Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 49/?
We return to Marina Tsvetaeva today, as well as giving readers perhaps a pleasant break from the eight-line ABAB CDCD rhyme schemes that have been the form of the last few poems I’ve translated. This one is a very unusual structure: three-line verses, with two longer lines and a short one, but contrary to usual appearances of this form, the third line of each verse doesn’t rhyme. I flipped the mentions of “threshold” and “door” to make the rhymes work. It may have been a quick sketch, writing down the strange sensations of going to her lover past a church.
I can understand.
* * *
So to reach his lips and bed,
Past God’s Church all great and dread
I must go.
Past the black funeral hearses,
Angels set a seal forbidden
Laid across his doors.
So in dark of moon night, past
Guardians of iron cast,
Keen-eyed gates —
To a threshold singing loud
Through the haze of incense cloud
I must rush
As from age, all ages seeing,
Human beings to human beings
Rush past God.
Marina Tsvetaeva, August 15, 1916; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 10, 2019.
Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 43/?
I was looking through short poems on Wikisource today, and stumbled upon this one by Mirra Lokhvitskaya, whom I had translated before. (https://vardomskaya.com/2016/08/04/some-wait-for-joy-some-seek-ovations-m-lokhvitskaya/ ) Again, this is quick and sensual, but I love the details she describes, that a hundred and twenty years later still occur before summer storms.
Thunder coming soon! I know it
In the poplars’ quivering tight,
In the alleys’ stifling gloam,
In the heavy wet half-light,
In the strength of white-hot glows
Clouds conceal in the skies,
In the weary dragging closed
Of your so-beloved eyes.
1896-1898; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 5, 2019
Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translations, 3/?
I learned of the existence of Karolina Pavlova (1807-1893; nee Janisch) only four days ago, and immediately realized that there had been a gap in my life before. As a home-schooled child, she already knew four languages and helped her father, a professor of physics and chemistry, with astronomical observations — yet her husband squandered her inheritance and, after her marriage broke down, he was found with many banned books and scandalously exiled, to her shame. Her poetry was highly respected by A. K. Tolstoy, and Goethe approved her translations of his poetry when he saw it. But other contemporaries mocked and harassed a woman writing poetry so much that she was forced to leave the country, finally settling in Dresden and rarely visiting Russia.
It was Valery Bryusov (who has appeared in the Silver Age series) who drew attention to Pavlova’s works again and republished her poetry, so for a while her work influenced Silver Age Symbolism. However, she remains shamefully understudied. Even Wikisource has only a few of her poems entered, with many more as merely links under construction.
This poem caught my eye with its edged bite. For those who, like me, need to know the rhythm of a poem and may get disoriented without establishing it first, the way a musician may get disoriented not knowing where the tonic is — this is in iambic trimeter.
Don’t come with dull tread here
To that grave of fate’s resting
In which all life’s storm testing
Has silent now laid.
I’ll spurn your fruitless tears,
Your hymns and flower posies.
What use two tears, two roses
Now for a fleshless shade?
Karolina Pavlova, March 1851;
translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016
Russian Silver Age poetry translation series (occasional) – 40/?
Deciding to re-awaken this dormant series last night, with a short poem from Anna Akhmatova’s 1914 collection “The Rosary.” It took me some time to “wake up” the translation skills (which to me feel like a combination of writing poetry and solving sudoku or crosswords). I am still not quite happy with a few of the word choices I made while trying to keep the rhythm (and compromised the rhythm slightly — the middle lines of the first verse should have feminine rhymes). But Akhmatova’s poem captures a sentiment I’ve felt myself: “At last, for the first time, you are alone with the person you love” — and he turns out to be, well, not seeing you that way.
The music rang midst orchard trees,
Laced with such sorrow unreleased.
On ice-lined plates, a oyster feast
Smelled fresh and sharply of the seas.
He told me, “I’m a loyal friend!”
And touched my dress’s silk and lacing.
How little like any embracing
Is touch when coming from that hand.
So one pets kittens, or a bird,
So does one look at riders dashing.
Under the light gilt of his lashes
His calm eyes only laughter hold.
While fiddles sing their mournful tune
Past the smoke spreading on the ground:
“Bless and thank heavens for the boon –
Time with your love alone you’ve found.”
Anna Akhmatova, 1913; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya,