Svetlana Sivak Marina Tsvetaeva Sophia Parnok Richard Burgin Ruth Posselt
Marina Tsvetaeva: Berlin
(from After Russia)[1]The Russian text of the Berlin Poems comes from Marina Tsvetaeva, Sobranie sochinenii v semi tomakh, ed. A. A. Saakiants and L. A. Mnukhin (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1994-1997), Volume 2.
Translated by Diana Lewis Burgin
There’s a time for words like these.
From muted hearing’s depths
Life taps out her keys
Of high-pitched righteousness.
Perhaps because a face
Against a shoulder leans.
Or that, unseen by day,
A ray of light now gleams.
An un-vibrating string
Dust – thrust upon a sheet.
Conceding its distrust
And its earthly dust.
Ardent obstinacies’
Time – and serenest pleas’.
Time of unearthly bonds.
Time of the orphaned ones.
11 June 1922
Violent valley, Vale-of-tears-like love.
Arms are: light and salt.
Lips are: sap and blood.
Thunder in your left
Breast my forehead touched.
Who – brow beating stone –
Who has loved you thus?
Bye, cogitations! Bye, verse creations!
Life’s: in a lark, life’s: in honeysuckle,
Life’s: by the handful: all – splashed out am I
With all my wild oddnesses – and modestnesses,
With all my cried-my-eyes-out iridescences,
With sneaky invasions, prestidigitations…
Life, you darling girl!
Greedy, you won’t quit!
Memorize the purl
In the shoulder knit.
Chirpings in the dusk…
With the birds I wake!
My vivacious thrust
In your book of days.
12 June 1922
So, in the humdrum workaday world,
So, in your manic attraction to her,
You’ll forget the friendly trochaic verse
Of your virile girlfriend.
Her stark simplicity’s bitter gift,
And slight timidity’s hidden heat,
And that intuitive shock we felt,
Which ‘prospects’ are often called.
All archaisms, save for: give and mine,
All jealousies, save for: this world’s kind,
All fidelities, – but to the death a fight
As doubting Thomas would fight.
My tender boy! By my forebears’ gray:
Don’t give this refugee a place to stay!!
Long live the left-breasted way
Of forging straightforward ends!
But maybe, amid chirrups and accounts
Having tired of eternal femininities –
You’ll recall my hand without rights
And steadfast, manly sleeve.
My lips not asking for estimates,
My rights, not following in your tracks,
My eyes, not knowing the touch of lids,
In tracking the path of: light.
15 June 1922
Nocturnal whisperings: the silks
A hand tugs, tossing off and spills.
Nocturnal whisperings: the silks
With lips caressing out the rills.
                 The bills
For all day’s jealousies –
             and shrieks’
Past histories – and having clenched their jaws –
The row’s
Done –
      A leaf
On glass …
And a first bird’s cheep.
– How pure! – A sigh.
Wrong one. – It’s gone.
I’m gone.
A should-
er’s twitch.
In vain.
The end.
For naught.
And in this vanity of vanities
This sword: the dawn.
17 June 1922
Find girlfriends for yourself who are naïve,
Who have not switched a miracle with math.
I know the point of Venus is – the arms,
I am a craftsman – and I know the craft.
From loftily-triumphant moments dumb
To full and utter trampling of the soul:
Divinity’s entire ladder – from
My own life’s breath – to: Breathe no more!
18 June 1922
Follow the law:
No owning here
So in the yon –
City of Friends:
In that bare hold,
In that controlled,
Male sky high-souled
– Utterly gold –
Where rivers all flow back,
There on the bank – to stand,
Take someone’s hand abstract
Into abstraction’s hand…
Flicker of fleeting quark,
Quake – and responsive quake.
Hands’ abstraction in dark
Hidden in a hand-shake!)
O, amicable splash
From clothing flat as swords –
Heaven of masculine gods,
Heaven of masculine lauds!
Thus, between orphan-hoods:
Spanning equals,
In fresh latitudes of
Dawns, in quickening
Games – in an arid wind
Greetings, impartial souls!
Sky of Tarpetian cliffs,
Sky of Spartan friends!
20 June 1922
O Lord, when can I say
That calmness of the heights,
That calmness of old age,
Has come into my life.
When will my shoulder tall,
That’s shouldered my whole life
Pierce the proto-silence
Of those first light-blue skies.
O Lord, just You alone,
Nobody else, just You,
Know how from featherbeds
I strove for mountain blue.
