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

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Приморский сонет (Seaside Sonnet) by Anna Akhmatova

Everything here will outlive me,

Even the houses of the stare

And this air I breathe, the spring air,

Ending its flight across the sea.

 

Unearthly invincibility…

The voice of eternity is calling,

And the light moon’s light is falling

Over the blossoming cherry-tree.

 

It doesn’t seem a difficult road,

White, in the chalice of emerald,

Where it’s leading I won’t say…

There between the trunks, a streak

Of light reminds one of the walk

By the pond at Tsarkoye.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1958, Komarovo)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun Facts: Here is a blog account, with photos, of the walk along the shores of the great pond in Tsarskoye.

Akhmatova reciting her poem:

Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:

Приморский сонет

Здесь все меня переживет,
Все, даже ветхие скворешни
И этот воздух, воздух вешний,
Морской свершивший перелет.

И голос вечности зовет
С неодолимостью нездешней,
И над цветущею черешней
Сиянье легкий месяц льет.

И кажется такой нетрудной,
Белея в чаще изумрудной,
Дорога не скажу куда…

Там средь стволов еще светлее,
И все похоже на аллею
У царскосельского пруда.

1958
Комарово

Три стихотворения (Three Poems) [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

The poet was right: once again –

lantern, side-street, drugstore,

silence, the Neva and its granite…

A monument to our century’s

first years, there he stands, as when,

waving goodbye to Pushkin House,

he drank a mortal weariness –

as if such peace

were more than he deserved.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: This poem is an homage to Alexander Blok, whose last poem is addressed to Pushkin House in St Petersburg.


Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Он прав — опять фонарь, аптека,
Нева, безмолвие, гранит…
Как памятник началу века,
Там этот человек стоит —
Когда он Пушкинскому Дому,
Прощаясь, помахал рукой
И принял смертную истому
Как незаслуженный покой.

Музыка (Music) by Anna Akhmatova

for D. D. Sh.

Something miraculous burns brightly;

its facets form before my eyes.

And it alone can speak to me

when no one will stand by my side.

 

When my last friends had turned and gone

from where I lay, it remained close –

burst into blossom, into song,

like a first storm, like speaking flowers.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1958)

translation by Boris Dralyuk


Fun facts: the D. D. Sh. this poem is dedicated to is the famous composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович) whose music she liked though they held opposing views. Anna Akhmatova and Dmitry Shostakovich met before the war. They met quite often at various cultural events, although they did not get along with each other. According to one version, Shostakovich did not share the poet’s views on dissidence, believing that it wasn’t worthwhile to help Russian writers abroad, since they openly opposed Soviet power. Akhmatova, in turn, was convinced that the country should know its heroes, and went as far as to even solicit, before her friends, the editors of magazines to begin publishing the works of emigrants.


Akhmatova reciting her poem:


Original Cyrillic text:

Музыка

Д. Д. Ш.

В ней что-то чудотворное горит,
И на глазах ее края гранятся.
Она одна со мною говорит,
Когда другие подойти боятся.
Когда последний друг отвел глаза,
Она была со мной одна в могиле
И пела словно первая гроза
Иль будто все цветы заговорили.

‘Help me, O Lord, through this night’ by Osip Mandelstam

Help me, O Lord, through this night.

I fear for life, your slave.

To live in Peter’s city is to sleep in a grave.

 

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

(1931)

translated by Robert Chandler

Летний сад (Summer Garden) by Anna Akhmatova

I want to visit the roses

In that lonely

Park where the statues remember me young

And I remember them under the water

Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet

Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear

A creak of masts. And the swan swims

Still, admiring its lovely

Double. And a hundred thousand steps,

Friend and enemy, enemy and friend,

Sleep. Endless is the procession of shades

Between granite vase and palace door.

There my white nights

Whisper of someone’s discreet exalted

Love. And everything is mother-

Of-pearl and jasper,

But the light’s source is a secret.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(July, 1959, Leningrad)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: The Summer Garden (Летний сад) occupies an island between the Fontanka, Moika, and the Swan Canal in Saint Petersburg (a.k.a. Leningrad), Russia and shares its name with the adjacent Summer Palace of Peter the Great.

Akhmatova recites her poem:

The text in the original Russian Cyrillic:

Летний сад

Я к розам хочу, в тот единственный сад,
Где лучшая в мире стоит из оград,

Где статуи помнят меня молодой,
А я их под невскою помню водой.

В душистой тиши между царственных лип
Мне мачт корабельных мерещится скрип.

И лебедь, как прежде, плывет сквозь века,
Любуясь красой своего двойника.

И замертво спят сотни тысяч шагов
Врагов и друзей, друзей и врагов.

А шествию теней не видно конца
От вазы гранитной до двери дворца.

Там шепчутся белые ночи мои
О чьей-то высокой и тайной любви.

И все перламутром и яшмой горит,
Но света источник таинственно скрыт.

‘To read only children’s tales…’ by Osip Mandelstam

To read only children’s tales

and look through a child’s eye;

to rise from grief and wave

big things goodbye.

 

Life has tired me to death;

life has no more to offer.

But I love my poor earth

since I know no other.

 

I swung in a faraway garden

on a plain plank swing;

I remember tall dark firs

in a feverish blur.

 

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

(1908)

translated by Robert Chandler