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Review: Tristia, by Osip Mandelstam

Dominic Rivron, Stride Magazine, August 2023

Tristia, Osip Mandelstam, tr. Thomas de Waaal (127pp, £10.79, Arc)

This is the first complete translation into English of Tristia, Osip Mandelstam's second collection of poetry. There have been many translations of Mandelstam, but usually in the form of selections. In his excellent introduction the translator, Thomas de Waal, draws parallels comparing Mandelstam with WB Yeats. For any English reader unfamiliar with the Russian poet, imagine if Yeats had not written in English and that a large body of his most important work had only now been translated and presented together for the first time.

Translation inevitably demands that one makes compromises in order to convey both the meaning and the music of a poem. De Waal achieves this balance. According to his contemporaries, Mandelstam's own reading of his poems had an incantatory quality. One can still sense, reading the English version aloud, how this might have been so, which says a lot about the quality of the translation. The Russian original is provided alongside the English. Many of the poems carry a brief introduction, putting them into context. There are also extensive notes at the end of the book.

Dominic Rivron, Stride Magazine, August 2023