Noon's Version

Eyewear is pleased to publish a new translation of a great poem by Mandelstam, by Alistair Noon in Berlin. This is probably one of the first poems on the cinema.  Vachel Lindsay, of course, had written on the subject.


Three benches. A projector.
The fever of sentimentality.
An heiress who's been trapped
in her evil rival's nets.

Hands off this love's true flight,
our heroine's done nothing wrong!
So pure it's almost platonic
is her love for a lieutenant of the fleet,

collaterally conceived by a grey count
and now wandering the desert wastes.
This, for the pretty countess, is the way
her picture-adventure leaves the ground.

She starts to wring her hands
like a gypsy gone insane.
The lovers split. The demonic sounds
now follow of a hounded piano.

Her trust's not hard to abuse.
She possesses sufficient bravery
to swoop on some crucial papers
of interest to an enemy HQ.

Along an avenue of chestnuts,
a black motor car lumbers.
The film reel rattles. A thump
of alarm thrills our hearts.

Sensibly dressed, with her sac à voyage,
she travels the roads and rails.
All she's scared of is the chase;
she's tormented by a dry mirage.

The ending's both bitter and trite.
Means aren't justified by ends!
He gets his father's inheritance,
and she gets sentenced to life.

Osip Mandelstam, 1913

Translated from the Russian by Alistair Noon


ilyaperelmuter said…
Mandelstam's poem was written in 1913, first published in 1914. It is interesting to compare it with the poem by Jakob van Hoddis, Kinematograph. van Hoddis's poem was written in 1910. Both poems are extremely funny, film-making was not taken too seriously at the very beginning. I do not know if van Hoddis's poem has ever been translated into English, they say he is not well-known in the english-speaking world.
I don't know whether Jakob van Hoddis's poem has been translated into English, but at least I have it in a German anthology, Gedichte des Expressionismus. While Mandelstam relates a single melodramatic film, the van Hoddis poem seems to describe three short silent movies in succession - disconnected but with the emphasis always on striking visual effects. Gee whizz!

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