Dedication – Z. Gippius

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 20/?

Our second Gippius poem. When Zinaida Gippius published her first volume of poetry, in 1894, the first poem, “Dedication,” immediately caused a scandal. How dare this woman write “I love myself as I do God”?

All her life, Gippius was religious and devout, but in a strange, eccentric way, though in a different way than her profoundly mystical husband Dmitri Merezhkovsky. Many years later, the writer Teffi (of whom hopefully more anon) wrote about knowing Gippius in Paris that she had always gone to Catholic church, rather than the Orthodox one. She loved scandal, her contemporaries attest, and on being asked about that line and about her eccentric dress, replied that in those days, she liked pulling those kinds of provocative tricks.

She enjoyed being called “the White She-Devil.” On being asked whether she feared the Last Judgement, Gippius expressed extreme indignation. “I had never encountered such scorn for the afterlife from anyone,” Teffi observed. “She did not deny the existence of the afterlife, but that the Lord would dare judge Zinaida Gippius […] — that was absurd to even consider.”

(In the same reminiscence, Teffi notes that Gippius had a clear weakness for cute kitten pictures, which she desperately tried to conceal.)

Dedication

The heavens are low and drear,
But my spirit is high, it’s known.
You and I are so strangely near,
And each of us is alone.

Pitiless is the path I have trod
And it leads me to death and the grave.
But I love myself as I do God,
And it’s love that my soul shall save.

And so if on my way I tire
And if pettily I complain,
If for joy I would dare desire,
And rebel against my own grain,

Do not leave me with no glance more,
In dull troubled days, do not leave.
Your weaker friend, I implore,
Console me, pity me, deceive.

As we both on to eastward go,
You and I are uniquely nigh.
The heavens are gloating low,
But I trust that our spirit is high.

Zinaida Gippius, March 1894; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016

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