khodasevich/modern russian poetry

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khodasevich/modern russian poetry

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Editado: Mar 13, 2007, 3:01 am

Nabokov called khodasevich the greatest 20th century Russian poet, but I never could find anything about him until now. I just got a copy of khodasevich his life and art
by david m. bethea who was given access to khodasevich and berberova papers in the beineke library at yale. the book quotes many poems and gives a literal translation for those of us who don't read Russian. It was published by Princeton in 1982 so I should have found it sooner. It is a very thorough biographical study with the poetry interspersed with the biographical material. berberova, who was his wife for ten years, wrote about him in her memoir the italics are mine. if any of you are looking for something about khodasevich beyond one or two anthologised poems, this is it.

Mar 31, 2007, 12:13 am

Could you post some of his poetry here?

Editado: Mar 31, 2007, 1:46 am

The Swallows by Khodasevich

If you have eyes, through day you'll see night,
not the one lit up by that inflamed disk.
In vain two swallows are bursting to get out,
darting at the window with a faint chirp.

One cannot puncture with a sharp-angled wing
that transparent, but sturdy membrane over there,
nor can one, with a bird's tiny wing or
a captive heart, flit there.

Till all the blood has come out of your pores,
Till you have cried out your earthly eyes,
You won't become spirit. Wait, looking point blank,
As the light splashes without covering the night.

The author Bethea says: "Khodasevich's swallows,....are metaphysical-the entire poem takes place inside the speaker, there is no correlative in nature-and their image is one of frantic captivity. We find two of them because they are the poet's eyes: rather than traditional pathways to the soul, they have become the opposite-the ocular routes by which the soul wants desperately to make its way to freedom. The importunate repetition of pro (proch', prozrachnuiu, prochnuiu, probodat') and of its various phonetic echoes (naprasno, vyporkhnut'', por, upor) suggests the swallows' wings that, flapping to no avail, cannot break through the glass. Only when those eyes, those metaphysical windows, have been cried out will the psychic swallows be set free. "

I'm sorry I don't know how to type in cyrillic on my computer. Is the cyrillic alphabet out there somewhere?

I will post another later, if there is interest.

Mar 31, 2007, 1:59 am

Yah, that's really great.
thanks for sharing it. More when you have the time would be fabulous.

Editado: Mar 31, 2007, 3:22 pm

Here is another Khodasevich poem.

I wanted to do the Monkey, but the book doesn't give it all. However, the Monkey is commonly the one anthologised.

The following has only the first line for a title. N.B. The peasant woman in the poem, his nurse, had to give up her own child in order to nurse Khodasevich, and her own child died due to the deprivation.

"Ne mater'iu, no tul'skoiu krest'iankoi" (Not by my mother, but by a peasant woman from Tula)

Not by my mother, but by the Tula peasant woman
Yelena Kuzina was I reared. She would
warm my swaddling clothes above the stove-bench, ward off bad dreams at bedtime with the sign of the cross.

She knew no fairy tales and did not sing,
and yet she always kept for me
in a cherished trunk covered in white tin-plate
either a Vyazemsky gingerbread or a mint gingerbread horse.

She did not teach me prayers,
but gave me absolutely everything she had:
both her bitter motherhood
and simply all that was dear to her.

Only once, when I fell from a window,
but rose alive (how I remember that day!)
she placed a penny candle
for the wondrous saving at the icon of the Iberian Virgin.

And so Russia, you "renowned power",
by pulling at her teats with my lips,
I sucked out the agonizing right
to love and curse you;

in that honorble feat, in that happiness of poetic song,
which I serve each moment,
my teacher has been your wonder-working genius
and my walk of life your magical tongue.

And still at times I can be proud
before your weak sons
that this language, bequeathed through the ages,
I guard more lovingly, more jealously...

The years rush by. I need no future,
the past is burned up in my soul,
yet still alive is the secret joy
that I too have one refuge:

There in a heart eaten by worms,
cherishing a love for me that is imperishable,
sleeping next to tsarist, Khodynka guests
is Yelena Kuzina, my nurse.

(The word "Khodynka" refers to the site where a thousand people were crushed to death in 1896 when presents were distributed to a crowd during the coronation of Nicholas II.

In the third line, the word "ward" should start the next line, but the system wouldn't cooperate and do it!)

