Отчаянье (Despair) by Andrey Bely

To Z. N. Gippius

Enough’s enough: don’t wait, don’t hope;
My wretched people, scatter!
Fall into space and shatter,
Year upon tormented year.

Beggarly, will-less age.
Permit me, oh my motherland,
To sob in your damp fatuous freedom
To weep amid your empty steppes: –

There along the hunching plain –
Where flocks of lush green oaks stand,
Rippling, raised up in a cone
To the swarthy leaden clouds above.

Where panic snarls across the steppe,
Rising like a one-armed bush,
And whistles loud into the wind
Through its ragged branches.

Where from the night there stare into my soul,
Looming over chains of hills,
The cruel yellow eyes
Of your mindless tavern lights –

Where the angry rut of deaths and plagues
And waves of sickness have passed by –
Hasten thither, Russia, disappear,
Be swallowed up in the abyss.

by Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely)
a.k.a. Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev)
(July 1908)
translated by Bernard Meares

Отчаянье

З. Н. Гиппиус

Довольно: не жди, не надейся –
Рассейся, мой бедный народ!
В пространство пади и разбейся
За годом мучительный год!

Века нищеты и безволья.
Позволь же, о родина мать,
В сырое, в пустое раздолье,
В раздолье твое прорыдать:–

Туда, на равнине горбатой,–
Где стая зеленых дубов
Волнуется купой подъятой,
В косматый свинец облаков,

Где по полю Оторопь рыщет,
Восстав сухоруким кустом,
И в ветер пронзительно свищет
Ветвистым своим лоскутом,

Где в душу мне смотрят из ночи,
Поднявшись над сетью бугров,
Жестокие, желтые очи
Безумных твоих кабаков,–

Туда,– где смертей и болезней
Лихая прошла колея,–
Исчезни в пространство, исчезни,
Россия, Россия моя!

Июль 1908

Additional information: Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev) better known by the pen name Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely or just Biely) was a Russian novelist, Symbolist poet, theorist and literary critic. He was a committed anthroposophist and follower of Rudolf Steiner. His novel Petersburg (1913/1922) was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as the third-greatest masterpiece of modernist literature. The Andrei Bely Prize (Премия Андрея Белого), one of the most important prizes in Russian literature, was named after him.

The poem is dedicated to Зинаида Николаевна Гиппиус (Zinaida Nikolayevna Gippius). a Russian poet, playwright, novelist, editor and religious thinker, one of the major figures in Russian symbolism. The story of her marriage to Dmitry Merezhkovsky, which lasted 52 years, is described in her unfinished book Dmitry Merezhkovsky (Paris, 1951; Moscow, 1991).

Bely, who changed his name from Bugayev, was a distinguished theorist and a leading writer in the Symbolist movement. The son of a professor of mathematics at Moscow University, he graduated there himself in mathematics in 1903. Bely’s intellectual interests ranged from mathematics to German philosophy and literature, to Dostoyevsky, to music, to the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner, to the mystical clash between Western civilization and the occult forced of the East. A disciple of both Nietzsche and the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, he was the author of the extraordinary, innovative novel Petersburg (which has been translated into many languages), numerous prose works, collections of poems, and a celebrated trilogy of memoirs that is a primary document of the intellectual life of the Silver Age. For his imaginative experimentation with the Russian language he is comparable only to James Joyce in English.

Without the impetuous, contradictory, provocative figure of Bely it would be impossible to imagine the intellectual atmosphere of the pre-Revolution times. Together with Aleksandr Blok he summoned the Revolution as a retribution for the collapsing tsarist regime; when it took place, he first perceived it as the beginning of the spiritual and religious renaissance of all humankind. He possessed an unusually brilliant gift for improvisation and innovation, but this led sometimes to a glibness in his writing. Most of Bely’s verse has not stood the test of time. In his sometimes childlike and naïve outbursts, combined capriciously with profound erudition, Bely was defenselessly sincere and appears like Pushkin’s (echoing Cervantes’s) “knight of sorrowful countenance” in the literature of his time.

Biographical information about Bely, p.89-90, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).

Русский ум (The Russian Mind) by Vyacheslav Ivanov

A capricious, avaricious mind –
Like fire, the Russian mind is dire:
Irrepressible, lucidity for hire,
So gay – and gloom will always find.

Like an undeviating needle,
It sees the pole in ripples and murky still;
From abstract daydreams in life’s cradle
It shows the course for timorous will.

The way an eagle sees through fog
It examines all the valley’s dust,
I will reflect sensibly about the earth
While bathing in dark mystical must.

by Вячеслав Иванович Иванов
(Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov)
(1890)
translated by Albert C. Todd

Русский ум

Своеначальный, жадный ум,-
Как пламень, русский ум опасен
Так он неудержим, так ясен,
Так весел он — и так угрюм.

Подобный стрелке неуклонной,
Он видит полюс в зыбь и муть,
Он в жизнь от грезы отвлеченной
Пугливой воле кажет путь.

