Osip Mandelstam: “Notre Dame”

Inside Notre Dame


Where a Roman judge framed laws for alien folk
A basilica stands, original, exulting,
Each nerve stretched taut along the light cross vaulting,
Each muscle flexing, like Adam when he first woke.

If you look from outside you grasp the hidden plan:
Strong saddle-girth arches watchfully forestall
The ponderous mass from shattering the wall
And hold in check the bold vault’s battering ram.

A primal labyrinth, a wood past men’s understanding,
The Gothic spirit’s rational abyss,
Brute strength of Egypt and a Christian meekness,
Thin reed beside oak and the plumb line everywhere king.

Stronghold of Notre Dame, the more my attentive eyes
Studied your gigantic ribs and frame
Then the more often this reflection came:
From cruel weight, I too will someday make beauty rise.

Osip Mandelstam

Translation by Robert Tracy

Photo credit: Inside Notre Dame by BiLK_Thorn

~ by matt on 19 March 2008.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Natalie E. Illum...

is a poet, performer and disability activist. Bring her stumbling to your city.


Quartz is a digitally native news outlet for the new global economy.

%d bloggers like this: