Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Marina Tsvetaeva's Poem of the End, etc.

As translated by Nina Kossman, Marina Tsvetaeva poems hold up relatively well in English. Below are a few favorite lines from them.

From on a Red Steed

No Muse, no Muse

Sang over my shabby

Cradle, or took me by the hand.

I clang--blare--clap,

I snarl, I shoot sparks.

An alliance of winds

Sweeps the big roads.


Poem of the End

In the sky, rustier than tin,

Is a lamppost like a finger.

In every eyelash, a challenge.

Sky of bad omens. 

Rust and tin.

This soundless kiss:  

The stupor of the lips.

Thus--empresses' hands are kissed,

Thus--dead men's hands...

(The exaggeration of life,

In the final hour.)

What yesterday was waist-high,

Suddenly reaches the stars.

(Exaggerated, that is: 

To its full height.)

Gypsy brotherhood--

This is where it led!

Like thunder on the head,

Or a naked blade,

My brother in sin,

My fever and fervor.

They dream of running away

The way you dream of home.

The water--a steely strip of it,

Deathly pale.

I stay with it like a singer

Sticks to the score;  like a blend-man

Sticks to the edge of a wall.

    The dead are faithful.

Yes, but not all in the same basket...

On my left side, death;  on my right--

You.  My right side seems dead.

Too much breaking, too much smoking,

But mainly too much conversation!

What's that smell?  The smell of haste,

Of connivance and petty sins,

Of business secrets

And ballroom powder.

Too much laughing, 

But mainly--too much calculation!

..The smell of business deals

And ballroom powder.

Too much stroking, too much groping

But mainly--too much squeezing.

(Yesterday's left-overs, 
But who minds the smell?)

The chain's too short?
At least it's platinum, not steel!

Their triple chins shaking,

Like calves they eat their


Love is flesh and blood, a flower

Steeped in its own blood.

Or did  you think love was 

A chat across the cafe table?

A quick hour, and then away?

Like all these gentlemen and ladies?

Love is...

    --Is it a temple?

Hardly, child;  it's a scar upon

A scar.  In full view of servants

And drunks.  (Soundlessly, I say,

"Love is a stretched 

Bowstring:  a partying shot.")

"And love is, above all, a shared


    "Or did you want to say:


Death--and no conditions!

--Life!--Like a Roman commander,

Surveying what's left of his


    "Let's call it quit."

    (Silently: Listen.

Wanting is what bodies do, 

Now we are only souls.)

    (Courteous liar,

You hand your love

The bloodstained honor of parting

Like a bouquet.)  Say it clearly:  Syllable

By syllable.  "Let's call it quits,"

You said?  (Like a handkerchief

Dropped in a moment of sweet

Mischief...) In this battle you are 

Caesar. (What an insolent thrust:

To hand back to the opponent 

The sword he surrendered

As a trophy).

The shadow of money

In a shadow land.  Soundless,

These coins.  

It burns... As if my soul were torn

Away with the skin.  Like steam through a hole,

It vanished, that notorious silly heresy

Called the soul.

That Christian anemia!

Separation--it's not Russian talk.

Not women's, nor men's.

Nor God's.  What are we, sheep, 

Gaping at our dinner? 

Separation--in what language?

There's no sense in it,

Not a sound.  

Losing everything at once--

There's nothing neater.

Love is a seam.

A seam, not a sling;  a stitch, not a shield.

Oh, don't ask to be shielded!

The stitch by which the dead are sewn to the earth,

By which I'm switched to you.

Better to rip than unravel.

It's there, but not for us!

A stepmother, not a mother!

Ahhh, the game's lost,

Ladies and gentlemen!

Suburbs everywhere!

Where are the real cities?

Life is a place where no one can live:

The Jewish quarter...

Wouldn't it be a hundred times better

To become the Wandering Jew?

For anyone not scum

Life is a pogrom.

Expect no mercy

In this most Christian of worlds

All poets are yids.

Weep!  With others you'll recover

The dignity you lost with me.

We are fish of one

Sea.  An upward sweep!

..like a dead seashell,

Lips upon lips.

Attempts at a Room

I remember three walls,

I can't vouch for the fourth.

    Urgent wires

From everywhere and every when.

A portable chair of emptiness.)

The door--the threshold is sensitive to shoe soles!

The sheer wall of the Cheka,

A wall of dawns, of sunlit firing.

Squads of gestures more clear-cut than

In the shade--shot from behind, in the back.

What I can't understand: executions.

But leaving aide the torture-chamber theme,

The ceiling was definitely


        All of us, in that other world,

Will learn to walk upon


A floor is for feet...

How embedded man is, how rooted!

So it won't leak:  a ceiling.

Remember the ancient torture, one drop

Per hour?  A floor:  so that grass won't

Grow into the house, so earth won't enter---

Not a plasterer, nor a roofer

But a dream, a guard on wireless

Pathways:  A He meeting a She

In chasms underneath eyelids.

        The unsparkinling

Flood.  A room?  Mere surfaces.  

        After all, the desk is fed by

An elbow.  Elbow out along its inclines--

That will be your desk's deskless.

        Don't fret beforehand.

The chair will arise with the guest. 

Gestures serve me 

In psyche's hall.

In a child's stringed, inmost memory

Distance is hand luggage and a governance.

        (Distance is stylish).

He who built (dug) the corridors

Knew where to curve them--

To give the blood time

To turn the corner

To give the brain time

To assign seats,

For a rendezvous is--a location,

A signature--a calculation--a draft--

        Into time's farthest point:

Maybe the walls were go ne,

The ceiling definitely gave

a lurch.  In our moths only the vocative

Blossomed.   The floor was definitely a gap.

And seen through that gap--green as the Nile..

The ceiling was definitely adrift.

By a single dash is the poet held


New Year's Greetings

        We have blood ties

With the beyond.  Whoever had been to Russia

Has beheld that world in this.

Doubtless, I see poorly from my pit.

Doubtless, you see better from up there.

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