After the War by Arseny Tarkovsky

Transference, Aug 2013

Translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev with commentary by Philip Metres.

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After the War by Arseny Tarkovsky

Aft er the War by Arseny Tarkovsky Philip Metres 0 1 0 Dimitri Psurtsev Moscow State Linguistic University 1 John Carroll University Follow this and additional works at: http://scholarworks.wmich.edu/transference Part of the Poetry Commons, and the Soviet and Post-Soviet Studies Commons - Arseny Tarkovsky ПОСЛЕ ВОЙНЫ Like a tree on top of forest grass Spreads its leafy hands through the leaves And, leaning on a shrub, propagates Its branches sideways, widthwise— So I shot up gradually. My muscles Swelled, my rib cage expanded. From the blue Goblet with prickly alcohol, my lungs Filled to the smallest alveoli, and my heart Took blood from the veins and veins Returned the blood, and took the blood again And it was like a transfiguration Of simple happiness and simple grief In a prelude and fugue for organ. I would be sufficient for all living things, Both plants and people, Who’d been dying somewhere near And somewhere at the other end of the earth In unimaginable suffering, like Marsyas, Who was flayed alive. If I’d given them my life, I would not become any poorer In life, in myself, in my blood. But I myself became like Marsyas. I’d long lived Among the living, and became like Marsyas. Sometimes, when you lie in the summer heat And look at the sky, and the hot air Rocks like a cradle above you, you Find a strange angle of senses: There is a gap in the crib, and through it An outer cold penetrates, as if Some icy needle... Like a tree splashes the earth Above itself, collapses from a steep Undermined by water, its roots in the air, The rapids plucking at its branches, So my double on the other rapids Travels from the future to the past. From a height, I follow myself with my eyes And clutch at my heart. Who gave me Trembling branches, a powerful trunk And weak, helpless roots? Death is vile, but life is worse, And there’s no bridling its tyranny. Are you leaving, Lazarus? Well, go away! Behind you, half the sky still blazes. Nothing holds us together. Sleep Vivacious one, fold your hands On your chest, and sleep. TRANSFERENCE Come by, take this, I don’t need anything, What I love I’ll give away, and what I don’t I’ll give away. I want to replace you, But if I say that I’m going to turn into you, Don’t believe me, poor child, I’m lying… O these hands with fingers like vines, Open and wet eyes, And the shells of small ears, Like saucers full of a love song, And wings, curved sharply by the wind. Don’t believe me, poor child, I lie, I’ll try to break away like one condemned to die, But I cannot transgress this strangeness Can’t flap your wings or touch your eyes With your little finger, or look With your eyes. You’re one Hundred times stronger than me, you are A song about yourself, and I’m A deputy of the tree and God, And by your judgment, sentenced for my song. 1969 Arseny Tarkovsky (1907–1989) spent most of his life as a well-known translator of Turkmen, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and other languages. During the Second World War, he worked as a war correspondent until he was wounded in a German attack, which would cost him his leg. His first book of poems had been accepted for publication in 1946, but in the wake of Zhdanov’s attack on Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoschenko, the book was never released. Tarkovsky’s first published volume, Before the Snow, was published in 1962, at the age of 55, to the acclaim of Akhmatova, who called his work “both contemporary and eternal.” In a time when official Russian poetry was anything but independent, Tarkovsky’s verse maintained its resolute allegiance to a poetic sound and vision that hearkened back to the masters of Russian poetry. Akhmatova called Tarkovsky the one “real poet” in the Soviet Union. In her words, “of all contemporary poets Tarkovsky alone is completely his own self, completely independent. He possesses the most important feature of a poet which I’d call the birthright.” In his spiritual and poetic independence, he outlasted the dross of totalitarianism. Vividly musical, rich in Biblical and folk echoes, Tarkovsky’s poems exude a poignant gratitude for living on earth, and a childlike wonder in nature, even though they are often set in the backdrop of terrible heartbreak of one of the most miserable centuries in Russian history. The most difficult aspect of translating Russian poetry is carrying across the richness of its music—the diversity of meters, rhythms, and rhyme: Tarkovsky’s poetry is, in the end, a poetry that lives through its music. Any simple literal translation misses the collision of sound and meaning that makes poetry poetry. In “After the War,” Tarkovsky often employs unrhymed blank verse; unrhymed poetry remains unusual in Russian poetry. As importantly, Tarkovsky alludes to the mythical satyr Marsyas, whose arrogant challenge of Apollo to a musical contest led to his being flayed to death. Dima Psurtsev and I began working together in 1992, when I lived in Moscow on a Watson Fellowship, studying contemporary Russian poetry. Dima suggested that I read Tarkovsky, and we did some basic translations of a handful of his most well-known poems. In 2009, back in Russia, I proposed that we might formalize our collaboration and translate a full-length collection of TRANSFERENCE Tarkovsky in English translation, since none had been published. Often, the process involved either my sending Dima a first draft, after which he would provide an annotation which would point out translation errors or particularly complex and allusive phrases, for future revision. We'd trade the poem back and forth until both of us were at peace that we had created something alive enough to let it into the world. The present translation was a product of this collaboration.


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Philip Metres, Dimitri Psurtsev. After the War by Arseny Tarkovsky, Transference, 2013,