“I’ve mixed up the cards in solitaire…” – M. Voloshin

Russian Silver Age poetry translations (occasional), 35/?

In his collection Years of Wandering, Maximilian Voloshin (the Symbolist who had fought a duel with Gumilev, discussed earlier in this series) had an eleven-poem cycle dedicated to the city of Paris — a city which he seemed to have had mixed feelings about. Starting in 1903 he was dividing his time between Russia and Paris, working with both French and Russian artists (among other things, he became initiated as a Freemason there) and sending articles and poetry to the Russian magazine Libra.

This is the last entry in that cycle, which opens with the title line in the original, but I found it worked better in English to swap the first two lines. I will keep the original opening line as a title, so future readers can track down the original more easily. I took a few liberties with the imagery of this translation in order to make it work better as a poem (and to have more recognizable place names to Anglophone readers: in the original, he uses “Monsalvat,” the name used in Wagner’s Parsifal, instead of Corbenic for the location of the Holy Grail, and specifically refers to the Meganom peninsula in the Crimea in the last verse).

My own feelings towards Paris are decidedly mixed as well.


“I’ve mixed up the cards in solitaire…”

Empty, dry is my wellspring tonight.
I’ve mixed up the cards in solitaire.
Île-de-France’s gardens hold my sight,
But my soul longs for the desert air.

Autumn strolls on the Versailles’ park trails,
Sunset sets afire the atmosphere.
Yet I dream of the Knights of the Grail
On Corbenic’s cliffs steep and severe.

Paris, I know and desire the power
Of nepenthe in your poisoned glasses!
But! My soul holds Crimea’s desert flowers,
Heat, and stones, and the drying grasses…

Maximilian Voloshin, 1909; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 2016.