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“Alone I stare into the frost’s white face”

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Alone I stare into the frost’s white face.   
It’s going nowhere, and I—from nowhere.   
Everything ironed flat, pleated without a wrinkle:   
Miraculous, the breathing plain.   

Meanwhile the sun squints at this starched poverty—
The squint itself consoled, at ease . . .   
The ten-fold forest almost the same . . .   
And snow crunches in the eyes, innocent, like clean bread.   



January 16, 1937



Source: Poetry (April 2009)

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This poem originally appeared in the April 2009 issue of Poetry magazine

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“Alone I stare into the frost’s white face”

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  • Osip Mandelstam ranks among the most significant Russian poets of the twentieth century. He was born in Warsaw, Poland in or around 1891, but soon afterward his family moved to St. Petersburg, Russia. In St. Petersburg, the Jewish Mandelstams—on the strength, according to some critics, of the father’s fine standing as a leather merchant—managed to live relatively free of the anti-Semitic hostilities which were then pervasive. Mandelstam eventually studied at the city’s prestigious Tenishev School, but he failed to distinguish himself. Continuing his education abroad, he attended both the Sorbonne in Paris and the University of Heidelberg in Germany. After returning home Mandelstam—despite his Jewish ancestry and his somewhat unimpressive record at Tenishev—gained acceptance to the University of St. Petersburg, a rather exclusive, and exclusively Christian, institution.
     
    By this time, the early 1910s, Mandelstam had already forsaken his actual studies in favor of writing, and he had begun contributing...

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