Flies Like Thoughts by Innokenty Annensky

Flies, like black thoughts, have not quit me all day…

A. N. Apukhtin (1840 – 93)

 

I’ve grown weary of sleeplessness, dreams.

Locks of hair hang over my eyes:

I would like, with the poison of rhymes,

to drug thoughts I cannot abide.

 

I would like to unravel these knots…

Or is the whole thing a mistake?

In late autumn the flies are such pests –

their cold wings so horribly sticky.

 

Fly-thoughts crawl about, as in dreams,

they cover the paper in black…

Oh, how dead, and how dreadful they seem…

Tear them up, burn them up – quick!

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1904)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

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Маки (Poppies) by Innokenty Annensky

The gay day flames. The grass is still.

Like greedy impotence, poppies rise,

like lips that lust and poison fill,

like wings of scarlet butteflies.

 

The gay day flames… The garden now

is empty. Lust and feast are done.

Like heads of hags, the poppies bow

beneath the bright cup of the sun.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1910)

translated by C. M. Bowra


 

Fun extra: Here is the poem performed in Russian.

To Osip Mandelstam by Marina Tsvetaeva

Nothing’s been taken away!

We’re apart – I’m delighted by this!

Across the hundreds of miles

that divide us, I send you my kiss.

 

Our gifts, I know, are unequal.

For the first time my voice is still.

What, my young Derzhavin, do

you make of my doggrel?

 

For your terrible flight I baptized you –

young eagle, it’s time to take wing!

You endured the sun without blinking,

but my gaze – that’s a different thing!

 

None ever watched your departure

more tenderly than this

or more finally. Across hundreds

of summers, I send you my kiss.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1916)

translated by Peter Oram


 

Fun fact: Her referring to Mandelstam as ‘my young Derzhavin’ references Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин), who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

Black As The Pupil Of An Eye, Sucking At Light by Marina Tsvetaeva

Black as the pupil of an eye, sucking at light

like the pupil of an eye, I love you, far-sighted night.

 

Give me the voice to sing of you, godmother of every hymn,

you in whose hand lie the brindles of the four winds.

 

Calling on you, extolling you, I am no more than

a shell where the sea-swell goes on roaring.

 

Night! I have looked long enough into human eyes.

Now, emblaze me, make ash of me, black-sun-night!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1916)

translated by Robert Chandler

Death is a No [extract] by Marina Tsvetaeva

Death is:

an unfinished house,

an unbrought-up son,

an unbound-up sheaf,

an unbreathed-out sigh,

an uncried-out cry.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1920)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

In The Train Car by Innokenty Annensky

We’ve done enough, we’ve said enough –

let’s sit in silence, without smiling;

low-lying clouds are shedding snow

and heaven’s light is slowly fading.

 

The brittle willows rage and split

in an unspeakable pitched battle.

‘Until tomorrow, then,’ I say.

‘As for today, let’s call it settled.’

 

Even if boundlessly at fault,

I wish – not dreaming, not entreating –

to stare out at the fields of white

through windows swathed in cotton fleecing.

 

While you, show off your beauty, shine…

assure me that I have your pardon –

shine with that stream of eventide

around which everything has hardened.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1906)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me

 

will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.

 

How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).

 

How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?

 

‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?

 

More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?

 

How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?

 

How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?

 

How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of

 

plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?

 

Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth

 

sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1924)

translated by Elaine Feinstein


 

The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube: