Cирена (Siren) by Anna Prismanova

In that land we tried to speak
of thirst, unquenchable thirst,
of a mournful cry that pierced us in the dark
and was halted in mid-flight.

But in the silence there reaches out for us
a steamboat’s cry, the crying of its soul,
it pulls us in, inviting and in parting,
as it sails into the age-old twilight.

This high-flown, antediluvian howl,
that the head and insides both absorb,
that even soaks into the legs –
is the union of peace and anxiety.

The steamboat sails off into the darkness and the night.
But it’s as if the siren’s wail died long ago.
As in the time of crusades when knights
were blessed on their way by ringing church bells.

And we, my dear, will leave like this, exactly,
having spent our last small ounce of arrogance,
we’ll leave – moving restlessly into the night,
we’ll have taken little and won’t have weighed the consequences.

The siren awaits us at the end of the earth,
and I know already the torment that she bears:
she wants us all to follow in her footsteps,
and wishes too we’d leave her all alone.

And so the steamboat howls, and howls the darkness.
I’ve not the strength to counteract these howls.
It’s possible that I myself am howling
inside the funnel of just a boat as this.

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(Date unknown – before 1953)
translated by Bradley Jordan
from the poetry collection Трубы (Trumpets/Tubes/Pipes)

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Additional information: There is a dedication in the Russian version, ‘В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому‘, omitted from the translation. This refers to Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891 -1966) who was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright.

I am unsure of the exact date of the poem but a Russian website listing the poetry collection it is from has an end note stating “The poem was included in the anthology In the West: An Anthology of Russian Foreign Poetry. Comp. Y.P.Ivask. New York. Ed. Chekhov. 1953. p. 226.” which refers to the book published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry).

Prismanova is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femininity in her poetry.

Prismanova’s origins and early life are obscure. She appears in emigration in Paris in the mid-1920s, and her first published collection, Ten’ itelo (Shadow and Body) (1937), contains poems beginning in 1929. She and her poet husband, Aleksandr Ginger, remained in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Responding to the wave of patriotic feeling and longing for Russia that appeared among emigres after the war, they both accepted Soviet passports, though they continued to live in Paris.

Prismanova was best known in the emigre world for intimate lyrics that manifest her spiritual searching for real truth in herself, in language, and in literary form. Prismanova’s poem “Vera” (1960), about the heroic, revolutionary populist Vera Figner (1852-1942), amazed readers by its portrait of a figure so unlike the poet and her intimate lyrical themes. Overshadowed by the more vocal figures of emigration, she was nevertheless a highly intelligent, subtle, and sensitive poet.

Biographical information about Prismanova, p.342-343, ‘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.

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Cирена

В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому
Cтаpалиcь мы cказать на cей земле
о жажде и ее неутоленьи,
о кpике cкоpби, pвущем наc во мгле
и оcтановленном в cвоем cтpемленьи.
Но нам навcтpечу тянетcя в тиши
влекущий наc, пpизывный и пpощальный,
кpик паpоxода, кpик его души,
уже плывущей в cумpак изначальный.
Вбираемый нутpом и головой,
пpоcачивающийcя даже в ноги,
cей выcпpенний и допотопный вой
cлияние покоя и тpевоги.
Во мглу и в ночь уxодит паpоxод.
Но cтон cиpены как бы замеp в оном.
Так pыцаpи в кpеcтовый шли поxод,
напутcтвуемые цеpковным звоном.
И мы, душа моя, вот так, точь-в-точь,
утpатив до конца оcтаток cпеcи,
уйдем – вдвигаяcь неотcтупно в ночь,
немного взяв и ничего не взвеcив.
Cиpена ждет наc на конце земли,
и знаю я – томленье в ней какое:
ей xочетcя и чтоб за нею шли,
и чтоб ее оcтавили в покое…
Так воет паpоxод, и воет тьма.
Пpотиводейcтвовать такому вою
не в cилаx я. Я, может быть, cама
в тpубе такого паpоxода вою.

Благословляю ежедневный труд… (I bless the daily labour) by Marina Tsvetaeva

I bless the daily labour of my hands,
I bless the sleep that nightly is my own.
The mercy of the Lord, the Lord’s commands,
The law of blessings and the law of stone.

My dusty purple, with its ragged seams…
My dusty staff, where all light’s rays are shed.
And also, Lord, I bless the peace
In others’ houses – others’ ovens’ bread.

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(21 May 1918)
from Bon-Voyages (1921-22)
translated by David McDuff

The poem recited in Russian by Anna Smirnova

Благословляю ежедневный труд

Благословляю ежедневный труд,
Благословляю еженощный сон.
Господню милость и Господень суд,
Благой закон – и каменный закон.

И пыльный пурпур свой, где столько дыр,
И пыльный посох свой, где все лучи…
– Ещё, Господь, благословляю мир
В чужом дому – и хлеб в чужой печи.

Excerpt from Ученик (The Disciple) by Marina Tsvetaeva

2
There is a certain hour like a shed burden,
When in ourselves we tame our pride.
Hour of discipledom – in every lifetime
Triumphant, and not to be denied.

A lofty hour when, having laid our weapons
At feet shown to us by a pointing Hand,
We trade for camel hair our martial porphyry
Upon the sea’s expanse of sand.

O this hour, like the Voice that raises
Us to greater deeds from the self-will of days!
O hour, when our dense volume presses on us
We bow to earth like the ripe ears of maize.

The ears have grown, the festive hour is over,
The grain is longing for the grinding mill.
The Law! The Law! The yoke which in the earth’s womb
I lust after still.

