“Your opened hand, your tilted shoulder…” – M. Voloshin

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 23/?

We gradually shift from the theme of religion and myth to the theme of love, via a poem that incorporates both myths and love. 

Maximilian Voloshin (1877-1932) was a prominent member of the Symbolist circle. He finished his education as an autodidact after being expelled from Moscow University for “participation in unrest and student agitation.” He travelled Europe to study art (he was a notable landscape artist) and also participated in scientific expeditions to Central Asia. He had been both a Freemason and an Anthroposophist. During the Russian Civil War, while living in Koktebel in the Crimea, he used his house as a safehouse for the persecuted — first, the Reds from the Whites, then after the Reds gained power, the Whites from the Reds. 

This is a love poem that uses palmistry notions. To my knowledge, there is no Ring of Venus in the standard palmistry map of the hand, but there is a Girdle of Venus: a curved line under the middle and ring fingers, above the topmost of the major lines, the “Heart Line.” In a quaint 1930s palmistry book I read once, the presence of a Girdle of Venus on the subject’s hand is associated with…the authors hedged about it with horror and finally said that they might as well tell you, it’s “onanism.” Being a well-informed palmistry skeptic these days, I was amused to think this while translating this poem. To clarify, other sources do claim it’s more about sensuality. 


Your opened hand, your tilted shoulder…
Your face not yet to me defined,
Your Ring of Venus stood out bolder,
I knew the power in its line.

The way the Lines of Will divided
Told: you and I alike are strained.
Trapped in one ring, captive inside it
In the twin flows of the mundane.

And if we meet in fated chances
(Perhaps in thunder of the chase),
I’ll love you not for speech or glances
But for your pale palm’s fine trace.

Maximilian Voloshin December 3, 1910; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016