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 –
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.
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 –
– we haven't any,
Serezha, my dear brother,
under tsardom and this
let’s plant a grenade.
And as our setting sun
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.