Зима (Winter) by Bella Akhmadulina

Winter, to me your gestures are
cold and careful: yes, in
winter there is something
gentle as medicine,

or why else would sickness
put out trusting hands
into that season, from its own
torture and darkness?

Weave your magic then
my love, let the kiss
of one curl of ice
brush over my forehead.

Soon I shall trust any
deception, and look without fear
into the eyes of dogs, as I
press close to the trees:

And forgive, playfully, with a
run, turn and jump; and
after a bout of forgiveness
forgive again,

become like a winter’s day:
empty and oval, though
in comparison to such
presence, always small.

I shall turn to nothing, and
so call over the wall,
not some shadow of myself, but light
I shall not block at all.

by Бе́лла (Изабе́лла) Аха́товна Ахмаду́лина
Белла Әхәт кызы Әхмәдуллина
Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina
(1950)
translated by Elaine Feinstein

Зима

О жест зимы ко мне,
холодный и прилежный.
Да, что-то есть в зиме
от медицины нежной.

Иначе как же вдруг
из темноты и муки
доверчивый недуг
к ней обращает руки?

О милая, колдуй,
заденет лоб мой снова
целебный поцелуй
колечка ледяного.

И все сильней соблазн
встречать обман доверьем,
смотреть в глаза собак
и приникать, к деревьям.

Прощать, как бы играть,
с разбега, с поворота,
и, завершив прощать,
простить еще кого-то.

Сравняться с зимним днем,
с его пустым овалом,
и быть всегда при нем
его оттенком, малым.

Свести себя на нет,
чтоб вызвать за стеною
не тень мою, а свет,
не заслоненный мною.

A recital of the poem in Russian by Maria Selivanova.

Additional information: Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina (10 April 1937 – 29 November 2010) was a Soviet and Russian poet, short story writer, and translator, known for her apolitical writing stance. She was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement. She was cited by Joseph Brodsky as the best living poet in the Russian language. She is known in Russia as “the voice of the epoch“.
Despite the aforementioned apolitical stance of her writing, Akhmadulina was often critical of authorities in the Soviet Union, and spoke out in favour of others, including Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was known to international audiences via her travels abroad during the Khrushchev Thaw, during which she made appearances in sold-out stadiums. Upon her death in 2010 at the age of 73, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev hailed her poetry as a “classic of Russian literature.”

The main themes of Akhmadulina‘s works are friendship, love, and relations between people. She wrote numerous essays about Russian poets and translators, some devoted to her close friend, Bulat Okudzhava. Akhmadulina avoided writing overtly political poems, but took part in political events in her youth, supporting the so-called dissident movement.

Akhmadulina wrote in an apolitical style making use of imagery and humour in her work. She used rhymed quatrains in her early works, which discussed ordinary, yet imaginative occurrences from daily life in language that was full of both archaisms and neologisms. Religion and philosophy became her themes as she aged and she wrote in longer forms.

Of mixed Tartar and Italian descent, Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow into a middle-class family. At the age of eighteen she married Yevtushenko, a fellow student at the Gorky Institute of Literature, from which she was expelled. Her second husband was the well-known short-story writer Yuri Nagibin, with whom she collaborated on a film scenario. Her third marriage weas to the playwright and children’s writer Gennadi Mamlin.

Akhmadulina’s first collection, String, was published in 1962 and criticized by the Party as ‘superfluous’, too intimate, etc. It was composed mainly of short lyrics, witty, whimsical, well-turned – strongly influenced by Ahmatova in their sobriety of form and preoccupation with individual emotions. Though Akhmadulina’s work appeared thereafter in magazines and almanacs from time to time, it was not until 1969 that her second collection, Music Lessons, was published. In 1963 a fragment of her long poem ‘A Fairy Tale about the Rain’ was published in Literary Georgia. ‘Rain’ marked a high point and and is still her most ambitious work to date. Since then she appears to have done more translating, especially from Georgian, than original writing, though the indications are that she has again entered a more creative period. Akhmadulina has perhaps major potentialities (Yevtushenko regards her as the foremost woman poet in Russian since the death of Akhmatova). Her work became rapidly more complex after the early short lyrics, and in ‘Rain’ it gained a weight of symbolic meaning that indicates considerable poetic endurance and power. Her subject in this poem, and in many others leading up to it, is nothing less than her relationship to her own poetic inspiration, symbolized by the Rain.

