Dedication – Z. Gippius

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 20/?

Our second Gippius poem. When Zinaida Gippius published her first volume of poetry, in 1894, the first poem, “Dedication,” immediately caused a scandal. How dare this woman write “I love myself as I do God”?

All her life, Gippius was religious and devout, but in a strange, eccentric way, though in a different way than her profoundly mystical husband Dmitri Merezhkovsky. Many years later, the writer Teffi (of whom hopefully more anon) wrote about knowing Gippius in Paris that she had always gone to Catholic church, rather than the Orthodox one. She loved scandal, her contemporaries attest, and on being asked about that line and about her eccentric dress, replied that in those days, she liked pulling those kinds of provocative tricks.

She enjoyed being called “the White She-Devil.” On being asked whether she feared the Last Judgement, Gippius expressed extreme indignation. “I had never encountered such scorn for the afterlife from anyone,” Teffi observed. “She did not deny the existence of the afterlife, but that the Lord would dare judge Zinaida Gippius […] — that was absurd to even consider.”

(In the same reminiscence, Teffi notes that Gippius had a clear weakness for cute kitten pictures, which she desperately tried to conceal.)


The heavens are low and drear,
But my spirit is high, it’s known.
You and I are so strangely near,
And each of us is alone.

Pitiless is the path I have trod
And it leads me to death and the grave.
But I love myself as I do God,
And it’s love that my soul shall save.

And so if on my way I tire
And if pettily I complain,
If for joy I would dare desire,
And rebel against my own grain,

Do not leave me with no glance more,
In dull troubled days, do not leave.
Your weaker friend, I implore,
Console me, pity me, deceive.

As we both on to eastward go,
You and I are uniquely nigh.
The heavens are gloating low,
But I trust that our spirit is high.

Zinaida Gippius, March 1894; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016

Ears – Z. Gippius

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 13/?

Zinaida Gippius (1869-1945) is now less well-known, but in her time she was acclaimed — and controversial for her poetically-expressed views on both religion and sexuality. She was married to Dmitri Merezhkovsky from 1889 until his 1941 death, and theirs was one of the most creatively fruitful marriages in literature. (At first they tried to have a deal that she would write exclusively prose and he would write exclusively poetry — ignoring the fact that she was helping him translate Byron’s poems — but that collapsed once he wished to write a novel, and so she became free to write and publish her verse.) However, even as they were both part of the Symbolist movement, she did not always support some of his more outlandish spiritual ideas.
Like Balmont, Merezhkovsky and Gippius both were shaken by the events of the Revolution, and emigrated to Poland, then lived out their last years in France, where they published an anthology for poets rejected by censors.

I only became acquainted with Gippius’s work very recently, when I went looking for other Silver Age women poets than the all-dominating Akhmatova and Tsvetaeva, and this undated poem grabbed me with its very topical sarcasm. (She was known for her criticism and no tolerance for bullshit when she kept a salon for young poets in Russia.) 


“Who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

How mad, how childlike, how stubborn I had been!
I thought that we were all equal in rights and free,
All just because my hearing was clumsily over-keen
And heard steps from a land not ours and wouldn’t be.
But my rebellious spirit won’t revolt now and be shaken,
And now I am in mist and silence just like you.
Only a genius someday from sickbeds will awake us.
We’ll sleep until he comes. In sleep we’re right and true.
No struggle, and no pain… The way is clear and proud!
How near to me my friends since stone-deaf I walk!
We’ll trust only in one whose voice is strong and loud.
And if we hear a shout — even a crowing cock —
He’ll be who we await, we know,
And following the cock we’ll go.

Zinaida Gippius, Undated (circa early 1900s); translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016.