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  CARDINAL POINTS: THE CURRENT ISSUE
Elaine Feinstein
TRANSLATING TSVETAEVA


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Elaine Feinstein

All translation is difficult; Tsvetaeva is a particularly difficult poet. Her pauses and sudden changes of speed are felt always against the deliberate constraint of the forms she had chosen. Perhaps the exact metres could not be kept, but some sense of her shapeliness, as well as her roughness, had to survive. 

For this reason I usually followed her stanzaic patterning, though I have frequently indented lines where she does not. This slight shift is one of many designed to dispel any sense of the static solidity which blocks of lines convey to an English eye and which is not induced by the Russian.

English poetry demands a natural syntax, and in looking for that I observed that some of Tsvetaeva’s abruptness has been smoothed out, and the poem have gained a different, more logical scheme of development. There were other problems. Tsvetaeva's punctuation is strongly individual; but to have reproduced it pedantically would often have destroyed the tone of the English version. In my first drafts I experimented with using extra spaces between words, but sometimes restored Tsvetaeva's dash - at least in the early poems; in later poems a space has often seemed closer to the movement of her lines. Dashes that indicated the beginning of direct speech are retained. I frequently left out exclamation marks where their presence seemed to weaken a line that was already loud and vibrant. Furthermore, there were difficulties of diction. Words with echoes of ancient folk-songs and the Bible were particularly hard to carry across into English.

I am not sure how far a discussion of methods of translation attracts much useful reflection. Yet some word seems necessary, especially since I have worked with different linguists. Some of the poems, such as 'Poem of the End', as Angela Livingstone described in her detailed note. were transliterated into English, as well as written out in word-for-word literal versions, which indicated, by hyphenation, words which were represented by a single Russian word. Other poems, such as the 'Insomnia' cycle and 'Verses about Moscow', also prepared for me by Angela Livingstone, were first read on to tape in Russian; and then (on the same tape) as literal versions which I wrote out myself and used alongside the printed Russian text. For 'An Attempt at Jealousy' I used the literal prose version at the foot of the page in the Penguin Book of Russian Verse. For the 1981 edition, Simon Franklin produced written literal versions very much as Angela Livingstone had done, though without transliterations; and he too gave full indications of changes of rhythm, musical stress, and word-play in his notes.

Elaine Feinstein             


Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva



Where does this tenderness come from?

Where does this tenderness come from?
These are not the — first curls I
have stroked slowly — and lips I
have known are — darker than yours

as stars rise often and go out again
(where does this tenderness come from?)
so many eyes have risen and died out
in front of these eyes of mine,

and yet no such song have
I heard in the darkness of night before,
(where does this tenderness come from?)
here, on the ribs of the singer.

Where does this tenderness come from?
And what shall I do with it, young
sly singer, just passing by?
Your lashes are — longer than anyone's.

                                                                              1916


Poems for Akhmatova


1

Muse of lament, you are the most beautiful of
all muses, a crazy emanation of white night:
and you have sent a black snow storm over all Russia.
We are pierced with the arrows of your cries

so that we shy like horses at the muffled
many times uttered pledge — Ah! — Anna
Akhmatova — the name is a vast sigh
and it falls into depths without name

and we wear crowns only through stamping
the same earth as you, with the same sky over us.
Whoever shares the pain of your deathly power will
lie down immortal — upon his death bed.

In my melodious town the domes are burning
and the blind wanderer praises our shining Lord.
I give you my town of many bells,
Akhmatova, and with the gift: my heart.

2

I stand head in my hands thinking how
unimportant are the traps we set for one another.
I hold my head in my hands as I sing
in this late hour, in the late dawn.

Ah how violent is this wave which has
lifted me up on to its crest: I sing
of one that is unique among us
as the moon is alone in the sky,

that has flown into my heart like a raven,
has speared into the clouds
hook-nosed, with deathly anger: even
your favour is dangerous,

for you have spread out your night
over the pure gold of my Kremlin itself
and have tightened my throat with the pleasure
of singing as if with a strap.

Yes, I am happy, the dawn never
burnt with more purity, I am
happy to give everything to you
and to go away like a beggar,

for I was the first to give you —
whose voice deep darkness! has
constricted the movement of my breathing —
the name of the Tsarskoselsky Muse.

                                                                              1916



Translator's Notes

 

* "Where does this tenderness come from?" The poem is addressed to Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)
* Poems For Akhmatova.
        1. Anna Akhmatova (1889 - 1966).
        Ah!: in Russian akh! - the first syllable of the poet's name.
        2. Tsarskoselsky Muse : Akhmatova spent much of her youth in , and thereafter frequently revisited, the imperial town of Tsarskoe Selo, near St. Petersburg.




Translated from Russian by Elaine Feinstein                 


 
© Copyright  Elaine Feinstein, intoruction, translation from Russian
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