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.

Epigram about Stalin [extract] by Osip Mandelstam

Horseshoe-heavy, he hurls his decrees low and high:

In the groin, in the forehead, the eyebrow, the eye.

Executions are what he likes best.

Broad is the highlander’s chest.

 

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

(Autumn, 1933)

translated by Alexandra Berlina


Interesting additon: In  the Autumn of 1933 Mandelstam composed an epigram about Stalin, which he performed at seven small gatherings in Moscow, which ends with the above lines. Mandelstam was arrested six months later but instead of being executed (by being shot) he was exiled to the Northern Urals. Why was this considering ‘executions’ are what [Stalin] loves best’? A cruel irony or possibly that this relative leniency was due to Stalin taking a personal interest in Mandelstam’s case and being concerned about his own place in Russian literary history? After Mandelstam’s attempted suicide the usual sentence was commuted to one of being banished from the largest cities in Russia. Mandelstam and his wife, Nadezhda, settled in Voronezh where he went on to write the three Voronezh Notebooks. In May 1938 he was arrested again and sentenced to five years in the Gulag. He died in a transit camp near Vladivostok on 27 December 1938.

‘It’s time my friends, it’s time. We long for peace’ by Alexander Pushkin

It’s time my friends, it’s time. We long for peace

of heart. But days chase days and every hour

gone by means one less hour to come. We live

our lives, dear friend, in hope of life, then die.

There is no happiness on earth, but peace

exists, and freedom too. Tired slave, I dream

of flight, of taking refuge in some far-

off home of quiet joys and honest labour.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1834)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘City of splendour, city of poor’ by Alexander Pushkin

City of splendour, city of poor,

spirit of grace and servitude,

heaven’s vault of palest lime,

boredom, granite, bitter cold –

still I miss you rather, for

down your streets from time to time

one may spy a tiny foot,

one may glimpse a lock of gold.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1828)

translated by Anthony Wood


Fun fact: Pushkin is most likely alluding to St Petersburg prior to his exile.

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

Предсказание (A Prophecy) by Mikhail Lermontov

A year will come – of Russia’s blackest dread;

then will the crown fall from the royal head,

the throne of tsars will perish in the mud,

the food of many will be death and blood;

both wife and babe will vainly seek the law:

it will not shield the victims any more;

the putrid, rotting plague will mow and cut

and boldly walk the road from hut to hut;

in people’s sight its pallid face will float,

and hunger’s hand will clutch them by the throat;

a scarlet sea will send its bloody surge;

a mighty man will suddenly emerge:

you’ll recognize the man, you’ll feel

that he has come to use a knife of steel;

oh, dreadful day! Your call, your groan, your prayer

will only make him laugh at your despair;

and everything in his forbidding sight –

his brow, his cloak – will fill the land with fright.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1830)

translated by Anatoly Liberman


Fun facts: He wrote this in 1830 and the irony hasn’t been lost on Russian people that less than a hundred years later Nikolai II would lose this throne and… well it’s hard not to immediately see Lermontov’s prophecy (though ‘prediction’ is the more direct translation of the Russian title) proved an all too accurate omen of events during the twentieth century during the Soviet era.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

Original Russian version:

Предсказание

Настанет год, России черный год,
Когда царей корона упадет;
Забудет чернь к ним прежнюю любовь,
И пища многих будет смерть и кровь;
Когда детей, когда невинных жен
Низвергнутый не защитит закон;
Когда чума от смрадных, мертвых тел
Начнет бродить среди печальных сел,
Чтобы платком из хижин вызывать,
И станет глад сей бедный край терзать;
И зарево окрасит волны рек:
В тот день явится мощный человек,
И ты его узнаешь — и поймешь,
Зачем в руке его булатный нож:
И горе для тебя! — твой плач, твой стон
Ему тогда покажется смешон;
И будет всё ужасно, мрачно в нем,
Как плащ его с возвышенным челом.

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 

‘Though we have parted, on my breast’ by Mikhail Lermontov

Though we have parted, on my breast

your likeness as of old I wear.

It brings my spirit joy and rest,

pale phantom of a happier year.

To other passions now I thrill,

yet cannot leave this love of mine.

A cast-down idol – god-like still,

a shrine abandoned, yet a shrine.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1837)

translated by Avril Pyman

‘I Go Outside To Find The Way…’ by Mikhail Lermontov

I go outside to find the way.

Through broken mist I glimpse a flinty path.

I am alone. This empty place hears God;

and stars converse with stars.

 

The heavens are a miracle

and pale blue sleep lies over all the earth.

What’s wrong with me? Why does life seem so hard?

Do I still cherish hope? Or hurt?

 

No, no, I have no expectations.

I’ve said goodbye to my past joys and griefs.

Freedom and peace are all I wish for now;

I seek oblivion and sleep.

 

But not the cold sleep of the grave –

my dream is of a sweeter sleep that will

allow life’s force to rest within a breast

that breathes, that still can rise and fall.

 

I wish a voice to sing all day

and night to me of love, and a dark tree,

an oak with spreading boughs, to still my sleep

with the green rustle of its leaves.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Robert Chandler