Osip Mandelstam: Black Earth

Hallowed and black, it’s all under nurture,
all horse’s shoulder, all air and care,
all of it crumbling, one huge choir –
my land and liberty’s clods of damp turf.
The black turns blue while they plough at dawn
in the home of unarmed labour, and a thousand
rumoured hills have succumbed to the foreshare:
something in the circle is not quite round.
All the same, it’s a blunder, an axe-butt, this earth
you can’t beg from however you bang on its leg.
Like a rotting pan-pipe, the ear is alert,
it tills ground for next spring, like a morning clarinet.
How well that rich layer lies on the ploughshare,
how well the steppe sits on a crankshaft in April!
So I greet you, black earth: be steadfast, sharp-eyed…
the black-river silence concealed within labour.
April 1935

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