To Gaze Upon the Glaze

Gjertrud Schnackenberg makes me want to want to read Osip Mandelstam. There is a passage in her poem about the poet that has him restored to health and return to his native city and observe the winter scene. The whole experience is cast in the conceit of a delicious pastry. It is utopia in the key of Cockaigne. Its mention of apricot glaze sent me in search of where Mandelstam may have made a reference to glazes. And I found…

Against pale blue enamel, the shade
That only April can bring,
The birch tree’s branches swayed
And shyly it was evening.

The pattern, precise and complete
A network of thinly etched lines
Like the ones on a porcelain plate
With its carefully drawn design,

When the dear artist creates
The design on the glaze’s hardness,
At that moment his skill awake,
No thought for death’s sadness.


from Osip Mandelstam’s Stone translated by Robert Tracy available at the Poetry Foundation in a slightly different version.

Not quite sure if Schnackenberg had this poem in mind when she wrote. But the combination of artistic skill and “no thought for death’s sadness” ring true to the theme Schnackenberg tackles.

from “A Monument in Utopia” in A Gilded Lapse of Time

Even if the avenues will be mobbed
With former prisoners from that time,
A non-person will be free to survive the winter,
To observe, from the comfort of his own coat,
His native city by lamplight
Along the black ice of the frozen river,
With its frilly crust
Of half-lit, golden snow
Like a mille-feuilles
Glimmering with apricot glaze
And ready to crumble beneath the tooth,
Whose sugar grains melt on his tongue —

Richard Eder in a review of A Gilded Lapse of Time observed

Rich, even ornate at times, Schnackenberg’s poetry carries its weight as if it were no weight at all, partly by its thematic intensity and partly by the sheer beauty of its imagery.

city — mille-feuilles — apricot glaze — sugar grains melting on the tongue — freedom

And so for day 2601

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