Bizet – I. Severyanin

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 53/?

This is another one from Igor Severyanin’s “Medallions” collection of sonnets on famous people. I tried to emulate the repeated words in the original. The homage to “Sailing to Byzantium” in the first line, though, is not in the original, but I couldn’t resist. 


This is a country for pearl fishers here
For each bar has a triple pearly shine
At times, my ear’s disarmed by rosy line,
At time, black spreads its power over my ear,
Or grey would cut at times, so piercing clear
It sickens the ear, making it sweetly pine,
It warms us, so we need it, gift-refined
Fire rising through the windy atmosphere.

There was a day when crowds jeered, whistling, wagging,
Now granite for a pedestal they’re dragging —
What does an author care what changes hold?
Dearer than all gone days, I trust there will be
The day the universe’s youth all thrilled be
To Carmen’s song, a thousand years old!

Igor Severyanin, 1926; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 19, 2019.

Beethoven – I. Severyanin

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 51/?

In 1934, Igor Severyanin published a collection called “Medallions,” which was sonnets dedicated to people. These ranged from heroes of bygone ages, to great men and women, to his contemporaries including those he knew personally, like Bryusov, Blok, and Akhmatova. Some of them are not sonnets of praise; the one to Boris Pasternak is hilariously scathing, and the one to Arthur Conan Doyle has a fair criticism. Which I hope to get to some time.

But I will start with Beethoven. In the first verse, the easy way into the translation would be to rhyme “moon” and “tune.” That would have been the easy way. I was repelled by the easy way. The pun on “scores” is not in the original, but I had to make it more challenging for myself, too.


Embodying the disembodied all
In sonatas to the silver moonlight pure,
You, lone, found an eternal tune secure
In the measureless losses of the soul,
Frozen in foam of the Ninth wave’s roll
Eternally thus now you shall endure
As monument to those winged for sure
Whose spirit rushes beyond mind’s control.

You crafted Egmont and wrought Leonore,
Now ripe to praise you are the human scores
Crawling from holes of vanity mundane.
Upon your light, they goggle their eyes blind.
The world is with you. In return, in kind,
Your deafness rings, contemptuous in vain.

Igor Severyanin, 1927; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 13, 2019.

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.