Saturday, April 19th, 2014
Facebook / Twitter / Tumblr / Podcast

1933 / Moscow

Portrait of a Dictator

Tags:
,
,
,
,

Our lives no longer feel ground under them.
At ten paces you can’t hear our words.

But whenever there’s a snatch of talk
it turns to the Kremlin mountaineer,

the ten thick worms his fingers,
his words like measures of weight,

the huge laughing cockroaches on his top lip,
the glitter of his boot rims.

Ringed with a scum of chicken-necked bosses
he toys with the tributes of half-men.

One whistles, another meows, a third snivels.
He pokes out his finger and he alone goes boom.

He forges decrees in a line like horseshoes,
One for the groin, one the forehead, temple, eye.

He rolls the executions on his tongue like berries.
He wishes he could hug them like big friends from home.

© 1973 by Clarence Brown and W. S. Merwin. Used with permission of The Wylie Agency.

Bookmark and Share
Love this? Subscribe to Lapham's Quarterly today.

Post a Comment

Note: Several minutes will pass while the system is processing and posting your comment. Do not resubmit during this time or your comment will post multiple times.

Published In
Politics
About the Author

Osip Mandelstam, “The Stalin Epigram.” Born the son of a Jewish leather merchant and an accomplished pianist in 1891, Mandelstam published his first book of poems, Stone, in 1913, around the same time that he and Anna Akhmatova became associated with the Acmeist school of poetry. On May 13, 1934, the Soviet secret police seized him and searched his apartment—it is believed they were looking for this poem—and he was sentenced to three years’ exile in the Urals. He was arrested again in 1938; authorities reported his death at the end of that year.

The poor have sometimes objected to being governed badly; the rich have always objected to being governed at all.
G. K. Chesterton, 1908
Visual Aids
Political, Scientific, and Technological Revolutions From the wheel, to the rebellion, to the paradigm shift.
Art, Photography, & Illustrations View a selection of art from our latest issue.
Charts & Graphs All of our charts and graphs, pulled from the pages of Lapham’s Quarterly.
Events & News
January 27 / Purchase tickets for "Death & Comedy" a celebration of readings from our two most recent issues at Joe's Pub. More
Apropos

Vague Premonitions

The Great Beyond

Subscribe
Current Issue Revolutions Spring 2014
Blogs

Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Audio & Video
LQ Podcast:
Orlando Figes
The Russian historian describes the Revolution’s retreat in the 1920s from its high communist ideals under the New Economic Policy.
Eponym
Lewis H. Lapham is Editor of Lapham's Quarterly. He also serves as editor emeritus and national correspondent for Harper's magazine.
Recent Issues