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"Giselle" was the first Khodasevich poem I encountered in any versified translation, when during my Hawthornden fellowship I visited the National Library of Scotland and started reading David Bethea's Khodasevich: His life and art. Bethea's translations in the book are not usually metrical and rhyming, but in this case he did include the rhymes in the even-numbered lines which I have taken on here, and I have not tried to improve on his line 2 at all. Usually I avoid reading verse translations before making my own attempts, and I have only returned to this poem 18 months after meeting it in Bethea's chapter 1 (pp. 23-24). He uses it in his introduction to Khodasevich's art as illustrating the poet's "balletic" poetry, combining "drama and choreography, rhetorical tension and dancelike release". Robert P. Hughes mentions that this is the last poem he wrote in Russia, on May Day 1922 with the parade outside, after he had been to Giselle the night before ["Khodasevich: irony and dislocation", in the Bitter Air of Exile: Russian writers in the West 1922-1972 ed. Simon Karlinsky and Alfred Appel,Jr. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)]. His art had matured but was about to move into eclipse through the frustrating years of exile.
Yes, yes! In blind and tender passion
wear out the pain, burn out the fire;
rip your heart up, like a letter,
lose your mind, and then expire.
And then? Once more to roll away
the gravestone that lies over you;
to love once more, and flash your feet
upon a stage of moonlit blue.
1 May 1922
You opened up the little hatch
and out the white dove flew,
and as it passed it brushed my face
as if a stiff breeze blew.
And is that all? This meagre gift
of time for what I do?
Will you my friend remember these
eight lines I wrote for you?
16-17 April 1918
To the Visitor
Enter bringing me a dream,
or some gorgeousness from hell,
or bring me God if you're from Him,
but little acts of meaning well,
leave on the hatstand in the hall.
Here on this pea we call the earth,
either be angel or be demon,
but to be human — what's the worth
of that, except to be forgotten?
7 July 1921
The stopper in the iodine
has rotted from the strength inside,
the way the soul will burn unseen
and eat the flesh it's occupied.
17 September 1921
Lady's washed her hands so long,
Lady's scrubbed her hands so hard,
and this lady won't forget
the blood around the neck.
Lady, lady! Like a bird
you twitch about your sleepless bed.
Three hundred years you've had no sleep -
and six years now I've stayed awake.
9 January 1922
Translated by Peter Daniels
|© Copyright Peter Daniels|