Saturday, February 28, 2015

Osip Mandelstam - Impressionism

For us the artist reproduced
The lilac in the deepest faint,
And on the canvas he diffused
Like scabs, the piercing steps of paint.

He grasped the density of paint,
And the parched vision of his summer,
Warmed up within the lilac brain,
Dilated in a stifling slumber.

The lilac shadow’s growing lush,
 A whistle or a whip is quenching.
You’d say the cooks in dinner rush          
Are dressing pigeons in the kitchen.

The swings are faintly discerned,
And veils are vaguely manifested,
And in this sun-drenched smogarsbord
A bumble bee reigns uncontested.

May 23, 1932

Translated by Dina Belyayeva


Monday, February 23, 2015

Alexander Blok - The Lady Unknown


At evening times above the restaurants
The sultry air’s harsh and stale.
The spirit of the spring-time pestilence
Reigns over drunken muffled wails.

And further up in dusty alley ways,
Beyond the summer cottage sloth,
A baker’s shop sign glistens gaudily,
And children’s cries are heard above.

And every evening in the countryside,
Amidst potholes with bowlers tipped,
The seasoned dandies saunter gratified,
Amusing damsels with their wit.

Lakeside the creaky oars reverberate
To flirty squeals of lady folks,
And astral discus, dull and obdurate,
Squirms in the sky above it all.

And every night my faithful soul mate
Stares back from hollows of my wine,
Akin to me, subdued and desolate,
To mystic liquid he resigned.

Around the nearby tables mesmerized
The waiters sleepily repass,
And drunkards with the rabbit-like red eyes
Proclaim, “In vino veritas!”

And every night as if the time was set
(or am I dreaming in this daze?)
A silk swathed maiden’s misty silhouette
Glides through the restaurant's drunken haze.

And slowly moving through the drunken guests,
Without an escort, indiscreet,
Emitting perfumes and exquisite mists
She settles at the window seat.

And her snug silks exude the ancient tales,
And doleful plumes atop her hat
Cascade and twine over the wispy veil,
In rings her narrow hand’s beset.

And overwhelmed by strange proximity
I look beyond the dusky veil,
And see the shore of charming verity,
And the charmed distance to prevail.

I am entrusted with deep mysteries,
Endowed with the Sun to hold,
And acrid wine awash in sorceries
Have pierced through fissures of my soul.

And ostrich feathers in cascading swells
Are swaying softly in my brain,
And deep blue eyes as deep blue sinkhole wells
Bloom in the distance on a plain.

Within my soul a treasure’s buried
And I’m the keeper of the key,
So right you are, grotesque inebriate, 
I know, the truth resides in guilt.*

April 24th, 1906

*In the last line Blok played up the ambiguity stemming from the Russian translation of the Latin phrase "in vino veritas". In Russian the words "wine" and "guilt" are homonyms, they share the same spelling and pronunciation in singular ablative case, but have different meanings. Unlike in many other translations prior to this, the alternate meaning of the last line was never brought to the readers' attention. This ambiguity is untranslatable and can be only explained in a footnote; however, it is important to recognize the expression of guilt in the juxtaposition of the beautiful and the vulgar. That is the essence of Blok's symbolism.

Translated by Dina Belyayeva