Issue 27: Belinda Cooke translates Marina Tsvetaeva

Translations from Marina Tsvetaeva's Sequence Dedicated to Vladimir Mayakovsky


                                                 In his coffin, in the usual dark suit,

                                                 in his sturdy, rough shoes, shod with

                                                 iron, lies the greatest poet of the


                                                         Daily Newspaper, April 24 1920.

In boots of iron –

heading straight up

that mountain – for

twenty years, till,

his boots left spent

and shining, he hit the pass –

to stand there like a prophet

on Proletarian Mount Sinai.

In boots – a two-foot living space –

(to meet the housing standards),

wincing, he carried and took

the mountain, and cursed and sang –

in boots, did not once refuse

on the untilled fields of October,

in boots, a diver, an infantryman,

speaking ever clearer:

nails piercing his boots in the

great Donbass campaign. So

which, of the one hundred and

fifty million (Gosizdat), of this

people’s mountain of grief

do you mean  when you say:

‘You own nothing in the factory’? –

our grieving mountain lies right here.

So while his great Rolls Royces

are still in the news, hear him shout

to the dead pioneers – Fall in!

In his boots – witnesses to the crime.


                                                 The lovers’ boat smashed against

                                                 the rocks of everyday life

You wouldn’t put a bet

on such a leader.

From what dictionary did you

get your boat Comrade?

Tossed about in a boat such as this,

and worse a love boat – it’s a scandal.

You’re acting like some Razin –

Much better to stick to the everyday.

This new medicine,

flooding from your tap –

You’re not acting like a proletarian,

you’re acting like some toff.

Surely it was worth it for the gods,

for our mother, to suffer blood,

not some new dawn – your coat’s white

lining has come through in the end.

Like that cadet in Tosca

shot in despair – my friend,

this is not Mayakovsky,

you’re acting like a shah.

While you’ve your cap on your head,

I wish you goodbye, my dear friend.

Having lived like a great grandson

you died the wise old man.

And when we have that final recall,

you’ll be eaten up with guilt –

Soviet-Russian Werther.

with the manners of a nobleman.

But before, off the police station,

it will be ..... my enemy, my own!

You’ll find no new lovers’ boats,

on any kind beneath the moon.


A shot – right into the very soul.

The way you only kill your enemies.

The way these enemies chose

to destroy God’s final temple.

Once more it didn’t fail to hit

the spot – in an instant dead.

There must have been a heart,

since the bullet stopped in its tracks.

(Meeting abroad: ‘An incident?

Possibly a land mine. Hmm..

seems to suggest they have

hearts – just the same as we do.)

A shot – it hit the target.

Bullseye – dead centre.

(Often the left side of the brain

gets blown off, along with the wife in bed.)

Excellent! They didn’t miss!

And the woman is happy at least –

that wanton hussy Helen of

Troy is one I could name.

There’s only one, rather wellknown

celebrity, this leftist surprised us:

knowing only how to shoot on the

right, he aimed to the left.

The glint of a lance from the right

and your boss is fine, what we need

is a shot – into the left ventricle –

but right in the Centre.


                                                 I throw flame-coloured grains

                                                 in the palm  of my hand

                                                 so that he may appear red as fire

                                                 in the light’s abyss.

Like a Soviet nobleman

before the full Synod…

How are you, Serezha!

How’s things, Volodya!

Tired? – Just a little.

Just in general? – O, personal stuff.

Was it suicide? – the usual thing.

Did it hurt? – Absolutely.

Is that how you lived it?

Well it was a relief in a sort of way.

Too bad, Serezha.

Too bad, Volodya.

Hey, remember, at the top of

your voice in shat deep stage bass,

how you laid into me?  –

O, please, enough…

… There was that launch,

that love boat.

Was it really from a skirt?

     – Worse from vodka,

your bloated face  – And have you

been drunk ever since?

That’s not good, Serozha.

     – It’s not good, Volodya.

And besides, it wasn’t a razor –

nothing so clean-cut.

So it was a hard blow

of the map? – Yes, it’s really festering.

Try plaintain on it,

collodium’s also good.

Shall we apply it, Serezha?

     – Let’s try it, Volodya.

And what of Russia – our mother?

Where are you talking? –

In the USSR, what’s new? –

O, they’re building stuff.

Parents give birth.

The evil sharpen their knives.

Publishers run the show.

Writers write.

They build a new bridge

and it soon gets flooded –

Everything’s the same, Serezha

Everything’s the same, Volodya.

But the singing flock?

People, are tough you know –

we’re lucky, we are

as good as dead –

just like some old stick.

with new varnish.

You can’t manage it

just with Pasternak.

Shat we put our hands on it.

Shall we wear it?

Shall we hold it, Seryozha?

     – Let’s hold it, Volodya.

There’s still one prepared

to talk to you… ah, what of our

dear Lisan Alexanich? –

away like an angel – And

Fedor Kuzmich? – He’s

in the canal – he died from

ruddy cheeks – And Nikolai

Gumilov? – he headed east.

(In the bloody rye

on the piled up cart…)

     – Nothing changes, Serezha.

     – Nothing changes, Volodya.

But even if it’s the same

Volodya, my dear friend –

once more let's put our hands on it,

Volodya, at least our hands – and –

but no.

     – we haven't any,

Serezha, my dear brother,

under tsardom and this

let’s plant a grenade.

And as our setting sun

slowly dissolves

Let’s do it Serezha.

     – Yes, let’s do it, Volodya.


They pulled down many monuments,

and this – the most valuable of all.

Accept, Lord, the soul of your departed enemy.

Note on Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) is now considered one of the greatest twentieth century Russian poets. She lived through and wrote of the Russian Revolution and the Moscow famine that followed. She left Russia in 1922 living in increasing poverty In Berlin, Prague and Paris, before returning to Moscow in 1939.

Her husband Sergei Efron and her daughter Ariadna were arrested on espionage charges in 1941. Efron was executed and Alya imprisoned. Desperately isolated in the new Soviet regime and in extreme depression, Tsvetaeva committed suicide in 1941 survived only by her son, who died in a penal battalion shortly after.

This selection comes from a sequence she dedicated to Mayakovsky written in August in reaction to his suicide 14 April 1930. She had already fallen out with the émigré community in Paris for praising his work, given it was socially unacceptable to say anything positive about Soviet Russia. This was a further endorsement and evidence that Tsvetaeva always spoke her own mind and didn’t readily align with any particular camp.

Belinda Cooke’s recent collections are: Kulager by Ilias Zhansugurov (Kazakh NTA, 2017); Forms of Exile: Selected Poems of Marina Tsvetaeva (High Window Press, 2019); (et al.) Contemporary Kazakh Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 2019); Stem (High Window Press, 2020); and Days of the Shorthanded Shovelists (Salmon Poetry, forthcoming). She lives in the Highlands .

Copyright © 2022 by Belinda Cooke, all rights reserved. This text may be used and shared in accordance with the fair-use provisions of Copyright law. Archiving, redistribution, or republication of this text on other terms, in any medium, requires the notification of the journal and consent of the author.