Hour of discipledom. But visible’s
Another light – yet one more dawn has glowed.
Be blessed, and follow in its steps,
You, sovereign hour of solitude.

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(15 April 1921)
from Ремесло (The Craft) (1923)
translated by David McDuff

Information: The cycle is dedicated to Prince Serge Wolkonsky, also referred to as Sergei Mikhailovitch Volkonsky (Серге́й Миха́йлович Волко́нский), who was the grandson of the Decemberist Sergei Volkonsky. Serge was a theatre figure and writer whom Tsvetaeva met in Moscow in 1919, and in 1921 “rewrote him cleanly – out of pure delight and gratitude – his manuscript … and she didn’t write a line of hers, and I didn’t have time, and suddenly she broke through the Apprentice.” Tsvetaeva‘s friendly relationship with Volkonsky continued abroad for many years.

Beneath is the original form of the poem in Cyrillic. It is the second part of the poem series Ученик which can be translated as ‘apprentice’, ‘disciple’, ‘pupil’ or ‘learner’:

Ученик

2

Есть некий час…

Тютчев.

Есть некий час — как сброшенная клажа:
Когда в себе гордыню укротим.
Час ученичества, он в жизни каждой
Торжественно-неотвратим.

Высокий час, когда, сложив оружье
К ногам указанного нам — Перстом,
Мы пурпур Воина на мех верблюжий
Сменяем на песке морском.

О этот час, на подвиг нас — как Голос
Вздымающий из своеволья дней!
О этот час, когда как спелый колос
Мы клонимся от тяжести своей.

И колос взрос, и час весёлый пробил,
И жерновов возжаждало зерно.
Закон! Закон! Ещё в земной утробе
Мной вожделенное ярмо.

Час ученичества! Но зрим и ведом
Другой нам свет, — ещё заря зажглась.
Благословен ему грядущий следом
Ты — одиночества верховный час!

(15 апреля 1921)

Веселись, душа, пей и ешь! (Make merry, my soul…) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Веселись, душа, пей и ешь! (Make merry, my soul) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Make merry, my soul, drink and eat!
When my last hour goes
Stretch me so that my two feet
Cover four high roads.

Where, the empty fields across,
Wolves and ravens roam,
Over me make the shape of a cross,
Signpost looming alone.

In the night I have never shunned
Places accursed and blamed.
High above me you shall stand,
Cross without a name.

More than one of you was drunk, full-fed
On me, companions, friends.
Cover me over to my head
Tall weeds of the fens.

Do not light a candle for me
In the church’s depth.
I don’t want eternal memory
On my native earth.

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by Марина Ивановна Цветаева
(Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
(4 April 1916)
from Bon-Voyages (1921-22)
translated by David McDuff

Beneath is the original form of the poem in Cyrillic.

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Веселись, душа, пей и ешь!

Веселись, душа, пей и ешь!
А настанет срок –
Положите меня промеж
Четырех дорог.

Там где во поле, во пустом
Воронье да волк,
Становись надо мной крестом,
Раздорожный столб!

Не чуралася я в ночи
Окаянных мест.
Высоко надо мной торчи,
Безымянный крест.

Не один из вас, други, мной
Был и сыт и пьян.
С головою меня укрой,
Полевой бурьян!

Не запаливайте свечу
Во церковной мгле.
Вечной памяти не хочу
На родной земле.

Папиросники (Cigarette Pedlars) by Sergey Yesenin

Avenues so wretched,

snowbanks, bitter frost.

Desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

Wandering dirty avenues,

enjoying evil games –

all of them are pickpockets,

all are jolly thieves.

That bunch takes Nikitskaya,

this – Tverskaya Square.

They stand, sombrely whistling,

the livelong day out there.

They dash to all the barrooms

and, with some time to spare,

they pore over Pinkerton

out loud over a beer.

Let the beer be bitter –

beer or not, they’re soused.

All rave about New York,

all dream of San Frantsisk…

Then again, so wretchedly,

they walk out in the frost –

desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

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by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1923)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

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A recital of the poem by the actor Кирилл Радциг (Kirill Radzig).

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic:

Папиросники

Улицы печальные,
Сугробы да мороз.
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.
Грязных улиц странники
В забаве злой игры,
Все они — карманники,
Веселые воры.
Тех площадь — на Никитской,
А этих — на Тверской.
Стоят с тоскливым свистом
Они там день-деньской.
Снуют по всем притонам
И, улучив досуг,
Читают Пинкертона
За кружкой пива вслух.
Пускай от пива горько,
Они без пива — вдрызг.
Все бредят Нью-Йорком,
Всех тянет в Сан-Франциск.
Потом опять печально
Выходят на мороз
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.

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Information:

Nikitskaya is a radial street that runs west from Mokhovaya Street to Garden Ring in Moscow, between Vozdvizhenka Street (south) and Tverskaya Street (north).

Tverskaya Square is a square in Central Administrative Okrug in Moscow. Belorussky railway station faces the square. The streets which terminate at the square are, in counterclockwise order, Leningradsky Avenue, Gruzinsky Val, 2nd Brestskaya Street, 1st Brestskaya Street, 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street, Lesnaya Street, and Butyrsky Val.

Pinkerton likely references to Allan J. Pinkerton (25 August 1819 – 1 July 1884) who was a Scottish–American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He produced numerous popular detective books, ostensibly based on his own exploits and those of his agents. Some were published after his death, and they are considered to have been more motivated by a desire to promote his detective agency than a literary endeavour. Most historians believe that Allan Pinkerton hired ghostwriters, but the books nonetheless bear his name and no doubt reflect his views.