stop 2 - Five Corners


"In the park lived two streetcars:
Klik and Tram.
They’d go out together at the
Crack of dawn."

During the period of what was otherwise the silence in his poetry writing, Osip Mandelshtam, beset with financial worries, published some collections of verse for children, amongst them the poem "Two Streetcars" ("Dva tramvaia", 1925). The poem describes the daily travails of two friendly streetcars, Klik and Tram, who wake at the tram-park before being separated for a day of plying the rails of their respective routes.

Despite their differences—weary, hapless Klik and boisterous Tram—the streetcars are happy to be reunited as their routes eventually intersect… These children’s poems are just one example of the anthropomorphized tram. Petersburg’s trams bore different coloured lights which distinguished each route; these, in particular, seemed to play on the imagination—endowing the street cars with an identity, and with eyesight.

"He forgot his number—not five or three...
Kiddies and cabbies laugh at Klik:
'There goes a sleepy tram—see!'
'Oh tell me, conductor; driver, tell me,
Where's my cousin, Tram?
I always recognize him by his eyes,
His red platform and his hunch-back.'"

Cover of the book Two Streetcars (Leningrad: GIZ, 1925). Illustrations by B. Ender.

"The street began where Five Corners met.
And at her end, great parks are set.
She's trampled all over by horses,
And well-trodden down by people,
She sends te silvery rails forward.
No sign of Klik there's been: isn't he running?
Who's that with lamps looking into the dark?
It’s Klik: he's halted on the bridge,
His colored lights are watering."

Another group of poems under the title "Tramvai" was published in 1926. One child who enjoyed them was Irina Punina, the daughter of Nikolai Punin (Anna Akhmatova's former husband) and Anna Arens-Punina, whom Mandelshtam visited in the house on the Fontanka, which Akhmatova too was to occupy. In a letter to his wife from February 1926 Mandelshtam wrote:

"Today I had lunch at the Punins. Their little girl, Irina, was there—wonderfully honest and good-natured. She read Tram, putting it into prose. And drew marvellously. The Rybakovs are offering 200 roubles. If Priboi [the publishers] delay, then I’ll take it, or maybe I'll get by. For the time being I don't owe anyone a kopeck."

The account of the child’s pleasure in illustrating and re-telling the "Tramvai" poems sits incongruously next to the poet’s ongoing worries about money and debts.

Klik and Tram. Note the lights-as-eyes on their little faces...