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.

“Oh, tiles that ring the air…” – A. Lozina-Lozinsky

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 46/?
Alexei Lozina-Lozinsky (lo-ZEEN-uh-lo-ZEEN-ski) (1886-1916) was a man with a deeply unfortunate life. The critic M. L. Gasparov described him as “someone who was less well-remembered by his contemporaries for his poetry than for his likeness and for his death, and was cleanly forgotten by their descendants. He worked out his original style, with its grim-disjoined bravado, only in the last years of his short life.”
 
Descended from the nobility of the Podolsky governorate, Alexei’s full legal surname was not just double-barrelled but quadruple-barrelled: Lubich-Yarmolovich-Lozina-Lozinsky. His mother died of typhus when he was two. At the age of nineteen, he lost his leg: while hunting, he carelessly tossed his loaded gun into a boat, and it discharged into his knee, destroying it and  leading to amputation. He was a student rebel who took part in revolutionary movements and was arrested three times. But he also struggled with depression, and twice attempted suicide by shooting himself in the chest.
 
His third suicide attempt, on November 5, 1916, was successful. He gave himself a fatal dose of morphine, and, accompanied by a volume of Paul Verlaine’s poetry, he took notes on his sensations until the very end. He was not yet thirty years old.
 
Probably due to the efforts of his brother Vladimir, a high-ranking priest (protoiereus) in the Russian Orthodox Church, who would later be canonized as a saint, he did receive a Christian burial. 
 
This short poem, written less than a year before his death, speaks of his depression, but also of the power of music. I took the liberty of using an eye-rhyme rather than a true rhyme in the last verse. 
* * *
Oh, tiles that ring the air
In that long moonlit hall!
I lay down dying there,
In a silent broken fall,
Severe so were the sounds
The darkened organ played,
So many the old wounds
I had as there I lay.
Alexei Lozina-Lozinsky, December 1915; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 9, 2019.

“We proudly despise those around…” – V. Bryusov

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 45/?
This is a short poem by Valery Bryusov, not included in any collection. I find the meter of the original a little off: seemingly amphibrachic trimeter, it faults that meter in the second, sixth and seventh lines. I have no idea whether this was intentional (as Bryusov was a good enough poet to be aware of it) or if this was a hastily written poem Bryusov meant to polish later, and did not.
 
I like its observations on human nature, though.
***
We proudly despise those around,
Our wishes are law on our side,
And we suffer torment without bound,
But love our torment in our pride
And if sacred urges beguile
Our heart to take part in their ploy,
We’re boundlessly joyful a while
And we feel ashamed of this joy.
Valery Bryusov, August 13, 1897; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 9, 2019.

Sea Roses – K. Balmont

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 44/?

I have just been picking poems by browsing through the Wikisource list of eight-line Russian poems, and stopping at ones that I both like and see a way into translating. (I admit that this is a creative outlet I can do in downtime at work when I am bored.) However, people will doubtless point out to me that the this is the third one in a row to mention or feature storms, on sea or land, and my subconscious is trying to tell me something.

I am not sure what. I do like Konstantin Balmont a lot, and I liked the central image of this poem.

Sea Roses

Sea roses are the whitest roses.
When gales toss the sea, they bloom
When furious breakers in opposing
Torture the turquoise with their boom

And beat and fling it up in rumbling,
Upset it with the thunder’s roars,
And with dead laughter, for a flash they bring
The splendour of a full white rose.

Konstantin Balmont, 1908; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 6, 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

Morning – A. Bely

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 42/?

I am resuming this, because I was reading Andrei Bely this morning, and wanted to translate one of his shorter works.

This requires a great many interpretation decisions on my part, as Russian can omit possessives when they are of inalienable possessions like body parts or relatives. So in English, I have to make clear that the narrator is talking about his own body and that he is the object of the verbs in the last line, something that most interpreters of this poem agree is the case — that it narrates a subjective experience of fever or madness — but it is not actually in the Russian words. I also added some internal rhymes to try to preserve at least some of the internal rhymes in the original.

Morning

Flashes swarming. It’s morning: again I am free and at will.
Open the curtains: in diamonds, in amber, in fire
Are crossed steeples uphill. Am I ill? Oh no, I am not ill.
All silvered my hands from death-bed rising mountains higher.

Yonder purple the dawns, there are storms, there is purple-born storming.
See me, catch this: I’m risen, see, risen I am from the dead.
My coffin will float away, gold in the gold-azure dawning…

They caught me, brought me down, and laid a cold cloth on my head.

Andrei Bely, 1907; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 3, 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.