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.

.

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.

.

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.

.

.

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1923)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

.

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.

.

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.

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.

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