To A Portrait – I. Severyanin

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 48/?

Igor Severyanin (1887-1941) is considered the principal founder of the Ego-Futurist movement of the Russian Silver Age of Poetry (a sub-branch of the Futurist movement, which was in response and later in parallel to the Symbolist and Acmeist movements, and which itself later influenced the Imaginist movement). Severyanin is a pseudonym, meaning “northerner”; his birth surname was Lotaryov.

The Ego-Futurists emphasized ostentatiousness and sensuality; perhaps Severyanin’s most famous poetic line is “Pineapples in champagne! Pineapples in champagne!” and he was notorious for giving readings in an overly dramatic manner, holding a white lily in his hand. (First, entire audience halls would be almost literally rolling with laughter; a year later, other halls would drink it in, in complete seriousness.)

This poem is fairly simple compared to some, but it was the first one I managed to crack of Severyanin’s, and it will do for a start. He was more interesting once his sensuality is understood to be veiled irony; many critics did not understand that. 

To A Portrait

You have what’s in no one, no one but you.
As but to yourself, you’re close to me, I find.
I did not taste your voice, but know it true.
I love you with all soul of my mind.

You are immortal, but living to me.
You’re dead, but it’s a death without a right.
Oh, through my self you did just barely see,
And I love without knowledge, without sight.

Igor Severyanin, October 1909; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 9-10, 2019.