22 September 2016

Wheezing, my train crawls across a field... / Поезд ползёт через луг сипя...

Wheezing, my train crawls across a field.
Drizzle has mussed up that stack of hay.
Mr Oneself should be fashioned, and fill
lines of verse that convey complaint.
Autumn’s here, so to cool one’s brow
window panes serve, and I’m not that keen
to fashion a piece about Mistress Love,
or another particular dame there’s been.
So, sir fashioner, refashion, rewind.
Patch up some lines you’ve had around.
Anything uttered on days of this kind
is bound to come out like a barking hound.
A barking hound with a hint of howl—
as if he had purged all words from his soul,
that Mr Someone who’s now passed on,
that particular man, Mr Singleton.

(Translation © 2016 G.S. Smith)
[From Sisyphus Redux, 2000]

Поезд ползёт через луг сипя. 
Дождь-моросец растрепал стожок. 
Надо бы про господина Себя 
жалостный сочинить стишок. 
Осенью для охлажденья лбов 
окна годятся, и я не спешу 
сочинять про госпожу Любовь 
и про ещё одну госпожу. 
Ну, сочинитель, чини, чини. 
Старые строчки латай, латай. 
Чего ни скажи в такие дни, 
выходит собачий как будто лай. 
Выходит лай и немножко вой, 
как будто душу освободил от слов 
один господин неживой,
господин один, один господин. 

16 September 2016

On the Death of Yu. L. Mikhailov / На смерть Ю.Л.Михайлова

V. Gerasimov, N. Loseff, L. Loseff and Yu. Mikhailov ca. 1961. Photo: Lev Loseff

On the Death of Yu. L. Mikhailov

My poem was seeking you...

Not rosary smoothness nor icon face—
what plucks at my heart is a splinter.
You were bull-like for all your time under God.
Time short. God strong. Bull fragile.

In champagne country the word lay in wait.
It was here that our dialogue ruptured—
along comes Vyazemsky, then Mandelstam,
then a palindrome, ‘smert′/Rheims’—stupid.

‘What to do? God takes the best’, they say.
He takes? Like a letter or money?
More weak or more strong, you were brother to me,
God is merciful. Now I’ve no brother.

It’s nine days now since I spoke of you.
But I pray that you’ll not be forgotten,
to the lucent Rose, to the bright-coloured Ray,
to the motes that swirl in the sunshine.

12-18 September 1990

[From Новые сведения о Карле и Кларе (New Information about Karl and Klara), 1996]

(Translation ©2016 G.S. Smith)

Lev Loseff’s close friend, the poet Yurii Leonidovich Mikhailov (8 June 1933-5 September 1990), was expelled from Leningrad University in 1952 for political reasons; he returned after the death of Stalin, graduated, and worked as a journalist. 

The epigraph comes from the first stanza of the poem Приписка [Codicil, 1854] by Prince Petr Vyazemsky (1792-1878): ‘Так из чужбины отдаленной/Мой стих искал тебя, Денис!/А уж тебя ждал неизменный/Не виноград, а кипарис’ [‘And so from a distant alien land/Denis, my poem was seeking you!/But awaiting you was the ever-present/not grapevine, but cypress’]. The poem was written as a codicil to a verse epistle Vyazemsky addressed to Denis Davydov (1784-1839), the famous hero of the war against Napoleon. In a letter, Vyazemsky explained: ‘At the end of 1838 the author, who was visiting Epernay, recalled Davydov’s story about how in 1814 he was in Epernay with his detachment of partisans, and encountered many friends there, and they burst into tears of joy at the encounter and later on had a joyful celebration. There the author wrote the first part of his epistle to Davydov, which remains unpublished, and it was the last he ever wrote to him. Davydov died soon after, and the author expressed the feelings aroused by the news of his death in the second
part of the epistle, which was written in 1854.’ 

На смерть Ю.Л.Михайлова

Мой стих искал тебя...

Не гладкие четки, не писанный лик,
Хватает на сердце зарубок.
Весь век свой под Богом ты был как бы бык.
Век краток. Бог крепок. Бык хрупок.

В шампанской стране меня слух поджидал.
Вот где диалог наш надломан:
то Вяземский ввяжется, то Мандельштам,
то глупый смерть-Реймс палиндромон.

Что ж делать - Бог лучших прибрал - говорят.
Прибрал? Как письмо иль монету?
То сильный, то слабый, ты был мне как брат.
Бог милостив. Брата вот нету.

Девятый уж день по тебе я молчу.
Молюсь, чтоб тебя не забыли,
светящейся Розе, цветному Лучу,
крутящейся солнечной пыли.

12-18 сентября 1990 года

06 September 2016

In Memory of Pskov / Памяти Пскова

Pskov, The Tower of Thunder, Photo by Lev Loseff ca. 1961

In Memory of Pskov

That time when they imposed an air tax, put up
those prosecutions targeted at yogis
because they knew a way to pause their breathing
so’s to upset the budget of the state,
my job was tax inspector, I’d been slogging,
shaken to bits, in farm-collective pickups
(my rough-book verse back at the gazette building),
then hung out in that burg where now I’m not.

A Saturday. The town was clad in peasants.
A shower of rain dropped by and then departed.
The central food store put out beer—unusual—
to work at the gazette I bid adieu.
I served my queuing time, knocked back my portion,
no more—I wasn’t trying to save my pennies,
but there just weren’t that many serious boozers,
a few mushrooms with eyes were present, though.

I armed myself with bagel and Fet’s poems,
sat on the slope close to the Tower of Thunder.
The river twixt Assumption and Conception
flowed by, in all its scintillating breadth.
A bibber or two figured they had my number,
but knowing how my people can’t stand poets,
what was there I could say, to claim exemption?
Here’s what I said to them: ‘Let’s smell your breath!’

[From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985]

(Translation © 2016 G.S. Smith)

The last line of the second stanza refers to a rhyming catchphrase whose meaning remains obscure: ‘А у нас в Рязани грибы с глазами. Их едят — они гладят’ (‘Here in Ryazan′ we have mushrooms with eyes. They watch when they’re being eaten’); for some speculation see http://www.travel4us.ru/publ/info/russia/mushrooms_with_eyes/21-1-0-34.

The ‘Tower of Thunder’ (1525) stands on the banks of the Pskov river, a tributary of the Velikaya, which flows through the city of Pskov; see http://anashina.com/gremyachaya-bashnya. The churches of the Assumption and the Conception are two of the Pskov’s many medieval shrines.

Pskov, Church of the Epiphany, Photo by Lev Loseff ca. 1961

Памяти Пскова

Когда они ввели налог на воздух
и начались в стране процессы йогов,
умеющих задерживать дыхание
с намерением расстроить госбюджет,
я, в должности инспектора налогов
натрясшийся на газиках совхозных
(в ведомостях блокноты со стихами),
торчал в райцентре, где меня уж нет.

Была суббота. Город был в крестьянах.
Прошелся дождик и куда-то вышел.
Давали пиво в первом гастрономе,
и я сказал адье ведомостям.
Я отстоял свое и тоже выпил,
не то чтобы особо экономя,
но вообще немного было пьяных:
росли грибы с глазами там и сям.

Вооружившись бубликом и Фетом,
я сел на скате у Гремячей башни.
Река между Успеньем и Зачатьем
несла свои дрожащие огни.
Иной ко мне подсаживался бражник,
но, зная отвращение к поэтам
в моем народе, что я мог сказать им.
И я им говорил: «А ну дыхни».