Ian Probstein has a post at Jacket2 presenting Mandelstam’s notorious “Stalin Epigram” in the original Russian and three translations, including his own, and discussing various aspects of the poem and problems of rendering it into English verse, which of course is intensely interesting to me. We discussed the poem a few years ago, but only in the context of the nonce-word бабачит [babachit]; Probstein goes into other aspects, like the allusions at the start:
The idiomatic tone is set in the very first two lines in which Mandelstam coins idioms of his own: “not to feel the country” deconstructing two well-known idioms: “nog pod soboi ne chuyat’”: to be running very fast or to be flying, often to be beside oneself with joy (literally not to feel one’s feet), but also: to be run off one’s feet, to be extremely exhausted; however, Mandelstam creates a new meaning implying “running without looking back from fear” and “being deaf and dumb” since the Russian “chuyat’” also means “to hear” and “to feel” […]
It’s well worth a read, but I have a couple of cavils. He’s wrong to say McDuff’s “thick-skinned” is a mistranslation of тонкошеих — McDuff is actually (for whatever reason) working from the variant толстокожих (scroll down on this page to “8. А вокруг него сброд толстокожих вождей”). And while his complaints about the other translations are often well taken, his is no better, and I find his last line (“His broad chest of Ossete eclipses the jail”) quite silly. Of course, I myself wouldn’t even attempt to translate the poem, so perhaps I shouldn’t throw stones.