Distances divide, exclude us [Extract from a poem addressed to Pasternak] by Marina Tsvetaeva

Distances divide, exclude us.

They’ve dis-weilded and dis-glued us.

Despatched, disposed of, dis-inclusion –

they never knew this meant fusion

of elbow grease and inspiration.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1925)

translated by Peter Oram

Interesting addition: Throughout much of 1926 Tsvetaeva kept up and intense correspondence with Rainer Maria Rilke and Boris Pasternak. The above poem was sent to Pasternak while Tsvetaeva was in exile and had moved from Prague to Paris thus increasing her distance from her homeland. She grew increasingly isolated amongst the other emigre community as she had praised the works of Mayakovsky which got her mistakenly branded as endorising the Soviet system which eventually led the editors of the important journal The Latest News to stop publishing her works which, via her literary earnings, had allowed her to support her family through her contributions.

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Роландов рог (Roland’s Horn) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight

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)

(March 1921)

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.

And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version:

 

Роландов рог

Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…

За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,

Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!

Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.

Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,

Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —

Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.

И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!

 

A recital of the original Russian language version

‘Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail’ by Sergey Yesenin

Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail –

pounding on the rooftop, driving in white nails!

But me – I’m not frightened, and I know my fate:

my wastrel heart has nailed me to you – nailed us tight!

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1925)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

Маяковскому (To Mayakovsky) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Beyond the chimneys and steeples,

baptized by smoke and flame,

stamping-footed archangel,

down the decades I call your name!

 

Rock-steady or change-at-a-whim!

Coachman and stallion in one!

He snorts and spits into his palm –

chariot of glory, hold on!

 

Singer of city-square wonders,

I salute that arrogant tone

that rejected the brilliant diamond

for the sake of the ponderous stone.

 

I salute you, cobblestone-thunderer!

– see, he yawns, gives a wave, then he swings

himself back into harness, back under

the shafts, his archangelic wings.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(18 September 1921)

translated by Peter Oram


Fun facts: This poem is dedicated to Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky (Владимир Владимирович Маяковский) who was a Russian Soviet poet, playwright, artist, and actor.

During his early, pre-Revolution period leading into 1917, Mayakovsky became renowned as a prominent figure of the Russian Futurist movement. Though Mayakovsky’s work regularly demonstrated ideological and patriotic support for the ideology of the Communist Party and a strong admiration of Vladimir Lenin, Mayakovsky’s relationship with the Soviet state was always complex and often tumultuous. Mayakovsky often found himself engaged in confrontation with the increasing involvement of the Soviet State in cultural censorship and the development of the State doctrine of Socialist realism.  In 1930 Mayakovsky committed suicide. Even after death his relationship with the Soviet state remained unsteady. Though Mayakovsky had previously been harshly criticized by Soviet governmental bodies like the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers (RAPP), Joseph Stalin posthumously declared Mayakovsky “the best and the most talented poet of our Soviet epoch.”

 

Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Маяковскому

Превыше крестов и труб,
Крещенный в огне и дыме,
Архангел-тяжелоступ -
Здорово, в веках Владимир!

Он возчик и он же конь,
Он прихоть и он же право.
Вздохнул, поплевал в ладонь:
- Держись, ломовая слава!

Певец площадных чудес -
Здорово, гордец чумазый,
Что камнем — тяжеловес
Избрал, не прельщась алмазом.

Здорово, булыжный гром!
Зевнул, козырнул и снова
Оглоблей гребет — крылом
Архангела ломового.

18 сентября 1921 

‘Twilight was turning to darkness outside…’ by Vladislav Khodasevich

Twilight was turning to darkness outside.

Under the eaves a window banged wide.

 

A curtain was lifted, a light briefly shone,

a swift shadow fell down the wall and was gone.

 

Happy the man who falls head first to death:

at least for a moment his viewpoint is fresh.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn

‘Mist Climbs From The Lake’ by Sergey Yesenin

Mist climbs from the lake.

Fields bare after harvest.

Beyond blue hills

the sun rolls to its rest.

 

Splintered, deep in ruts,

the weary road thinks

it cannot be long now

till grey-haired winter.

 

In the misty, resonant grove

I watched yesterday

as a bay moon, like a foal,

harnessed herself to our sleigh.

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin) a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

Путем зерна (The Grain’s Path) by Vladislav Khodasevich

The sower walks down the even furrows;

his fathers all furrowed the path he follows.

 

The young seed glitters gold in his hand,

but it must fall into the black ground.

 

There, amid the tunnels of the blind worm,

it will die on its due day – and grow again.

 

So now my soul treads the path of the grain –

down into darkness – and spring’s return.

 

And you, my people, and you, my native land,

you will die and live, when the dark months end,

 

for we have been granted only this one truth:

whatever lives must follow the grain’s path.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler