This all must be recalled, recovered, and relearned.
I remember how once I met
a compiler of words
in the ancient tongue that I had learned
Turned out, I knew two words: ‘heavens’ and ‘apple’.
I might have recalled the rest –
All beneath the heavens and beside the apples –
But the need wasn’t there.
by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
translated by Marat Grinberg and Judith Pulman
Interesting information: Slutsky was a atheist but he didn’t forget his cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. He had to ‘relearn solitude’ due to the death of his wife Tanya in 1977. For the following three months, before he fell into a depressed silence for the last nine years of his life during which he wrote nothing, he produced some of the most highly regarded poems on the themes of love and mourning in the Russian language.
of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.
Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,
behind everyone there’s someone to understand
and support him – the assurance of a living wall
of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;
the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,
but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.
And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite
alone and that my destiny is always to fight
beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,
abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,
I blow with all my strength on my horn and send
its cry into the distance in search of a friend.
And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all
alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!
by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
translated by Stephen Capus
Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.
Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.