5 Poets of the Russian Silver Age

Translated from Russian by: Alex Cigale

 

 

 

 

u1

 

 

Alexander Blok (1880-1921)

 

 

 

 

Factory

 

The neighboring house’s windows yellow.

And every evening – yes, every evening,

The screech of ponderous locks and bolts,

And people at the gates seen approaching.

 

The gates shuttered, there’s not a sound,

But along the walls – along the walls,

An invisible someone, a black someone,

Stands in the silence counting the souls.

 

And I hear everything from my high perch:

He calls on them with his honeyed voice

To bend and carry on their tortured shoulders

The burden of the people gathered below.

 

Entering, they will disperse and scatter,

Begin to lade themselves with heavy loads.

And in the yellow windows echoes laughter,

That they were tricked, these wretched poor.

 

November 24, 1903

 

Фaбрикa

В соседнем доме окна жолты.
По вечерам – по вечерам
Скрипят задумчивые болты,
Подходят люди к воротам.

И глухо заперты ворота,
А на стене – а на стене
Недвижный кто-то, черный кто-то
Людей считает в тишине.

Я слышу всё с моей вершины:
Он медным голосом зовет
Согнуть измученные спины
Внизу собравшийся народ.

Они войдут и разбредутся,
Навалят на спины кули.
И в желтых окнах засмеются,
Что этих нищих провели.

 

24 Ноября, 1903


u2

 

 

 

 

Maximilian Voloshin (1877-1932)

 

 

 

Kalliera

 

Ded. to S. V. Shervinsky

 

Maps report on this spot a town and port,

Traces of pitch-tar visible beneath the waves,

The neighboring hill sown with chips and shards

Of amphorae and pyphosae, the town erased

 

Like chalk from board by deluges of wild hordes.

So, thought perusing what age has washed away

Suggests – night, alarm, and the fanning of flame,

Bloodshot glares from flushed, distorted faces.

 

The jagged palisade raised up above the citadel

The folk refer to as “the crumbling crown” a sign

The golden age is long past expiration date,

 

The full cup of your fates drunk to the dregs,

Hellenic earth’s Kora, trudging among the crags,

Dolled up in Venetian glass, beads on a string.

 

November 18, 1926,

 

Каллиера

     Посв. С. В. Шервинскому

По картам здесь и город был, и порт.
Остатки мола видны под волнами.
Соседний холм насыщен черепками
Амфор и пифосов. Но город стёрт,

Как мел с доски, разливом диких орд.
И мысль, читая смытое веками,
Подсказывает ночь, тревогу, пламя
И рдяный блик в зрачках раскосых морд.

Зубец, над городищем вознесённый,
Народ зовёт «Иссыпанной короной»,
Как знак того, что сроки истекли,

Что судьб твоих до дна испита мера,
Отроковица эллинской земли
В венецианских бусах — Каллиера!

 

18 ноября 1926, Коктебель


u3

 

 

 

 

Andrei Bely (1880-1934)

 

 

In the Street

Parting the dusty, yellow clumps of fog
I race with an open umbrella. The smoke
from the stacks of factories like spit
spews out into the horizon’s burning pit.

I have given away all my choruses –
The echoing rumble of the machinery,
And the glowing ovens’ gaping maws!
Given it all away – I am solitary.

Piercing laughter from a passing fiacre
Thunders on the frozen paving stones.
I am huddling close to the iron fence –
Embracing it and bending my head low…

Hurtling across the sullen firmament
whirlwinds rustle up the inclement veils.
The poplars flog the cast-iron trellis
With a whip of decaying brown leaves.

Bending and bowing in a crazy dance,
Their howling prayers blinding the environs,
In funnels of icy and poisoned dust
The arid columns lift off and take flight.

1904, Moscow

 

На улице

Сквозь пыльные, жёлтые клубы
Бегу, распустивши свой зонт.
И дымом фабричные трубы
Плюют в огневой горизонт.

Вам отдал свои я напевы –
Грохочущий рокот машин,
Печей раскалённые зевы!
Всё отдал; и вот – я один.

Пронзительный хохот пролётки
На мёрзлой гремит мостовой.
Прижался к железной решётке –
Прижался: поник головой…

А вихри в нахмуренной тверди
Волокна ненастные вьют; –
И клёны в чугунные жерди
Багряными листьями бьют.

Сгибаются, пляшут, закрыли
Окрестности с воплем мольбы,
Холодной отравленной пыли –
Взлетают сухие столбы.

1904, Москва


u4

 

 

Velimir Khlebnikov (1885-1922)

 

 

 

 

Russia and I

Russia has bestowed freedom upon thousands of thousands.
A sacred duty! They will remember it for millennia.
And I have only taken my shirt off
And every glassy skyscraper of my hair,
Every crevice
Of my city’s body,
Has hung out its carpets and calico fabrics.
Citizens, male and female,
Of me – the government
Of the one-thousand-paned curls crowded the windows.
The Olgas and the Igors,
Not because they were ordered to,
Welcoming the sun, looked out through my skin.
The dungeon of the shirt has fallen!
And I but only took off my shirt –
The sun has given Me to the nations!
I stood naked by the sea.
With this I was granting freedom to the nations,
To the suntan’s multitudes.

1921

 

Я И РОССИЯ

Россия тысячам тысяч свободу дала.
Милое дело! Долго будут помнить про это.
А я снял рубаху,
И каждый зеркальный небоскреб моего волоса,
Каждая скважина
Города тела
Вывесила ковры и кумачовые ткани.
Гражданки и граждане
Меня — государства
Тысячеоконных кудрей толпились у окон.
Ольги и Игори,
Не по заказу
Радуясь солнцу, смотрели сквозь кожу.
Пала темница рубашки!
А я просто снял рубашку —
Дал солнце народам Меня!
Голый стоял около моря.
Так я дарил народам свободу,
Толпам загара.