As Christine Rydel says in her illuminating analysis of Akhmadulina’s symbolic system, ‘The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina’ (Russian Literature Triquarterly, No.1): ‘Where most poets look to love for inspiration, Akhmudalina looks to inspiration for love.’ Like Tsvetayeva, with whom, as in ‘Music Lessons’ and ‘I Swear’, she identifies explicitly, Akhmadulina is uncomfortable, uneasy in the world. There is a plaintive, complaining tone to all this that can be irritating, but her verbal power, her technical accomplishment, allied to her capacity, by remote control as it were, to enter into and share in the destiny of her distinguished women predecessors, accurately and agonizingly conveys the struggle of creativity in an alienating environment.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.227- 228, Post-War Russian Poetry (1974), ed. Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
‘Bella Akhmadulina: Meeting in the Ostankino Concert Studio’ (1976)‎. It’s about an hour and a half long featuring her doing recitals of her poetry and talking about various subjects. If you have time it’s worth watching (It’s in Russian obviously but the auto-translated subtitles will let you get the gist of many parts).

Among Akhmadulina’s ancestors on her mother’s side were Italians who settled in Russia, including the professional revolutionary Aleksandr Stopani, after whom a street in Moscow was named. On her father’s side were Tatars. In 1955, when her first verses were published in the journal Oktiabr’, it was immediately obvious that a real poet had come on the scene. She entered the Gorky Literary Institute the same year and became its queen. All of the young poets there were in love with her, including the compiler of this anthology who became her first husband. Her talent was also admired by poets of the older generation – Pavel Antokolsky, Mikhail Svetlov and Vladimir Lugovskoi. She encountered Boris Pasternak once while walking down a country path; he recognized her and invited her to visit him the next day when guests were coming, but she was too shy and respectful to come.

After mastering the assonant “Yevtushenko” rhyme, she took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, into whispers, rustling indeterminacy, and, at times, such intimacy as to be incomprehensible. Many of her major poems establish links to the memory on the great Russian poets on the past, especially Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Aleksandr Pushkin.

With Anna Akhmatova’s death, Akhmadulina became known as the most brilliant woman poet writing in Russian. She is an absolute sorceress with poetic form, though she has a tendency to spin intricate verbal webs. Probably no one in Russian poetry at the present has such an innate feeling for words. Akhmadulina’s poetry is somewhat private and she has a reputation of being apolitical, as assessment that misses the point. One can discern in such poems as “I Swear”, “St. Bartholomew’s Night,” and “A Fairy Tale About Rain” a social conscience permeated with a hatred for the vile politics that degrades people. Her fragile, gentle hand has signed any and all letters in defense of dissidents or anyone in trouble in the Soviet system. She was unafraid to cross police lines to visit Sakharov while he was in exile.

Akhmadulina writes elegant prose, placing refinement of language above all else, as she does with her poetry. She was awarded the State Prize for literature in 1989 and was the first of her generation to be elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.873 – 874, ‘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.

The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T. S. Eliot

S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma percioche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.

Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky

Like a patient etherized upon a table;

Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,

The muttering retreats

Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels

And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:

Streets that follow like a tedious argument

Of insidious intent

To lead you to an overwhelming question …

Oh, do not ask, “What is it?”

Let us go and make our visit.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

The yellow fog that rubs its back upon the window-panes,

The yellow smoke that rubs its muzzle on the window-panes,

Licked its tongue into the corners of the evening,

Lingered upon the pools that stand in drains,

Let fall upon its back the soot that falls from chimneys,

Slipped by the terrace, made a sudden leap,

And seeing that it was a soft October night,

Curled once about the house, and fell asleep.

 

And indeed there will be time

For the yellow smoke that slides along the street,

Rubbing its back upon the window-panes;

There will be time, there will be time

To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet;

There will be time to murder and create,

And time for all the works and days of hands

That lift and drop a question on your plate;

Time for you and time for me,

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,

And for a hundred visions and revisions,

Before the taking of a toast and tea.

 

In the room the women come and go

Talking of Michelangelo.

 

And indeed there will be time

To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”

Time to turn back and descend the stair,

With a bald spot in the middle of my hair —

(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)

My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,

My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin —

(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)

Do I dare

Disturb the universe?

In a minute there is time

For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.

 

For I have known them all already, known them all:

Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,

I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;

I know the voices dying with a dying fall

Beneath the music from a farther room.

               So how should I presume?

