Poem of the week: Iota and Theta… by Osip Mandelstam | Poetry
Iota and theta, the flute
of the Greeks gives no account –
insculpted and little reputed,
trench-crosser, it has matured and tightened.
You can’t drop it:
grit your teeth, you won’t master it.
You cannot draw its shape from your lips.
No language can impose words through it.
The flautist has no rest:
he thinks he’s alone, that one day
he shaped this birthplace he left,
his Aegean, of purple clay.
With a whisper of honor-loving lips,
that resound and remember in whispers,
he hurries to practice economy
and chooses his tones, fists clenched.
He takes steps that we will never take again,
just clay in the open hands of the sea,
and as soon as the sea is in my sight,
my accounts are turning into cancer.
I don’t even like my own lips –
murder also hangs on this vine –
helpless I let the flute soak
its declining equinox…
Translated by Alistair Noon