How to lips’ persistent dearth
Sleep – I listened to – and grass…
(Here, on the fine arts’ earth
I’m known in the verbal crafts!)
And how tormented by
Lies’ – unbearable tax,
How with its last strength my
Ear heard a tree’s first twitch…

A tree’s – initial – twitch,
A dove’s – initial – coo.
(Is that not your twitch,
Pride, and not your coo,
        – It’s time to stop,
Photograph of sharp-sighted shafts!
In the cryptograph of love
Heaven’s – such a white blank!
If there were – not – daybreak:
Bustle, and birds, and leaves,
If there weren’t these vanities’
Vanity – people’s lives
Would gel…
       The sun’s whip flays –
Tender forms’ honeysuckle.
To their striving for prey
Heaven’s – such an obstacle!
Day. Horses shod for dray
Carts. – Life’s begun. – She’s gone.
Sudden and quiet twitch of a
Shoulder that’s recalled night.
Hides it…
      Poured from a pail
Morning. Painter’s whitewash.
In the chronicle of Eve
Heaven’s – such a white-out!
22-23 June
By their sunburn – an ax and plough.
Enough – earthly dust has its due!
For the hands that do arts and crafts
Early morning is valued, too.
Greetings – in the old-testament dark –
Endless virility’s hand-shake!
Fruit that’s smoking of moss and mead –
Bye, you creature of final sleep!
Having thrown off Sarah-command-
ment and Hagar – heart in the sleek
Heaps – of slumber…
           – enjoy the days,
Endless virility’s hand-shake!
24 June 1922
Greetings! Not a stone, nor arrow:
I! – Of women most alive:
Life. With both my hands I’m crawling
Into your not-slept-out sleep.
Give! (In two-pronged tongue: Here,
Take! – A serpent’s forkedness!)
All of me in this bareheaded
Joyfulness of mine, accept!
Cling! – Today you’re on a schooner,
– Cling! – you’re skiing! – Cling! – Novice!
Today I am in a new skin:
The gilded one, the seventh!
– Mine! – And what’s the point of Eden
When – I have your arms, your mouth:
Life: the joy beyond all doubt of
Greeting morning with a shout!
25 June 1922
Not all people think it’s law.
When according to the saw
Bed time’s come, it’s holy writ,
Some to sleep just don’t submit:
They are studying – and view
In the petal’s depths: not you!
Not all people think it’s so:
When the drought of recent woes
Causes lips to crack and shrink –
There are some who still don’t drink:
They investigate – and clench-
Fistedly – leave thirst unquenched!
There are some, without flex-spines –
Who pay dearly for their lives.
25 June 1922
So that you won’t see me – enter
Life – with penetrating, hidden
Fencing I’ll surround myself.
Gird myself with honeysuckle,
Edge myself with frosty rime.
So that you won’t hear me in the
Night – in wisdom of old women:
Secretiveness – I’ll be strong.
Gird myself with shuffling-rustling,
Edge myself with rustling sound
So excessively you will not
Bloom – in thickets: in my verses
I will bury you alive:
Gird you with creative fancy,
Edge you with imaginings.
25 June 1922
12. The Balcony
Ah, from the unimpeded plummet –
Down – into dust and tar!
How long must earthly love’s short ration
Be salted with – a tear?
The balcony. Through salty downpours
Evil kisses’ black sap.
And permanent enmity’s
Sigh: and exhale in verse!
Squeezed into a ball in my hand –
What: my heart or some torn
Batiste fabric? For these lotions
There’s a name: – The Jordan.
Yes, for this battle with love is
Cruel-hearted and bereft.
O, from the granite overhang shoot
Up – and exhale in death!
30 June 1922
If you can’t find the guest of night-time…
Sleep and let pass in sleep
In a most tried-and-true of shelters
This impossible light.
But if you – do not think, your ear de-
ceives! – loving him – will swerve
A bit, but if night sobs and
Your breast plays – zither-like…
It means my laurel-covered lover
Has turned his horses from
The hippodrome. The god is jealous
For me, his favorite.
2 July 1922
Non-imitatively life lies:
More than predictions, or lies…
But by the quiver of all veins
You can detect: life!
Just as you lie in rye: sound, blue…
(So what if you lie in a lie!) – heat, wall…
Murmur – through honeysuckle – of a hundred veins…
Be joyful! – He called!
And don’t cast blame on me, friend, so
Under a spell our souls from our
Bodies – that we cannot: but(t) sleep.
Why else – did you sing?
