Thursday, February 11, 2010

Post-War Russian Poetry (Akhmadulina's missing quatrains)

Read an expanded version of this article on 'Cardinal Points' ("Стороны света") in English and in Russian.

I stay calm and carry on sorting and cataloguing books that have been piling up over the years. But this one got me really excited and ready to proclaim it the best short anthology of Post-War Russian Poetry (The Penguin poets) (20th century, compiled by Daniel Weissbort).

Translations are good, as poetic translations can be good. The collection is representative, poets are well chosen, from older generation's Akhmatova and Pasternak to Brodsky and Soloukhin who flourished in the 70s. I noted that a few big official Soviet names are not in, which is fine, but I'd include two or three good lyrical poets of the Yesenin tradition who didn't make it into this anthology, Vladimir Sokolov  and Nikolai Rubtsov, for example. Each poet's entry has an introduction, but poems, unfortunately, are not dated.

I would have proclaimed it the best short anthology of Russian poetry, had I not decided, conscientiously, to compare the translation of a well-known Akhmadulina (in the photo) poem 'Along this street of mine' ("По улице моей") with the original.

Two quatrains are missing in the book for some reason. I looked at the publication date - 1975 - and thought that perhaps it was because a shortened version of the poem is sung by Barbara Brylska and, off-screen, by Alla Pugacheva in the film The Irony of Fate, or "Enjoy Your Bath" ("Ирония судьбы, или с лёгким паром", watch the video below), a phenomenally popular romantic comedy. But the film was also released in 1975, so it couldn't have influenced the book. And also, in the film version of the poem three quatrains are omitted (second, third and fifth), two that are not in the book and another one.

I can't think of a reason for this omittance, especially because the eight missing lines change the poem from an intimate lyrical piece to one with 'great social and political import'.

Here is the poem as it is in Post-war Russian Poetry (The Penguin poets)

For how many years along this street of mine have I
    overheard those footsteps - of my friends leaving.
And the darkness outside my window draws pleasure
    in witnessing every sluggish departure.

[ missing quatrain 1]
[ missing quatrain 2]

That is your stern character, Solitude, as
    you flash an iron compass; how coldly
now do you close your circles round me
    without attending to my useless protest.

Summon me, then, with some reward, since I
    have become your creature, and console myself
with your favourites; let me rest against you
    and wash myself in the pale blue of your frost.

In your forest, on my toes, allow me to
    reach the slow peak of one strained gesture in
your foliage, and raise the leaves to my face
    so I may feel - to be desolate is a blessing.

Give me the quiet of your libraries,
    severe melodies in concert halls;
wise power - that is the way we forget
    those who are dead and those not yet alive.

So I shall learn wisdom and sadness together,
    and things will yield their hidden meanings up;
even Nature leaning on my shoulder
    may reveal her childish secrets to me.

But out of all the darkness, tears, and the
    forgetting of what is lost for ever,
the fine features of my friends will
    appear briefly to me, before dissolving.

Translated by Elaine Feinstein

And here are the two missing paragraphs:

My friends do not look after their affairs,
    nor music, neither songs are present in their homes,
there's just a flock of usual Degas' girls
    with light-blue feathers, checking hues.

What can I do, what can I do, don't let your fears
    wake up you, helpless, in the night.
That passion for betrayal, so mysterious,
    my friends, it's clouding your eyes.
Translated by A. Anichkin

There seems to be a mistake as well. The line which reads 'those who are dead and those not yet alive' in the original says 'those who are dead and those still alive', with a diametrically opposite meaning. Besides the obvious puzzlement over what forgetting those who are not yet alive might mean.

(Sung by Alla Pugacheva, music by Mikael Tariverdiyev, actress Barbara Brylska)

Here is the original poem as it appears on Белла Ахмадулина.
 Всемирная библиотека поэзии.

* * *
По улице моей который год
звучат шаги - мои друзья уходят.
Друзей моих медлительный уход
той темноте за окнами угоден.

Запущены моих друзей дела,
нет в их домах ни музыки, ни пенья,
и лишь, как прежде, девочки Дега
голубенькие оправляют перья.

Ну что ж, ну что ж, да не разбудит страх
вас, беззащитных, среди этой ночи.
К предательству таинственная страсть,
друзья мои, туманит ваши очи.

О одиночество, как твой характер крут!
Посверкивая циркулем железным,
как холодно ты замыкаешь круг,
не внемля увереньям бесполезным.

Так призови меня и награди!
Твой баловень, обласканный тобою,
утешусь, прислонясь к твоей груди,
умоюсь твоей стужей голубою.

Дай стать на цыпочки в твоем лесу,
на том конце замедленного жеста
найти листву, и поднести к лицу,
и ощутить сиротство, как блаженство.

Даруй мне тишь твоих библиотек,
твоих концертов строгие мотивы,
и - мудрая - я позабуду тех,
кто умерли или доселе живы.

И я познаю мудрость и печаль,
свой тайный смысл доверят мне предметы.
Природа, прислонясь к моим плечам,
объявит свои детские секреты.

И вот тогда - из слез, из темноты,
из бедного невежества былого
друзей моих прекрасные черты
появятся и растворятся снова.


Elaine Feinstein web-site.
Daniel Weissbort and David McDuff arguing about translating poetry in NY Review of Books.
A list of books by Daniel Weissbort.

Photo: Bella Akhmadulina (2005)


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