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Arseny Tarkovsky, Translation from Russian

by Philip Metres & Dimitri Psurtsev



Мамка птичья и стрекозья,

Помутнела синева,

Душным воздухом предгрозья

Дышит жухлая трава.


По деревне ходит Каин,

Стекла бьет и на расчет,

Как работника хозяин,

Брата младшего зовет.


Духоту сшибает холод,

По пшенице пляшет град.

Видно, мир и вправду молод,

Авель вправду виноват.


Я гляжу из-под ладони

На тебя, судьба моя,

Не готовый к обороне,

Будто в Книге Бытия.









Душа моя затосковала ночью.


А я любил изорванную в клочья,

Исхлестанную ветром темноту

И звезды, брезжущие на лету.

Над мокрыми сентябрьскими садами,

Как бабочки с незрячими глазами,

И на цыганской масляной реке

Шатучий мост, и женщину в платке,

Спадавшем с плеч над медленной водою,

И эти руки как перед бедою.


И кажется, она была жива,

Жива, как прежде, но ее слова

Из влажных Л теперь не означали

Ни счастья, ни желаний, ни печали,

И больше мысль не связывала их,

Как повелось на свете у живых.


Слова горели, как под ветром свечи,

И гасли, словно ей легло на плечи

Все горе всех времен. Мы рядом шли,

Но этой горькой, как полынь, земли

Она уже стопами не касалась

И мне живою больше не казалась.


Когда-то имя было у нее.


Сентябрьский ветер и ко мне в жилье

Врывается -

                     то лязгает замками,

То волосы мне трогает руками.





Russian poet Arseny Tarkovsky; selections from this book project (forthcoming from Cleveland State) have been published in Poetry, New England Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Artful Dodge, The Journal, Guernica, North American Review, Two Lines and Two Lines Online. Tarkovsky’s work emerges from a visionary sensibility—like Akhmatova and Mandelstam—that became his way of forging a Russian art outside of Soviet realism. Of course, it’s the music of the poems that guaranteed his reputation, as much as the vision. Speaking of Soviet poetry during an interview toward the end of her life, Anna Akhmatova called Arseny Tarkovsky the one “real poet.” In her words, in 1965, “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 a time when Russian poetry was anything but independent, Tarkovsky’s verse maintained its resolute allegiance to his own poetic vision.



Tarkovsky lived from 1907 until 1989, and spent most of his life as a translator of Turkmen, Georgian, Armenian, Arabic, and other Asian poets, only publishing his own poems after Stalin’s death (beginning in 1962). Of a younger generation than Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Tsvetaeva, he both absorbed the Silver Age tradition and hearkened back to the simple and primordial music of Pushkin. He was wounded in World War II, lost a leg to gangrene, and wrote some of the most powerful poems about the Second World War. Later, his son Andrei became an internationally celebrated filmmaker; in a number of his great films, Andrei features his father’s poems, demonstrating the aesthetic continuation of the Russian tradition from poetry to film.



Philip Metres is the author of a number of books, most recently A Concordance of Leaves (2013), abu ghraib arias (2011), this year’s winner of the Arab American Book Award in poetry; To See the Earth (2008), Come Together: Imagine Peace (2008), and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront, Since 1941(University of Iowa Press, 2007). His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, and has garnered two NEAs, the Beatrice Hawley Award, two Arab American Book Awards, the Cleveland Arts Prize, and four Ohio Arts Council Excellence grants. He teaches literature and creative writing at John Carroll University in Cleveland, Ohio.


Dimitri Psurtsev,  is a Russian poet and translator living in Moscow.






All night my soul roiled and pined.


Still, I loved the darkness torn apart

and lashed by gusts of wind.

I loved the stars’ glimmering flight

like the blind eyes on butterflies

over wet September orchards,

the shaky bridge, the gypsy river,

and the woman above the slow water—

her kerchief flowing over her shoulder—

those hands, holding off disaster.


It was as if she were alive,

alive again, but her words’

liquid sounds now signified

neither joy nor sadness nor longing,.

linked no longer by thinking—

unlike the syntax of the living.


Like a lit wick in wind, her voice flared

and guttered as if all human grief

bent her shoulders. We walked side by side,

her feet gliding like windswept leaves

along this earth, bitter as wormwood.

She was fading with every word.


Once upon a time she had a name.


September wind—even in my home—

bursts in—

now clanging the hinges,

now caressing my hair with its fingers.