Into the white book of your calms,
Into the wild clay of your “yes’s” –
Quietly I incline my brow’s profile:
Since your palm is life.
8 July 1922
It appeared: friendship would be
Light – and untroubled the touch of
Hands. – Waving a hand,
Friend, let’s put a stop to love.
Not – too late yet!
Through chinks in the sunrise
(Not too late!) – the birds
Still have not sung to us.
Be on your – guard, though!
It’s time to place last bets!
No, it will be too late,
Friend, if it’s tomorrow!
The earth is a breeze!
Friend, take the last breath!
No one of our years
Tries putting off death!
Dead people – at least – sleep!
But for my dreams there’s no
Sleep! Waving our spades
Friend – let’s put a stop on memory!
9 July 1922
Arms – and into the
Mix of re-sales and resold concessions!
Just hope I don’t,
Don’t mix your lips and arms up with others’!
All of those vain
Futilities that have made me sleepless.
Lifting my hands,
Friend, I cast a spell on my own memory!
So in my verse
(Rubbish heap of my one-time Highnesses!)
You don’t die out,
You don’t dry up in the manner of others.
So in my breast
(In that thousand-breasted fraternal
Grave-yard!) – the rains
Of millennia don’t wash you away…
Body among bodies,
– So you, who were a two-star jerk to me!..
So you won’t rot
With Unknown your inscription.
9 July 1922
17. To Berlin
Rain hums a lull-a-bye to pain.
To downpours like quickly descending shutters
I sleep. Horses’ hooves on the quavering
Asphalt sound like the clapping of hands.
‘Congrats’ were said – and died out.
In gold-dawned having-been-left-ness
On the most fairy-tale of orphan-hoods
You, barracks, have taken mercy!
10 July 1922
You’ll be convinced of it – just wait a bit! –
That woman cast out on a pallet,
Had need of neither glory nor
The treasure-house of Solomon.
No, putting her hands behind her head,
– With her nightingale’s throat! –
Not about treasure sings Sulamith:
About a handful of red clay!
12 July 1922
Brightly-silvery spots of mould
Above the thickets and swimming pools.
The curtain’s still – while through the chink –
Comes wavering and distracted
Light… Like the falling water of
A veil. (Unless it’s touched, it will not stir!)
That’s how the fairies sometimes steal
Their way into the hearts of sleeping men.
For those who know not years still like
– Sleep! – to lose their heads in passion.
Without a knowledge of my signs,
Sleep, tender inequality of mine!
Sleep. – Fantasy shall I remain, to
Caress the wrinkles out of your forehead.
That’s how the Muses sometimes find
A way to be the loves of mortal men.
16 July 1922
I admire the sneakiness of your hair:
As you smooth it to a sheen,
Combing your confusion lengthwise –
Hair of midnight blue-black, like
Raven feathers. – Smooth at will
Your confusion’s length – with your palm.
Tender boy! – Don’t fool yourself!
That’s how people smooth away
Evil thoughts: break up – departure –
The staircase’s final creak…
That’s how people handle a
Rose’s thorn… – You’ll hurt your finger!
I know a lot concerning the
Life of hands. – From their bright arcs
Stubbornly and with persistence
I track your against-the-grain
Thought sequence: your hair’s black pitch,
Groaning under your hand’s pressure.
I feel pity for your per-
sistent palm: your hair now has
Such shine, – it soon will mirror
Your eyes… And chased deep inside
The persistent thought: what you
Wake up with – chased inside your skull!
17 July 1922
Lethe’s sightlessly-streaming weep.
Your debt’s been forgiven: seeped
Into Lethe, – barely-barely it’s
Willow trees’ silvery-streaming hiss.
Willowy silver-Lethéan swish
Weeping… In sightlessly-streaming crypts,
Memories’ – I am so tired – hide
In willows’ silver-Lethéan cry.
Shouldering – silvery-gray pelisse
Elderly, silvery-dry ivy
Onto your shoulders – you’re exhausted – lie down,
Incense’s blindly-Lethean poppy-red
       – for the color red
Grows old, for purple is gray
In memory, for having drained the cup –
Drynesses I stream.
Huelessnesses: damaged sinews’
Stinginesses, young sibyls’
Blindnesses, from aches in the head
Gray-hairednesses, as lead.
[1]The Russian text of the Berlin Poems comes from Marina Tsvetaeva, Sobranie sochinenii v semi tomakh, ed. A. A. Saakiants and L. A. Mnukhin (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1994-1997), Volume 2.