1921


 

u5

 

 

 

 

Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939)

 

 

 

 

Before the Mirror

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita.

I, I, I. What a bizarre word this is!
Could it be the one before me is me?
Could mother have loved such a one,
Face ashen-yellow, hair half-gray,
And all-knowing like a garden snake?

That same boy who in Ostankino summer
Danced the night through in cottage balls –
Is it me, the one who with every answer
To callow poets, in his jaundiced verses
Suggests viciousness, fear, and disgust?

Could it be, who on midnight disputations
Spent his all with boyish exuberance –
It is me, the very same one, who in
Response to tragic-toned conversations
Has learned to shut up and make jokes.

And so it always goes, that in the middle
Of your fateful, earth-bound journey,
Shuttling from one meaningless reason
To another, you notice you are lost
In the desert, your footsteps, not a trace.

It was not the stalking of a panther
That forced me into this Paris attic.
Nor does Virgil hover above my shoulders –
All there is is loneliness – brutally
Honest, in the frame of the looking-glass.

July 18-23, 1924, Paris

 

Перед зеркалом

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Я, я, я! Что за дикое слово!
Неужели вон тот – это я?
Разве мама любила такого,
Желто-серого, полуседого
И всезнающего, как змея?

Разве мальчик, в Останкине летом
Танцевавший на дачных балах,-
Это я, тот, кто каждым ответом
Желторотым внушает поэтам
Отвращение, злобу и страх?

Разве тот, кто в полночные споры
Всю мальчишечью вкладывал прыть,-
Это я, тот же самый, который
На трагические разговоры
Научился молчать и шутить?

Впрочем – так и всегда на средине
Рокового земного пути:
От ничтожной причины – к причине,
А глядишь – заплутался в пустыне,
И своих же следов не найти.

Да, меня не пантера прыжками
На парижский чердак загнала.
И Виргилия нет за плечами,-
Только есть одиночество – в раме
Говорящего правду стекла.

 18-23 июля 1924, Париж


Author’s Statement on Beauty

The leading first generation Russian Symbolist poet Konstatin Balmont (1867-1942) said it best (in 1899):

I love this universe’s squeaking axes,
The vulture’s screeching at night’s ditch,
And this life’s rutted and eroded paths….

(He had began another poem, in 1901: “Above all else, it is necessary to love and kill….”) On the eve of the 20th Century, the First Russian Revolution (1905), First World War (1914-1917,) and the Russian Civil War (1917-1922), for some presaging their own death (Blok and Khlebnikov,) for others exile (Voloshin’s, self-imposed, on the Crimean peninsula, Khodasevich’s, first in Paris, then in Berlin,) in part carrying on the tradition of the French Symbolists and/or responding to rapid modernization, for these poets, beauty is to be found in its opposite, ugliness: the macabre, the maudlin, in mysticism, decadence, decay, destruction and, often, in despair. In different ways (determined in part by each poet’s individual character,) this was true for both the second generation of Russian Symbolists, Alexander Blok and Andrei Bely (both born in 1880) and for the Russian Futurists (Velimir Khlebnikov’s manifesto “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste” declared the group’s intention to “throw Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, etc., etc. overboard from the Ship of Modernity.”)

The unaligned poets, Maximilian Voloshin and Vladislav Khodasevich, were Neo-Classicists who constructed a haven for themselves from history in eternal things. Voloshin, who wrote mostly in the epic mode and produced brilliant translations of the French Symbolist poets into Russian, retreated into harmony and proportion, into nature and painting. For the jaundiced cynic Khodasevich, the world was a reflection in the eye of a blind man (his poem “The Blind Man”). In a sequence of seminal blank verse poems that date to 1918-1920, a poet whose only professed influence was Pushkin, Khodasevich suddenly “abandoned form,” as though poetic words had failed him, and temporarily adopted a looser, spoken lyric. (One must recall that Russian poetry hasn’t its own Whitman or Pound, so that the latter’s prescriptions are still largely alien to Russian verse and culture: “To use the language of common speech”; “express … individuality of a poet …. better in free verse”; “compose in the sequence of the musical phrase, not the metronome”.) In these poems, Khodasevich’s bore testimony to the shattered certainties of the old world, its shell-shocked survivors stumbling about literally and existentially naked in the ruins of their formerly high culture in the wake of the Russian Revolution. (One might speculate whether and how he later imbibed the influence of German Expressionism in his Berlin exile.)

The final line of William Butler Yeats’s “Easter, 1916” (like our five, by the way, a “civic poet”) is also still apropos and emblematic for us today (I think): “A terrible beauty is born.”


 

Alex Cigale’s own English language poems have appeared in the Colorado Review, The Common, and The Literary Reviews, and his other translations of Russian Silver Age and contemporary poetry and prose are in Kenyon Review Online, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Triquarterly, and Two Lines. From 2011 until 2013, he was an Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia, in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. He is a Contributing Editor for Plume and the St. Petersburg Review and a 2015 NEA Fellow in Literary Translation for his work on the “philological school” poet Mikhail Eremin. His first book, Russian Absurd; Daniil Kharms, Selected Writings is forthcoming in February 2017 in the Northwestern World Classics series.

 

This article first appeared in peacock journal.  It has been republished with permission from the author. 

 

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