Как чрез туманы взор орлиный
Обслеживает прах долины,
Он здраво мыслит о земле,
В мистической купаясь мгле.

A recital of the poem by Pavel Besedin which requires you to go to YouTube to hear.

Additional information: Vyacheslav Ivanovich Ivanov (Вячесла́в Ива́нович Ива́нов) who was born 28 February [O.S. 16 February] 1866 and died 16 July 1949 was a Russian poet and playwright associated with the Russian Symbolist movement. He was also a philosopher, translator, and literary critic.

Akhmatova had a dim view of him as, aside from trying to persuade her to leave her husband Nikolay Gumilyov, “…Akhmatova indignantly recalled that Ivanov would often weep as she recited her verse at the turreted house, but would later, “vehemently criticize,” the same poems at literary salons. Akhmatova would never forgive him for this. Her ultimate evaluation of her former patron was as follows, “Vyacheslav was neither grand nor magnificent (he thought this up himself) but a ‘catcher of men.'”

Extraordinarily erudite, Ivanov was educated in philology and history at the universities of Moscow, Berlin, and Paris. He wrote poems beginning in childhood and was first published in 1898. His first two collections, Kormchie zviozdy (Pilot Stars) (1903) and Prozrachnost’ (Transparence) (1904), were published while he was traveling in Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. He was immediately recognized as a leading Symbolist poet.

Ivanov’s poetry was majestic, solemn, and declamatory, more like the odes of the eighteenth century studded with erudite references to the classics. All of his writing was about art, whose purpose he saw as the creation of spiritual myths in a religious-mystical, collective activity.

Beginning in 1905 his apartment in St. Petersburg, known as “The Tower,” was the center of communication for poets, artists, scholars, and scientists, who met every Wednesday for their celebrated gathering. An insight into his worldview can be gained by realizing that during the worst times of the terrible upheaval of the Civil War he could be found working on his dissertation about the cult of Dionysus, which he defended in Baku in 1921.

In 1924 Ivanov emigrated to Rome, where he remained for the rest of his life, aloof and disengaged from émigré life and politics.

Biographical information about Ivanov, p.14, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).

‘She came in out of the frost’ by Alexander Blok

She came in out of the frost,
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and perfume
and resonant chatter
that did away with my last chance
of getting anywhere in my work.

Straightaway
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room

All this
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth
read aloud to her.

Barely had I reached
the earth’s bubbles
which never failed to entrance me
when I realized that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.

A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons,
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.


by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(1908)
translated by Robert Chandler

Additional information: ‘The earth’s bubbles’ in this poem references a line from Act I, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them.” which Banquo says to Macbeth when the witches disappear after their encounter. Between 1904 and 1905 Blok wrote a poem cycle he titled ‘Bubbles of the Earth’, incorporating motifs from folk magic. In 1907 he wrote of Shakespeare, ‘ I love him deeply; and perhaps, most deely of all – in the whole of world literature – Macbeth’.

Paolo and Francesca refers to the affair between Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, both of who were married, but fell in love nonetheless. Their tragic adulterous story was told by Dante in his Divine Comedy, Canto V of the Inferno, and was a popular subject with Victorian artists and sculptors, especially with followers of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, and with other writers.

‘To read only children’s tales…’ by Osip Mandelstam

To read only children’s tales

and look through a child’s eye;

to rise from grief and wave

big things goodbye.

 

Life has tired me to death;

life has no more to offer.

But I love my poor earth

since I know no other.

 

I swung in a faraway garden

on a plain plank swing;

I remember tall dark firs

in a feverish blur.

 

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

(1908)

translated by Robert Chandler

Заклятие смехом (Laugh Chant) by Velimir Khlebnikov

after Khlebnikov

Laugh away, laughing boys!

Laugh along, laughmen!

So they laugh their large laughter, they laugh aloud laughishly.

Laugh and be laughed at!

O the laughs of the overlaughed, laughfest of laughingstocks!

Laugh out uplaughingly the laugh of laughed laughterers!

Laughingly laughterize laughteroids, laughtereens, laughpots and laughlings…

Laugh away, laugh boys!

Laugh along, laughmen!

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1908)

translated by Christopher Reid


Fun fact: By playing with the word ‘смех‘ (smekh i.e. laughter) that Khlebnikov made his name. By adding different prefixes and suffixes, which are numerous in the Russian language, he created many neologisms such as смехач (smekhach i.e. ‘laugher’) which entered the Russian language.

Recital in the original Russian:

 

Original Russian Cyrillic text:

О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!
Что смеются смехами, что смеянствуют смеяльно,
О, засмейтесь усмеяльно!
О, рассмешищ надсмеяльных — смех усмейных смехачей!
О, иссмейся рассмеяльно, смех надсмейных смеячей!
Смейево, смейево!
Усмей, осмей, смешики, смешики!
Смеюнчики, смеюнчики.
О, рассмейтесь, смехачи!
О, засмейтесь, смехачи!