch-lined boulevard in winter, in oil,

as I have seen today a hundred times

without tiring,

in a flat, backward land

plagued by war, peaceful today

with a silence that renders the language of frogs

and storks more silent still.


No ships on the Dnieper. How I

would like to go down to Odessa,

where it is cheerful, Pontic-bright,

with women and other boulevards

and errant clouds, spirit-blue.

translated from German by Pauline Fan


by Joachim Sartorius

Zuerst sterben die Augen, dann die Hand

in diesem Sommerherbst, dann der übrige Körper.

An der linken Hüfte nun tiefere Muskellagen,

feinkörnige Schichten, papierähnlich.

Darüber die eingesunkene Brust,

darüber ein Zimmervoll Zähne.


Ruinös alles, Dreck und Skelett.

Aber die Haut zart noch, wie Blütenblatt von Mohn.

Nur nicht der Sonne aussetzen, den Schirm

aufspannen, plötzlich besorgt.


Dreizehn Granatäpfel rollen auf dich zu.

Warum auch nicht? Wir wollen Fruchtfleisch,

Rubine, die ganze Fülle vor dem Stoßgebet.

Fruit Pulp

by Joachim Sartorius

The eyes are the first to die in this summer-autumn,

then the hand, then the rest of the body.

At the left hip now deeper layers of muscle,

Fine-grained strata, paper-like.

Above it the chest, caved in,

above it a room full of teeth.


Everything ruinous – filth and skeleton.

But the skin delicate still, like petals of poppy.

Above all, don’t expose it to the sun: spread open

the parasol, suddenly anxious.


Thirteen pomegranates rolling towards you.

And what of it? We want fruit pulp, rubies,

abundance before the fervent, final prayer.

translated from German by Pauline Fan


The furnished globe of the earth is spinning

Two poems by Osip Mandelstam translated by Alistair Noon

mandelstamThese translations are of two poems from Osip Mandelstam’s Voronezh Notebooks, written during his internal exile in the Soviet city of Voronezh, 300 miles south of Moscow, largely isolated from metropolitan literary life. Like the rest of the Notebooks, they were unpublished during his lifetime and preserved by his widow Nadezhda Mandelstam, among others. One of those others was Natatsha Stempel, a Voronezh schoolteacher whose memoirs comment on the verisimilitude of the streets described in “January. Where can I go in this open / city…” to a set of confusing lanes close to the river that Voronezh is located on.

A couple of, I hope, non-essential references to save you a google. In “January…”, “blackdamp” is a miningAlistair Noon photo by Karl Hurst please credit hazard, “an asphyxiant, reducing the available oxygen content of air to a level incapable of sustaining human or animal life” (wikipedia). In “St. Isaac’s freezes to each dead eyelash,” St. Isaac’s is St. Petersburg’s most important cathedral. The job of the “whipper-in” in a fox hunt, for example, is to keep the pack of dogs together. The poem recalls a relationship Mandelstam had with Olga Vaksel in 1925, during which they would meet in a hotel room with a view of the cathedral. Vaksel died in Oslo in 1932.

The translations are from a full-length selection of Mandelstam’s poetry currently in preparation.

—Alistair Noon

Photo credit: Karl Hurst

[На мертвых ресницах Исакий замерз]

by Osip Mandelstam

На мертвых ресницах Исакий замерз

И барские улицы сини –

Шарманщика смерть, и медведицы ворс,

И чужие поленья в камине…


Уже выгоняет выжлятник-пожар

Линеек раскидистых стайку,

Несется земля — меблированный шар,–

И зеркало корчит всезнайку.


Площадками лестниц — разлад и туман,

Дыханье, дыханье и пенье,

И Шуберта в шубе застыл талисман –

Движенье, движенье, движенье…


3 июня 1935

[St. Isaac's freezes to each dead eyelash]

by Osip Mandelstam

St. Isaac’s freezes to each dead eyelash

on the aristocratic blue streets:

there’s a grate of strangers’ logs, and ash,

an organ grinder’s death, bear fleece.


As if it were a pack on a leash, the whipper-in

whips out the fire, and it starts to sprawl.

The furnished globe of the earth is spinning,

and the face-pulling mirror plays the know-all.


The staircase landing’s all squabbles and mist,

breathing, breathing and song.

Schubert’s talisman’s cold and stiff

beneath the fur coat. Keep on, keep on…


3 June 1935

translated from Russian by Alistair Noon

[Куда мне деться в этом январе?]

by Osip Mandelstam

Куда мне деться в этом январе?

Открытый город сумасбродно цепок…

От замкнутых я, что ли, пьян дверей? –

И хочется мычать от всех замков и скрепок.


И переулков лающих чулки,

И улиц перекошенных чуланы –

И прячутся поспешно в уголки

И выбегают из углов угланы…


И в яму, в бородавчатую темь

Скольжу к обледенелой водокачке

И, спотыкаясь, мертвый воздух ем,

И разлетаются грачи в горячке –


А я за ними ахаю, крича

В какой-то мерзлый деревянный короб:

– Читателя! советчика! врача!

На лестнице колючей разговора б!


1 февраля 1937

[January. Where can I go in this open]

by Osip Mandelstam

January. Where can I go in this open

city that clings like a psychotic?

I pass clamps and bolts and feel like lowing:

have the locked doors got me drunk or what?


These howling lanes take the form of tights,

the convoluted streets are storerooms,

places where hoodlums can hurriedly hide,

then leap like knights out of corners.


Into the warty gloom, its pit,

I stumble to the pump and find it frozen.

I feed on the blackdamp, skid

and scatter the feverish crows.


And into the planks of the iced-up box,

I sigh and call, the crows now airborne:

“Talk to me, readers, advisers, doctors,

on these steps that feel like thorns.”


1 February 1937

translated from Russian by Alistair Noon