“I like it that your fever isn’t me…” – M. Tsvetaeva

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 32/?

So it has been over a month of these, and this will be the last one for a while. I am not replacing the question mark with a number, as I will certainly keep doing them — I feel that permanently quitting translating poetry would be as difficult at this point as forgetting the languages I use every day. But they will be an occasional thing rather than a daily thing. Even though actually pulling together eight lines of verse generally takes me about ten minutes and can be done late in the evening, I’ve found that they still use up my creativity for the day, and in this month, I haven’t made any significant progress on my fiction or other artistic pursuits.

For some stats: there are 32 poems, counting this one, representing 15 poets. Five of the poets are women (Akhmatova, Tsvetaeva, Gippius, Kuzmina-Karavaeva, Lokhvitskaya), with 11 poems by them. I wish I had more, but five women poets is still more than the average Russian can name from the Silver Age. The most poems are by Blok and Tsvetaeva, each with four. Gumilev and Akhmatova each have three. There are two Futurists (Mayakovsky and Khlebnikov), one Imaginist (Esenin), five Acmeists (Gumilev, Gorodetsky, Akhmatova, Kuzmina-Karavaeva, Mandelstam), six Symbolists (Blok, Balmont, Voloshin, Lokhvitskaya, Gippius, Merezhkovsky) and Tsvetaeva who didn’t really adhere herself to a movement to my knowledge.

For a fitting finale to this stage of the project, I decided to go for what is almost certainly Marina Tsvetaeva’s best-known poem. This is mainly because its first and third verses were set to music by M. Tariverdiev and performed in the 1976 film “The Irony of Fate (or, Enjoy Your Bath)” directed by Eldar Ryazanov, that has been a New Year’s tradition for Russian and Soviet citizens for nearly forty years now.

There were many years when I deeply related to the sentiment in the verses. When I first tried translating it in 2006, it was as a loose translation of just the song. To fit it into this project, I took in the second verse, and polished and tweaked the others, taking a few more liberties with the translation than I normally do. Doubtless people have translated the poem/song before. This version is mine.

* * *

I like it that your fever isn’t me.
I like it that my fever isn’t you.
That all this heavy earth spins suddenly
Beneath the feet of — not us two.
I like that I can be open and free,
Not play with words, and not avoid what’s true,
And that I do not blush with crimson hue
When your sleeve touches mine unexpectedly.

I also like that right before my eyes
Another one you’d calmly be embracing,
And you don’t wish for hellfire to rise
On me if it’s not you I kiss the face of.
That my sweet name, my sweet, not night nor day,
You call in vain or whisper to me, “Do you…”
That in church silence they will never say
Above our joining hands a hallelujah…

With all my heart and hand I’m thanking you
That you, if to yourself unknowingly,
Love me so much; for peace the whole night through,
For trysts at dusk being a rarity,
For not-walks in not-moonlight by us two,
That not beyond our heads the sun we’ll see…
Because my fever is, alas, not you,
Because your fever is, alas, not me.

Marina Tsvetaeva, May 3, 1915;
translation by me, March 2006-August 2016


One thought on ““I like it that your fever isn’t me…” – M. Tsvetaeva

  1. Here is (of course!) the musical setting by Mikael Tariverdiev. The actors on the screen, from “The Irony of Fate” (Mosfilm, directed by Eldar Ryazanov, 1976) are Andrey Myagkov and the great Polish actress Barbara Brylska. Brylska’s singing voice was dubbed by possibly the greatest female pop singer of the Soviet era, Alla Pugacheva.


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