“So to reach his lips and bed…” – M. Tsvetaeva

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,
Wedding coach-and-fours.
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.

To Tamara Karsavina – A. Akhmatova

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 47/?
I love my second-rank Silver Agers. Really, I do. I love reading their poetry and finding out about the dramas of their fascinating interlaced lives against the background of a dying autocracy and a rising revolution in both governments and societies. They were many. They loved and believed and were passionate and they deserve to be known.
But it takes picking up a random eight-line poem on Wikisource to make it clear that the reason that even the quiz bowl aficionados among you, dear friends, have not heard of them and have heard of Anna Akhmatova — is that Anna Andreevna Akhmatova really was frickin’ good, as they say about Shakespeare, despite all the people who say she is frickin’ good.
Her dedicatee here, Tamara Karsavina (1885-1978), was the principal dancer of Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, and previously of the Imperial Russian Ballet. She pioneered the leading roles in Petroushka and The Firebird. Later, she would emigrate to England and help found the Royal Ballet and the Royal Academy of Dance. 

To Tamara Karsavina

Your light dance, you are like a song composing —
It told us of glory high —
And on your pale cheeks your blush grows more rosy
And darker and darker your eye

And more and more captives with every minute
Forget their own lives mundane,
And in the sounds of the sacred, in it,
Your supple form bends again.

Anna Akhmatova, March 26, 1914; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 9, 2019.

“Thunder coming…” – M. Lokhvitskaya

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

“It’s not your love I’m asking for…” – A. Akhmatova

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 41/?
 
I am not so satisfied with this one, but today was a day I felt I had to get something done, and didn’t have the energy to do anything else I had planned, so I finished the partial translation I had sitting in my drafts folder for months.
 
Anna Akhmatova being spiteful.
 
***
 
It’s not your love I’m asking for.
It’s now locked up for safekeeping.
Believe that letters jealous, weeping,
I do not send to your bride’s door.
 
But take some wise advice of mine:
Let her read all my poetry;
Let her preserve portraits of me —
New bridegrooms are all so kind!
 
While those fool girls would rather claim
A full victorious sensation,
Than friendship’s sunlit conversations
Or memory of first tender days.
 
Then when you spend the farthing’s worth
Of joy given with your little dear
And to a soul once filled with mirth
Suddenly all so dull appears —
 
Then don’t come to my festive night.
I know not you nor your appeal.
How could I help, in any right?
Of happiness, I do not heal.
 
Anna Akhmatova, 1914; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, 2016-January 2017.

“You who’d stayed in my beggar soul…” – K. Pavlova

Russian Golden Age and Romantic poetry translation series, 9/?

I introduced Karolina Pavlova to this series a few days ago, telling about the harassment she faced as a woman writing poetry in Russia in the nineteenth century. She finally left Russia and settled in Derpt — what is now Tartu in modern-day Estonia. This poem expresses her feelings, powerful but mixed, once she settled in her new city and felt free to write poetry again.

***
Salut, salut, consolatrice!
Ouvre tes bras, je viens chanter.
—Musset

You who’d stayed in my beggar soul,
Hail to thee now, my poor rhyme!
My bright ray over ash and coals
Left from my sweet and joyful time!
The one that even the desecration
Of all shrines could not ravage through.
My curse! My riches! My vocation!
The sacred work I’m called to do —

Awake, arise, o word unspoken!
Sound once again from my sealed lips!
Descend down to your chosen token
Again, my fateful tragic bliss!
Still with your hand the mad complaining
And doom again my heart entire
To boundless suffering and pain, and
To endless love, endless desire!

Karolina Pavlova, February 1854, Tartu (Estonia); Translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, October 2016

“Don’t go with dull tread…” – K. Pavlova

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

At Evening – A. Akhmatova

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.

At Evening

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,
October 2016.