 

And I have known the eyes already, known them all—

The eyes that fix you in a formulated phrase,

And when I am formulated, sprawling on a pin,

When I am pinned and wriggling on the wall,

Then how should I begin

To spit out all the butt-ends of my days and ways?

               And how should I presume?

 

And I have known the arms already, known them all—

Arms that are braceleted and white and bare

(But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair!)

Is it perfume from a dress

That makes me so digress?

Arms that lie along a table, or wrap about a shawl.

               And should I then presume?

               And how should I begin?

 

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? …

 

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.

 

And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully!

Smoothed by long fingers,

Asleep … tired … or it malingers,

Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me.

Should I, after tea and cakes and ices,

Have the strength to force the moment to its crisis?

But though I have wept and fasted, wept and prayed,

Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter,

I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter;

I have seen the moment of my greatness flicker,

And I have seen the eternal Footman hold my coat, and snicker,

And in short, I was afraid.

And would it have been worth it, after all,

After the cups, the marmalade, the tea,

Among the porcelain, among some talk of you and me,

Would it have been worth while,

To have bitten off the matter with a smile,

To have squeezed the universe into a ball

To roll it towards some overwhelming question,

To say: “I am Lazarus, come from the dead,

Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all”—

If one, settling a pillow by her head

               Should say: “That is not what I meant at all;

               That is not it, at all.”

 

And would it have been worth it, after all,

Would it have been worth while,

After the sunsets and the dooryards and the sprinkled streets,

After the novels, after the teacups, after the skirts that trail along the floor—

And this, and so much more?—

It is impossible to say just what I mean!

But as if a magic lantern threw the nerves in patterns on a screen:

Would it have been worth while

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,

And turning toward the window, should say:

               “That is not it at all,

               That is not what I meant, at all.”

 

. . . . .

 

No! I am not Prince Hamlet, nor was meant to be;

Am an attendant lord, one that will do

To swell a progress, start a scene or two,

Advise the prince; no doubt, an easy tool,

Deferential, glad to be of use,

Politic, cautious, and meticulous;

Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse;

At times, indeed, almost ridiculous—

Almost, at times, the Fool.

 

I grow old … I grow old …

I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

 

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?

I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.

I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

 

I do not think that they will sing to me.

 

I have seen them riding seaward on the waves

Combing the white hair of the waves blown back

When the wind blows the water white and black.

We have lingered in the chambers of the sea

By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown

Till human voices wake us, and we drown.

 

by T. S. Eliot


Fun Facts:

Like many of Eliot’s poems, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” makes numerous allusions to other works, which are often symbolic themselves.

  • In “Time for all the works and days of hands” (29) the phrase ‘works and days’ is the title of a long poem – a description of agricultural life and a call to toil – by the early Greek poet Hesiod.
  • “I know the voices dying with a dying fall” (52) echoes Orsino’s first lines in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night.
  • The prophet of “Though I have seen my head (grown slightly bald) brought in upon a platter / I am no prophet — and here’s no great matter” (81–2) is John the Baptist, whose head was delivered to Salome by Herod as a reward for her dancing (Matthew 14:1–11, and Oscar Wilde’s play Salome).
  • “To have squeezed the universe into a ball” (92) and “indeed there will be time” (23) echo the closing lines of Marvell’s ‘To His Coy Mistress’. Other phrases such as, “there will be time” and “there is time” are reminiscent of the opening line of that poem: “Had we but world enough and time”. Marvell’s words in turn echo the General Prologue of Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, “whil I have tyme and space”.
  • “‘I am Lazarus, come from the dead'” (94) may be either the beggar Lazarus (of Luke 16) returning for the rich man who was not permitted to return from the dead to warn the brothers of a rich man about Hell, or the Lazarus (of John 11) whom Christ raised from the dead, or both.
  • “Full of high sentence” (117) echoes Chaucer’s description of the Clerk of Oxford in the General Prologue to The Canterbury Tales.
  • “There will be time to murder and create” is a biblical allusion to Ecclesiastes 3.
  • In the final section of the poem, Prufrock rejects the idea that he is Prince Hamlet, suggesting that he is merely “an attendant lord” (112) whose purpose is to “advise the prince” (114), a likely allusion to Polonius — Polonius being also “almost, at times, the Fool.”
  • “Among some talk of you and me” may be a reference to Quatrain 32 of Edward FitzGerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (“There was a Door to which I found no Key / There was a Veil past which I could not see / Some little Talk awhile of Me and Thee / There seemed — and then no more of Thee and Me.”)