Wet-nurse of dragonflies and birds




Wet-nurse of dragonflies and birds,

the blue sky is dim,

the withered grass inhales the swelter

as if before a storm.


In the village Cain shatters

window after window, calls his brother

to the final account

as a master would a servant.


The cold batters the air.

Hail dances on the wheat.

It’s true, really, the world

is young, and Abel is to blame.


With my open palm I shade

my face, my fate—

unready, defenseless

as in the book of Genesis.




The noise of that sound still rings in the ears



The noise of that sound still rings in the ears.

How loud the conductor’s bell


where a streetcar passed, and here

an unhurried, shallow river,

its reeds and duckweed.


Valya and I

ride horseback on cannons at the gate

to the public orchard, near a historic oak,

ice cream vendors, a booth with lemonade,

and musicians in a blue shell.


June shines over the orchard.


Trumpets mutter, drums thrum, and a flute

whistles, muffled as if from under a pillow:

half the drums, half the trumpets, half the flute.

At a quarter dream, at an eighth a life,


neither of us

(in elastic-banded summer hats,

sailor’s jackets with anchors, and sandals)

knows yet of the days to come—

who will survive, and who will be killed.

Our fates remain opaque as fresh milk

awaiting us at home, nearby.

On our shoulders, butterflies rest,

and swallows fly high in the sky.




Snow in March




In a snow this white

a white angel could alight

and with its wings, write

Alpha to Omega, make the death-cry

of a swan sound like grace.


But in this impasse

the black pines mutter

about their lack of peace—

a mad lacrimal disorder

seethes beneath their crust.


Will the highest bough ever reach

beyond itself, the poor bird eat

ever again? The heart is pierced,

always, with a needle thought—

how to fit the sky.


Across this snow, from the ravine

a droning worry fills my ears.

My life on earth, my path

estranged from itself, is raving

under its white hair. 




Еще в ушах стоит и гром и звон:

У, как трезвонил вагоновожатый!


Туда ходил трамвай, и там б

ылаНеспешная и мелкая река -

Вся в камыше и ряске.

                                       Я и Валя


Сидим верхом на пушках у ворот

В Казенный сад, где двухсотлетний дуб,

Мороженщики, будка с лимонадом

И в синей раковине музыканты.


Июнь сияет над Казенным садом.


Труба бубнит, бьют в барабан, и флейта

Свистит, но слышно, как из-под подушки:

В полбарабана, в полтрубы, в полфлейты

И в четверть сна, в одну восьмую жизни.


Мы оба


                 (в летних шляпах на резинке,

В сандалиях, в матросках с якорями)

Еще не знаем, кто из нас в живых

Останется, кого из нас убьют,

О судьбах наших нет еще и речи,

Нас дома ждет парное молоко,

И бабочки садятся нам на плечи,

И ласточки летают высоко.







По такому белому снегу

Белый ангел альфу-омегу

Мог бы крыльями написать

И лебяжью смертную негу

Ниспослать мне как благодать.


Но и в этом снежном застое

Еле слышно о непокое

Сосны черные говорят:

Накипает под их корою

Сумасшедший слезный разлад.


Верхней ветви - семь верст до неба,

Нищей птице - ни крошки хлеба,

Сердцу - будто игла насквозь:

Велика ли его потреба, -

Лишь бы небо впору пришлось.


А по тем снегам из-за лога

Наплывает гулом тревога,

И чужда себе, предо мной

Жизнь земная, моя дорога

Бредит под своей сединой.




Просыпается тело,

Напрягается слух.

Ночь дошла до предела,

Крикнул третий петух.


Сел старик на кровати,

Заскрипела кровать.

Было так при Пилате,

Что теперь вспоминать?


И какая досада

Сердце точит с утра?

И на что это надо -

Горевать за Петра?


Кто всего мне дороже,

Всех желаннее мне?

В эту ночь - от кого жеЯ

отрекся во сне?


Крик идет петушиный

В первой утренней мгле

Через горы-долины

По широкой земле.



From its dark sleep the body wakes




From its dark sleep the body wakes

and the ear strains to hear.

The night has died into day.

The third cock has crowed.


An old man sits on the bed

and the bed groans beneath him

as it has since Pilate’s time.

Why should it be any different?


What is this shame that knives

inside the heart?

And why must one grieve,

even now, for Peter?


Whom do I cherish most in this life,

who’s most beloved to me?

And this night, who have I

denied knowing as I slept?


In the pre-dawn haze

the cock’s cry travels

across valleys and hills

and will not rest for the rest of our days.




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