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,
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.
Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 37/?
Polixena (or Poliksena) Solovyova (1867-1924) had the misfortune to be born sister to the much more famous poet, philosopher and theologian Vladimir Solovyov, one of the central founders of 20th-century Russian Christian philosophy. Thus, the younger Symbolists venerated her poetry more because they saw her as her brother’s spiritual sister than for its own merit. She herself apparently saw at least her early publications, in the 1880s, as weak, and was much more prominent as an artist and illustrator. Review of her poetry were compassionate and its technical weaknesses, claims Wikipedia, were not much pointed out. The exception was Alexander Blok, who disliked her poetry and refused to review it.
From 1905 to 1912 she was editor of a children’s magazine and children’s publishing house with her lesbian lover, the children’s author Natalia Manaseina (ironically, Blok’s mother volunteered as proofreader for it). There she published her translation of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” one of the earliest translations into Russian (I have not yet read it). After the Revolution, for several years she worked as a librarian and translator in Koktebel in the Crimea. She remained with Manaseina until the end of her life.
This poem is addressed to Zinaida Gippius, whom we have already encountered in this series. I can see that the criticism of Solovyova’s general technical weaknesses would apply to its over-repetition in the original of the words “passion” (three times) and “death” (also three times; I replaced one of them with “mortal”). I still find it an interesting poem as another example of women’s poetry in the Silver Age. I unfortunately have not yet found out what Solovyova’s relationship was to Gippius in order to contextualize this poem further.
To Zinaida Gippius
The closer death breathes through its icy teeth,
The hotter scarlet kisses glow,
And in the graveside requiem, passion’s moans grow.
In earthly waters hardness gleams beneath.
And spring bloom would not draw such passioned breath
So sweetly, if that mortal stinging
Were not a threat to fruits autumn was bringing:
No passion without shade of death.
Polixena Solovyova, 1914; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya,
Russian Silver Age poetry translations (occasional), 36/?
Nowadays Sophia Parnok (1885-1933) is known best for being the lover of Marina Tsvetaeva from 1914 to 1916. But she was a poet, translator (from French) and highly respected literary critic in her own right, writing excellent criticism of the post-Symbolism poetic movements, without adhering to a movement herself. She concisely characterized the styles of Akhmatova and Mandelstam, but rejected acmeism as a school of thought. She also wrote libretti — she had been raised in a musical family. (Her brother Valentin Parnakh — they both changed the spelling of their Jewish last name, Parnokh, in different ways — as well as being a poet and playwright, is considered the introducer of jazz to the Soviet Union in the 1920s.)
She was married (with a wedding by Jewish rite) to the poet and dramatist Vladimir Volkenstein for two years, but afterwards turned her attention exclusively to women. According to a line in her English Wikipedia article sourced to Diana Burgin’s biography of her, “She also survived a train crash, owned a pet monkey, and was Russia’s first openly-lesbian poet… Parnok finally succumbed to her illness in 1933 with three of her lovers at her bedside. Her funeral procession of her friends and fans extended 75 kilometers outside of Moscow.” (Which I find lovely to contemplate but hard to believe — 75 km is pretty darned long.)
There are only four of her poems on Russian Wikisource, which bear the numbers they had in her collected poetry edition, presumably the one edited by Sophia Poliakova and published in Ann Arbor in 1979.
If you find out you’ve by stubborn friends been rejected,
If you find out that Cupid’s bow wasn’t so taut,
If unkissed lips had by another’s caress been affected,
And one laconic with you shares with others all thought…
If gardens have turned to desert through loss and privation —
Strike, still, with distracted fingers the lyre’s bright strings:
Poet, recall in your grief your fellow’s Latinate declaration:
“Swifter still pass days deceived by the lying that sings.”
Sophia Parnok, 1912; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 2016.