The Russian equivalent of the story of the Gingerbread Man is Kolobok (Колобок). Literally, a kolobók is a small, round loaf of bread, but it’s indelibly associated with the story in which a fresh-baked kolobok runs away, evades a rabbit, wolf, and bear, but falls prey to a clever fox (you can see an illustrated version here). Mandelstam uses it as a symbol for the poetic word in his remarkable 1922 poem “Как растет хлебов опара.” I don’t understand the poem well enough to try discussing the whole thing (a literal translation is below the cut), but I wanted to point to the complex imagery of the third stanza, which centers on two bread-related words, припек [pripyok], which I translated “surplus” as a shortcut but which means ‘the excess weight of a baked loaf over the weight of the flour used to make it,’ and kolobok, the loaf that ran away. I’m not sure why time is a regal herdsboy or who the stale stepson of the ages is, but the image of the word as a baked cathedral with a magical surplus that has to be chased down is pretty amazing.
How the leavened dough of the loaves rises,
good-looking from the start,
and the housewifely soul
raves from the heat!
Like [Hagia] Sophias made of bread,
from the cherubim’s table
filled with round ardor.
By force or kindness
to lure out the wondrous surplus,
time—the regal herdsboy—
tries to catch the word-kolobok.
And the stale stepson of the ages
finds his place—
a drying-out makeweight
for loaves pulled out before.