I have forgotten the word I wanted to say

From The Selected Poems of Osip Mandelstam (NYRB edition, poem 113)

I have forgotten the word I wanted to say.
A blind swallow returns to the palace of shadows
on clipped wings to flicker among the Transparent Ones.
In oblivion they are singing the night song.

No sound from the birds. No flowers on the imortelles.
The horses of night have transparent manes.
A little boat drifts on the dry river.
Among the crickets the word fades into oblivion.

And it rises slowly like a pavilion or a temple,
performs the madness of Antigone,
or falls at one’s feet, a dead swallow,
with Stygian tenderness and a green branch.

Oh to bring back also the shyness of clairvoyant
fingers, the swelling joy of recognition.
I shrink from the wild grieving of the Muses,
from the mists, the ringing, the opening void.

It is given to mortals to love, to recognize,
to make sounds move to their fingers,
but I have forgotten what I wanted to say
and a bodiless thought returns to the palace of shadows.

The Transparent One still speaks, but of nothing.
Still a swallow, a friend known as a girl, Antigone.
The reverberations of Stygian remembrance
bur like black ice on one’s lips.

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