Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 24/?
I mentioned Mirra Lokhvitskaya (1869-1905) before in connection to her correspondence with Konstantin Balmont. As much of her side of the conversation was destroyed, we know of their relationship through a series of poems they dedicated to each other. There was much speculation as to whether their relationship was sexual, but most reliable sources believe that it was platonic — despite the sensuality of her poems, Lokhviskaya lived a quiet life married to Eugene Gibert (a second-generation French immigrant who worked as a civil engineer) and raising five sons.
She was born Maria Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya, in a large family. Her younger sister Nadezhda would grow up to be the satirist and memoirist with the pseudonym Teffi, whom I have already mentioned in connection to her reminiscences of Zinaida Gippius. Apparently, all the children in the family wrote poetry but got mercilessly teased by each other for doing it; there are several conflicting stories that Maria took the pen name Mirra from a poem or poetic translation of her brother’s that was the object of family mockery.
In her heyday she was the first notable female Silver Age poet, paving the way for Anna Akhmatova and Maria Tsvetaeva. She was also among the most commercially successful poets of any gender: her collections sold well where most others’ sold poorly. Her contemporaries observe, though, that she was often underestimated because she was small and beautiful, so people didn’t notice anything other than her looks. Unfortunately, she died at the young age of 35, apparently of heart disease.
Most of her poems on Wikisource, though full of lyric imagery, are tricky to translate. She was fond of using very strictly formal verse, such as the triolet, which, like a villanelle, is structured around repeating lines; I would have a hard enough time composing one of those on any topic, much less convey the same meaning with one. This poem is thankfully simpler, and fits our mini-theme of love.
Some wait for joy, some seek ovations,
Some look for honours in the field,
Some yearn for mad gratification,
Some for reply to prayers appealed.
While I — all visions false, mistaken,
Like bygone dreams fever-distressed,
I’ll trade now for the bliss of waking,
Oh dear friend, upon your breast.
Mirra Lokhvitskaya, 1896—1898; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, August 2016.