Osip Mandelstam, “Consider the River” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Osip Mandelstam’s poem “Consider the River” from Stolen Air: Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam translated by Christian Wiman. Osip Mandelstam was one of the most important 20th century Russian poets. Writing poetry during the Bolshevik revolution and suffering much difficulty during that time, Mandelstam eventually died from hardships he endured after being imprisoned in Soviet work camps.


Like a late gift long awaited, winter:
Personal, palpable stirrings.

I love the early animal of her,
These woozy, easy swings.

Soft atrocity, sweet fright,
As if for ravishment on first bowed and gave thanks . . .

And yet, before the forest’s clean, hewn circle of light,
Even the raven banks.

Power more powerful for its precariousness,
Blue more blue for its ghost of white:

Consider the river, its constancy, its skin of almost ice,
Like a lullaby nullified by wakefulness . . .


Previous poems in this series:

3 thoughts on “Osip Mandelstam, “Consider the River” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

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