I Was Washing At Night Out In The Yard by Osip Mandelstam

I was washing at night out in the yard,

the heavens glowing with rough stars,

a star-beam like salt upon an axe,

the water butt cold and brim full.

 

A padlock makes the gate secure,

and conscience gives sternness to the earth –

hard to find a standard anywhere

purer than the truth of new-made cloth.

 

A star melts in the water butt like salt,

cold water in the butt is blacker still,

death is more pure, disaster saltier

and earth more truthful and more terrible.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(Tbilisi, 1921)

translated by Peter France


 

A poem written in respone to the news of Nikolay Gumilyov‘s execution.

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I Went Out In The Clear Air by Varlam Shalamov

I went out in the clear air

and raised my eyes to the heavens

to understand our stars

and their January brilliance.

 

I found the key to the riddle;

I grasped the heiroglyph’s secret;

I carried into our own tongue

the work of the star-poet.

 

I recorded all this on a stump,

on frozen bark,

since I had no paper with me

in that January dark.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me

 

will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.

 

How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).

 

How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?

 

‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?

 

More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?

 

How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?

 

How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?

 

How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of

 

plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?

 

Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth

 

sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1924)

translated by Elaine Feinstein


 

The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube:

To Vyazemsky by Alexander Pushkin

It seems the sea, that scourge of ages,

contrives your genius to inspire?

You laud upon your golden lyre

old Neptune’s trident as he rages.

 

Don’t waste your praise. These days you’ll find

that sea and land have no division.

On any element mankind

is tyrant, traitor, or in prison.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1826)

translated by  Alan Myers


 

The poem is addressed to Pushkin’s close friend and poetic contemporary Prince Pyotr Andreyevich Vyazemsky who was a leading personality of the Golden Age of Russian poetry.

The Sixth Sense by Nikolay Gumilyov

Good is the wine that is in love with us,

and good is bread, our generous friend;

and good the woman who brings us torment

yet yields her sweetness to us in the end.

 

But what are we to do with sunset fires?

With joys that can’t be eaten, drunk or kissed?

And what are we to do with deathless verse?

We stand and watch – as mysteries slip past.

 

Just as some boy too young to know of love

will leave his play to gaze, his heart on fire,

at maidens swimming in a lake, and gaze

and gaze, tormented by obscure desire;

 

or as within the gloom of ancient jungle

some earthbound beast once slithered from its lair

with wing buds on its back, still tightly closed,

and let out cries of impotent despair;

 

so year on year – how long, Lord, must we wait? –

beneath the surgeon’s knife of art and nature,

our flesh is wasted and our spirit howls

as one more sense moves slowly to creation.

 

by Николай Степанович Гумилёв (Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov)

(1920)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

An influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He cofounded the Acmeist movement and was Anna Akhmatova’s husband who was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

In A Restaurant by Alexander Blok

Will I ever forget it, that mythical night:

in the blaze of the setting sun

an abyss divided the sky in two

and the street lamps came on one by one.

 

I sat in a crowd by the window while somewhere

an orchestra sang about love;

I sent you a rose in a glass of champagne

as gold as the heavens above.

 

Returning your arrogant look with a mixture

of pride and confusion, I bowed;

with studied disdain you turned to your escort:

‘That one, too, is in love with me now.’

 

All at once the ecstatic strings thundered out

in response… But still I could see

from your show of contempt, from the tremor that shook

your hand, that your thoughts were with me.

 

You jumped up from your place with the speed of a bird

that’s been startled; your languid perfume,

the swirl of your dress as you passed, died away

like a vision that’s over too soon.

 

But out of its depths a mirror reflected

your glance as you cried: ‘Now’s your chance!’

And a gypsy, jangled her beads, sang of love

to the dawn and started to dance.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1910)

translated by Stephen Capus

Welsh Lanscape by R. S. Thomas

To live in Wales is to be conscious

At dusk of the spilled blood

That went to the making of the wild sky,

Dyeing the immaculate rivers

In all their courses.

It is to be aware,

Above the noisy tractor

And the hum of the machine

Of strife in the strung woods,

Vibrant with sped arrows.

You cannot live in the present,

At least not in Wales.

There is the language for instance,

The soft consonants

Strange to the ear.

There are cries in the dark at night

As owls answer the moon,

And thick ambush of shadows,

Hushed at the field’s corners.

There is no present in Wales,

And no future;

There is only the past,

Brittle with relics,

Wind-bitten towers and castles

With sham ghosts;

Mouldering quarries and mines;

And an impotent people,

Sick with inbreeding,

Worrying the carcase of an old song.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from An Acre of Land (1952)