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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Rhyme [extract] by Yevgeny Baratynsky

You, like the faithful dove, bring back

a green branch to the waiting ark

and place it in his eager hand;

you only with your echoing voice

give inspiration a human face

and bring his dream to land.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1840-43)

translated by Peter France


Fun fact: This extract refers to Genesis 8:11 where a a dove was released by Noah after the flood in order to find land; it came back carrying a freshly plucked olive leaf – a sign of life after the Flood and of God’s bringing Noah, his family and the animals to land.

Муза (Muse) by Anna Akhmatova

I feel my life hang by a hair

as I wait at night for the Muse;

youth, freedom, fame melt into air

as my guest appears with her flute.

 

She enters, tosses back her shawl;

her half-closed eyes let nothing pass.

‘So it was you who sang of Hell

to Dante?’ ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it was.’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1924)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) era

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: The exact muse from Greek mythology referred to here is Euterpe who in late Classical times was named muse of lyric poetry and was often depicted holding a flute. The Dante referred to here is of course Dante Alighieri and his epic poem the Divine Comedy, in particular the Inferno section. Calliope was usually considered the muse of epic poetry but of course Akhmatova herself wrote lyric poetry thus explaining why she, to her surprise, encounters Euterpe and not Calliope.

Still He Lay Without Moving, As If, After Some Difficult… by Vasily Zhukovsky

Still he lay without moving, as if, after some difficult

task, he had folded his arms. Head quietly bowed, I stood

still for a long time, looking attentively into the dead man’s

eyes. These eyes were closed. Nevertheless, I could

see on that face I knew so well a look I had never

glimpsed there before. It was not inspiration’s flame,

nor did it seem like the blade of his wit. No, what I could

see there,

wrapped round his face, was thought, some deep, high

thought.

Vision, some vision, I thought must have come to home. And I

wanted to ask, ‘What is it? What do you see?’

 

by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)

(1837)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author, is related to him.

To An Artist by Anna Akhmatova

Your work that my inward sight still comes,

Fruit of your graced labours:

The gold of always-autumnal limes,

The blue of today-created water-

 

Simply to think of it, the faintest drowse

Already has led me into your parks

Where, fearful of everything turning, I lose

Consciousness in a trance, seeking your tracks.

 

Shall I go under this vault, transfigured by

The movement of your hand into a sky,

To cool my shameful heat?

 

There shall I become forever blessed,

There my burning eyelids will find rest,

And I’ll regain a gift I’ve lost-to weep.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Six Books)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Muse by Anna Akhmatova

When at night I wait for her to come,

Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.

What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison

With the dear welcome guest, a flute in hand?

 

She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,

She stares through me with her attentiveness.

I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,

Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)

from Тростник (Cane) / Из шести книг (From the Six Books)

translation by D. M. Thomas

 

My Boring Lamp [extract] by Fyodor Sologub

Lord, if I am a poor and feeble

word slave,

sentenced to tedious labour

until the grave,

 

allow me to transcend myself

in one eternal prayer,

to compose eigth lines,

whose flame burns clear

 

by Фёдор Сологуб (Fyodor Sologub)

a.k.a. Фёдор Кузьмич Тетерников (Fyodor Kuzmich Teternikov)

(1898)

translated by Robert Chandler