Thursday, March 13, 2014

Tsvetaeva - I'd like to ask the mirrored glass

Remembering what one loves, and immersing one's self in it, can grant a sense of pleasure and healing. I have been engaged in this pastime recently, and recommend it heartily.

Above is one of my favorite Marina Tsvetaeva poems, set to music, from the film, S Legkim Parom (The Irony of Fate.) You might have to click through to YouTube to watch the video.

I've also been thinking about translations of poetry lately, which, to me, it is a daunting task. To translate a medical diagnosis or a legal document is one thing, but to successfully lift intangible images and music from one language to another is a subtle feat, and the results are not always an unqualified success.

Here is a translation of Tsvetaeva's poem by Andrey Kneller, which is one of the better ones I've seen:

I'd like to ask the mirrored glass -
All hazy, mystical and foggy -                  (there should be the sense of a dream)
To show exactly where you'll pass
And where you'll stop for lodging.

I look and see: an old ship's mast.
There, on the deck, you're standing
You, by the clouded train....The vast,     (alternately: "You, in a wisp of smoke from a train...")
Green fields, at night, lamenting,

The evening countryside in dew,
There, ravens soar in flight....
--My dear one, I am blessing you
to go where you decide!

There is something missing from the translation of the last line: "to go where you decide" -- the words in Russian are literally, "I am blessing you in all four directions." (Although this is a sense of the idiom.) When I read the words, четыре стороны (four directions), I almost visualize the movement of a mandala. In ancient cultures, one bows in all four directions, ceremoniously, to the earth, on momentous occasions. Here, Tsvetaeva is sending a blessing in four directions.

The original, and an image of Tsvetaeva in Yelabuga, Tatarstan, a year before she passed from this earth:

Хочу у зеркала, где муть
И сон туманящий,
Я выпытать — куда Вам путь
И где пристанище.

Я вижу: мачта корабля,
И Вы — на палубе...
Вы — в дыме поезда... Поля
В вечерней жалобе —

Вечерние поля в росе,
Над ними — вороны...
— Благословляю Вас на все
Четыре стороны!

-- Марина Цветаева


bluestorm said...

she is wonderful!

Iulia Flame said...

An astounding poetic voice. Have you dabbled in translations? I am not feeling very confident.

bluestorm said...

me neither, at least for now. i fear distorting the original piece, not being capable of handling the language limitations.

there is so much more to the way we express ourselves, not just the particular words used, but specific for the author, his/her time, soul, ethnicity. there is music to poetry also, in the sound of words strung into verses. it is an intricate task.

Iulia Flame said...


(for erin) when i ask, where have the redpolls gone, and why the silence at my seed station your eyes, unbidden twin candles startle ...

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