Svetlana Sivak Marina Tsvetaeva Sophia Parnok Richard Burgin Ruth Posselt
Sophia Parnok: from Poems
(1916)[1]The Russian texts and the numbers of the poems come from Sofia Parnok, Sobranie stikhotvorenii (St. Petersburg: Inapress, 1998).
Translated by Diana Lewis Burgin
I don’t like churches where the builder
Is heard more audibly than God,
Where genius with the Father’s will is
Not merged, not vanquished, but at odds,
Where man’s self-glorifying spirit
Above the will of God aspires,
Byzantium’s smooth cupola is
More dear to me than Gothic spires.
Milan Cathedral! Beauty alien
To me! – Amazed by it am I. –
It raises high its pointed towers
As if imperiling the sky.
Yet is it not because the sky shines
So calmly, the church seems like a scream?
Beneath the sky in haughty wisdom
It seems so fussily extreme.
You, towers! By a restive spirit
Have you been raised to lofty height,
You are like thoughts when as a unit
They have not yet been unified!
Another church… It happened during
Dark sunset, yellowish and red
That I first glimpsed the rounded outlines
Of your cupolas outspread.
How rapturously in-overtly
Against smooth-flowing sky you flowed,
Bedazzling me, revered San Marco,
Your slender crosses soared up-thrown!
There rested, like a touch of sunburn,
Upon your marble – sunset’s light…
I wondered: by what magic potion
Have you been warmed and brought to life?
What is it in you makes me ready
To fall at God’s feet like a nun?
The smoothness of your lines announces
The force of God’s dominion.
Your cupolas, all five, like billows…
And by their fluid force raised up
My soul, just like a brimming goblet,
Is filled with God up to the top.
1914 Forte dei Marmi
9. [To Marina Tsvetaeva]
Blindly staring eyes of the
Holy Mother and Savior Child.
Smell of incense, wax, and oil.
Sounds of soft weeping filling the church.
Melting tapers held by young, meek women
In fists stiff with cold and rough-skinned.
Oh, steal me away from my death
You, whose arms are tanned and fresh,
You, who passed by, exciting me!
Isn’t there in your desperate name a
Wind from all storm-tossed coasts,
Marina, named after the sea!
August 5 1915 Sviatye gory
The clouds, on fire, hurry by,
The heavens’ city lies in ruins.
My step is purposeful and light,
The wind has spread a willful windlass.
Who blessed me as I headed off,
Who murmured, ‘have a happy journey’?
Let the winds not cease to blow,
To urge me from my threshold.
To the devil for his use
I throw the past – my fateful burden.
Up above my homeless head
Blaze on, blaze on, nomadic heaven!
July 31, 1915 Sviatye gory
Dark rose sunset in a deep blue sky
And a woman such as poets sing.
The evening breeze ripples her shawl
Of crimson bouquets on dark blue.
As it ebbed, the fabric revealed
Smooth shoulders and elbow points.
The transparent almonds of her nails
Were more festive than rubies and pearls.
Young martyrs have foreheads and hair
Like hers – more immobile than a crown.
Beneath her virginal upper lip’s peak,
The sensuous lower juts down.
What artist has raised that eye brow,
Touched the veil on that temple with blue
Where Viking blood of Riurik’s sons
Flows with royal Byzantium’s true.
September 16, 1915
28. Sonnet [To Marina Tsvetaeva]
You watched the little boys at all their games,
And showed indifference to your smiling dolls.
A superfluity of energy propelled you
From the cradle straight astride a horse.
Years have passed, by their ominous shadow
Your power-loving outbursts have not been
Dampered in your heart – how little I mean
To it, Bettina Arnim and Marina Mniszek!
I gaze upon the ash and fire of your curls,
Upon your hands, more generous than a king’s, -
The dearth of colors on my palette defeats me!
You, passing by to your own fate!
Where does a sun rise that is your mate?
Where is your Goethe, and where your False-Dmitri?
May 9, 1915
I have no doubt my voice is soulless
And empty my affecting talk.
The waltz is played, the sonnet’s written,
My lips have now been kissed enough.
Above my volume floats an aster,
My window view has turned stone cold.
In front of me: L’Abesse de Castro,
By coldly-fiery Stendhal.
My lips feel pleasant being no one’s,
I like my doorway’s vacant look…
Why come here, you whose name blows winds of
All journeys that I ever took?
September 3, 1915
Whooping cranes have stretched their way southward.
I’m off too for far away.
Where will I meet her, my next girlfriend,
Mistress sent to me by fate?
In rustling silks? In clanking armor?
In a cab? Or flash of chariots?
Where’s the night of her thick eyelashes
When her winged brows arch up?
Is her malicious spike heel tapping
Over midnight boulevards?
Or has a dark monastic habit
Covered up her fervent curls?
I seek as I enter a theater,
And behind a church’s walls –
Not Manon, not Cleopatra,
Not Carmen and not Isolde!
August 1, 1915
A greedy spirit could not conquer
Your self-revealing thoughts’ caprice, -
And so, from thousands up for hire,
One night was given by you to me.
You had been tutored by dispassion
A dazzling artistry in love.
Yet suddenly, though used to quarry,
Your arms, embracing me, convulsed.
Your eyes grew frantic, stung by yearning,
Your mouth was grim, clenched jealously,
You wanted vengeance for my tardy
Arrival, through tormenting me.
Not satiation, nor desire
Does your inertia bring to mind.
To all your speech and gaze are kind,
No one and everyone’s my rival.
But how can I not dream of blisses,
Which are mere wishful thinking, when
You won’t say no, or yes, but then,
Your eyes imprint my mouth with kisses?
O, arms affectionate and prudent,
How you protect your indolence…
The shadows under your eyes are dense:
We’ll have our time of amorous torment!
Embroidery has covered up
My window pane. – Oh, day of parting! –
I rest my anguish-ridden hands
Against the glass’s unsmooth surface.
My devastated eyes look out
Upon the frost, first gift of winter,
The way the ice moiré melts down
And then dissolves away in teardrops.
The fence is buried in a drift,
The rime is fluffier, more like terry,
The garden under silver fringe
And tassels – like a brocade coffin…
No walkers and no cars are out,
The telephone is cruelly silent.
With letters on the sign: GEORGES BLOK
I tell my fortune – odds or evens.
[1]The Russian texts and the numbers of the poems come from Sofia Parnok, Sobranie stikhotvorenii (St. Petersburg: Inapress, 1998).