Editado: Mar 31, 2007, 5:42 pm

From the Ends to Beginning
From at Northwestern University on the Internet including audio recordings, some by the poets themselves. Here is the MONKEY that I wanted to give you before:

Обезьяна/The Monkey

Была жара. Леса горели. Нудно
Тянулось время. На соседней даче
Кричал петух. Я вышел за калитку.
Там, прислонясь к забору, на скамейке
Дремал бродячий серб, худой и черный.
Серебряный тяжелый крест висел
На груди полуголой. Капли пота
По ней катились. Выше, на заборе,
Сидела обезьяна в красной юбке
И пыльные листы сирени
Жевала жадно. Кожаный ошейник,
Оттянутый назад тяжелой цепью,
Давил ей горло. Серб, меня заслышав,
Очнулся, вытер пот и попросил, чтоб дал я
Воды ему. Но, чуть ее пригубив,-
Не холодна ли,- блюдце на скамейку
Поставил он, и тотчас обезьяна,
Макая пальцы в воду, ухватила
Двумя руками блюдце.
Она пила, на четвереньках стоя,
Локтями опираясь на скамью.
Досок почти касался подбородок,
Над теменем лысеющим спина
Высоко выгибалась. Так, должно быть,
Стоял когда-то Дарий, припадая
К дорожной луже, в день, когда бежал он
Пред мощною фалангой Александра.
Всю воду выпив, обезьяна блюдце
Долой смахнула со скамьи, привстала
И - этот миг забуду ли когда? -
Мне черную, мозолистую руку,
Еще прохладную от влаги, протянула...
Я руки жал красавицам, поэтам,
Вождям народа - ни одна рука
Такого благородства очертаний
Не заключала! Ни одна рука
Моей руки так братски не коснулась!
И, видит Бог, никто в мои глаза
Не заглянул так мудро и глубоко,
Воистину - до дна души моей.
Глубокой древности сладчайшие преданья
Тот нищий зверь мне в сердце оживил,
И в этот миг мне жизнь явилась полной,
И мнилось - хор светил и волн морских,
Ветров и сфер мне музыкой органной
Ворвался в уши, загремел, как прежде,
В иные, незапамятные дни.
И серб ушел, постукивая в бубен.
Присев ему на левое плечо,
Покачивалась мерно обезьяна,
Как на слоне индийский магараджа.
Огромное малиновое солнце,
Лишенное лучей,
В опаловом дыму висело. Изливался
Безгромный зной на чахлую пшеницу.

В тот день была объявлена война.

The day was hot. The woods were burning. Time
Dragged by tediously. At a neighboring dacha
A cock was crowing. I went out the gate.
There, leaning on the fence, on a bench
Dozed a wandering Serb, gaunt and dark.
A heavy silver cross hung
On his half-naked chest. Drops of sweat
Rolled down. Above him, on the fence
Sat a monkey in a red skirt
Greedily chewing the dusty
Lilac leaves. A leather collar,
Dragged back by a heavy chain,
Cut into her throat. The Serb, hearing me,
Came to, wiped away his sweat and asked me
To give him water. But having taken a little sip,-
To see if it wasn't too cold,-he put the saucer
On the bench, and just then the monkey,
Dipping her fingers into the water, grabbed
The saucer with both hands.
She drank, standing on all fours,
Her elbows resting on the bench.
Her chin almost touched the boards,
Her backbone curved high above
her balding crown. In this same way
Darius must have once posed, bent
To a puddle in the road, on the day he retreated
Before Alexander's mighty phalanx.
Having drunk all the water, the monkey
Knocked the saucer off the bench, straightened up
And-will I ever forget this moment?-
Offered me a callused, black hand,
Still cool with moisture...
I've shaken hands with beauties, with poets,
With heads of state-not one hand
Possessed such nobility
Of contour! Not one hand
Touched my hands in such a brotherly fashion!
And God knows, no one ever looked
Into my eyes with such wisdom and depth,
Indeed-to the bottom of my soul.
The sweetest legends of deep antiquity
This lowly beast awakened in my heart,
And at that instant life appeared full to me,
And it seemed-a chorus of heavenly bodies and ocean waves,
Winds and spheres like organ music
Burst into my ears, thundered, as before,
In other, unremembered days.
And the Serb left, beating a tambourine.
Seated on his left shoulder,
The monkey swayed in time,
Like an Indian maharaja on an elephant.
A huge crimson sun,
Bereft of rays,
Hung in opalescent smoke. A stormless
Heat poured over the drooping wheat.

That day war was declared.


I don't know who translated this.

Nov 3, 2012, 1:44 pm

I understand that poetry by Khodasevich in translation by Peter Daniels will be coming out soon.

In the meantime you can see Daniels' site here, where he discusses the project:

Mar 17, 2017, 4:30 pm

"Nabokov called khodasevich the greatest 20th century Russian poet"

It puzzled me for a long time that Nabokov called Khodasevich “the greatest Russian poet of our time” until I learned that they were close friends, and the quote comes from N’s memorial tribute. One should allow for a little rhetorical excess on such occasions. He was a good poet, no question, but to rank him above (to take the obvious candidates) Pasternak, Mandelstam, Akhmatova, and Tsvetaeva is absurd.

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