Sonnet – A. Gertsyk

Russian Silver Age poetry translations (occasional), 38/?

Last Monday I introduced Adelaida Gertsyk to this series. Here is another interesting poem by her, just titled “Sonnet.” I don’t know whether it is referring to a specific person or event in Gertsyk’s life. She also turns out to have played a role in the life of Sophia Parnok, the poet we saw two days ago; it was at a party of Gertsyk’s that Parnok met Marina Tsvetaeva.

The sonnet is Petrarchan (8 + 6 lines, rather than the Shakespearean 4 + 4 + 4 + 2 which Pushkin later modified for the Onegin sonnet used for all stanzas of that novel), with the original rhyme scheme being ABBAABBA CCDEED. I couldn’t keep the eight lines consistent as just two rhyme endings, so I introduced a third, as well as tweaking a few constructions.


Measureless now is sorrow, good, and resignation.
Last night he told me, “Let’s again leave one another.
“We meet in lies. ‘Tis lie we’re like sister and brother.
With no forgetting, there’s but complication.”
Then up rose the familiar tormentation
As it pierced days and nights, again, again.
“I’m not yet free, the time has not come, then.
Maybe a year will bring the liberation…”

There are no years, few days left — he’d forgotten.
The last has come to this spirit downtrodden…
But then he suddenly knelt helpless by my feet
And his head touched my knees, as if in prayer.
And with no other words we long sat there
Blessing in silence this instant bittersweet.

Adelaida Gertsyk, April 1913, Moscow;
translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 2016.

“Here I kneel on the flagstones…” – A. Gertsyk

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series (occasional), 34/?

I first heard of Adelaida Gertsyk (1874-1925) through a dedication in Maximilian Voloshin’s poems. She had been a prominent female poet among the Symbolists, who often called her a “prophetess.” As well, she was a prominent translator, particularly of Friedrich Nietzsche, both his philosophical texts and his poetry. She also wrote a number of articles on child psychology.

Her husband, Dmitri Zhukovsky, whom she married in 1908, was also a translator of philosophy (and a biologist by education) and she helped him edit the journal “Questions in philosophy.” Together they hosted a prominent salon for literary and philosophical discussion in Moscow. (He was the son of the general Eugene Zhukovsky but seems to be no relation to the Golden Age poet and translator Vasily Zhukovsky (1783-1852), who bore that surname by adoption anyway.) Voloshin introduced Gertsyk to Marina Tsvetaeva when the former was 35 and the latter was 18, and Tsvetaeva described the meeting as as “We passionately became friends.”

After the Revolution, while living in Sudak in the Crimea, she was arrested and imprisoned for a few months. She described this in her memoir “Basement Essays,” which has been fully published only in Latvia. Most of her work is still unknown and unpublished in Russia.


Here I kneel on the flagstones as in bygone day.
I don’t know to whom or about what I pray.
With the power of fire, longing and entreating cry,
I’ll dissolve all the walls between “I” and “not-I.”
If there’s heaven in me — open, open your door!
If there’s fire in the dark — light and burn, I implore!
Joyful heaven’s encounters nearing I see.
This time’s world, how to name it? How to set it free?

Adelaida Gertsyk, 1907; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 2016