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Arseny Tarkovsky | Poems

Translators’ Note:

Arseny 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.

I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky, the first English bilingual edition of his work, is forthcoming in Spring 2014 from Cleveland State University Poetry Center.


Here, a house once stood

Here, a house once stood. Inside, some old man
lived with a child. And now the house is gone.

A hundred kilo bomb—the earth, blacker than black.
A home, now none. That’s war; what can be done?

On a heap of gray rags, a samovar gleams.
A dresser, nearby a horse. Above the horse, steam.

Along the ruined wall, some goosefoot weeds will grow.
The wretched ghosts of war will make a home 

right here, forever. Without them, who would moan
at night, whistle and writhe in unheated stoves?



Здесь дом стоял. Жил в нем какой-то дед.
Жил какой-то мальчик. Больше дома нет.

Бомба в сто кило, земля черным-черна,
Был дом, нет дома. Что делать, война!

Куча серых тряпок, на ней самовар,
Шкафчик, рядом лошадь, над лошадю пар.

Вырастёт на пустыре лебеда у стены.
Здесь навсегда поселятся бедные духи войны.

А то без них некому будет скулить по ночам,
Свистеть да гулять по нетопленым печам.




The gun battery was over there, behind that hill

The gun battery was over there, behind that hill.
We cannot hear it, but its thunder remains still,
around us, the corpses lie beneath the snow,
and in the icy air, their arms are still flailing.
Who would dare to trample this field now?
Today, the dead ones rise again. Now they will
hear the red-breasted snowbirds sing.



Стояла батарея за этим вот холмом,
Нам ничего не слышно, а здесь остался гром,
Под этим снегом трупы еще лежат вокруг,
И в воздухе морозном остались взмахи рук.
Ни шагу знаки смерти ступить нам не дают.
Сегодня снова, снова убитые встают.
Сейчас они услышат, как снегири поют.



I bid farewell to everything I was . . .

I bid farewell to everything I was,
everything I despised, disliked, and loved.

And now, a new life begins,
I bid farewell to yesterday’s skin.

About me, I no longer need any news.
I bid goodbye—right to the marrow.

At last, I look down on what I was,
see my separate soul, no longer loved,

and gaze with calm at myself, at him,
and leave them alone in the abyss.

Hello, hello, my armor of ice.
Hello, bread and not me. Hello, wine.

Dreams of night and butterflies of day,
hello, everything and everyone without me.

I read the pages of unwritten novels,
I hear the round language of a round apple,

I hear the white speech of a white cloud,
but cannot save for you even a word

because I was the weaker vessel.
I don’t know why I broke myself.

I won’t hold in my hand the turning sphere,
won’t say to you a word without a word.

Yet long ago, the fish and rocks and leaves
and people and grass found their words in me.


Я прощаюсь со всем, чем когда-то я был
И что я презирал, ненавидел, любил.

Начинается новая жизнь для меня,
И прощаюсь я с кожей вчерашнего дня.

Больше я от себя не желаю вестей
И прощаюсь с собою до мозга костей,

И уже, наконец, над собою стою,
Отделяю постылую душу мою,

В пустоте оставляю себя самого,
Равнодушно смотрю на себя - на него.

Здравствуй, здравствуй, моя ледяная броня,
Здравствуй, хлеб без меня и вино без меня,

Сновидения ночи и бабочки дня,
Здравствуй, всё без меня и вы все без меня!

Я читаю страницы неписаных книг,
Слышу круглого яблока круглый язык,

Слышу белого облака белую речь,
Но ни слова для вас не умею сберечь,

Потому что сосудом скудельным я был
И не знаю, зачем сам себя я разбил.

Больше сферы подвижной в руке не держу
И ни слова без слова я вам не скажу.

А когда-то во мне находили слова
Люди, рыбы и камни, листва и трава.



The Steppe

The land swallows itself whole
and nuzzles the heavens,
patches up its memory’s holes
with grasses and a man.

The grass is under horse’s hoofs,
the soul in a box of bones,
and only the word, the word alone,
looms under the full moon.

Like Nineveh, the steppe stretches,
and boulders on burial mounds
drowse like ancient kings on watch,
drunk on lunar pewter.

Words will be the last to die.
but still the sky will move,
as long as water drills through
the hard sheet of earth.

A burdock eyelash will flutter,
the grasshopper’s saddle, glimmer,
and a steppe bird will comb
its sleepy wing’s rainbow.

In blue-grey milk up to his neck
Adam will walk from the garden
into the steppe and return
the gift of speech to birds and stones alike.

The soul of souls, he’ll breathe                       
a lover’s fever of self-awareness
into the roots of grasses,
having remade their names in his sleep.




Земля сама себя глотает
И, тычась в небо головой,
Провалы памяти латает
То человеком, то травой.

Трава - под конскою подковой,
Душа - в коробке костяной,
И только слово, только слово
В степи маячит под луной.

А степь лежит, как Ниневия,
И на курганах валуны
Спят, как цари сторожевые,
Опившись оловом луны.

Последним умирает слово.
Но небо движется, пока
Сверло воды проходит снова
Сквозь жесткий щит материка.

Дохнет репейника ресница,
Сверкнет кузнечика седло,
Как радуга, степная птица
Расчешет сонное крыло.

И в сизом молоке по плечи
Из рая выйдет в степь Адам
И дар прямой разумной речи
Вернет и птицам и камням,

Любовный бред самосознанья
Вдохнет, как душу, в корни трав,
Трепещущие их названья
Еще во сне пересоздав.



And now summer has left

And now summer has left
as if it never came at all.
It’s warm still where the sun falls.
But it’s not enough.

Whatever I wanted to happen
fell right into my hands
like a five-fingered leaf.
But it’s not enough.

The just and unjust
played their necessary part
and burned into light.
But it’s not enough.

Life tucked me behind its back
and shielded me from cuffs. 
I’ve had such good luck.
But it’s not enough.

My leaves have yet to blaze;
my branches have not yet broken. 
The day is clear as glass—
but it’s not enough.



Вот и лето прошло,
Словно и не бывало.
На пригреве тепло.
Только этого мало.

Все, что сбыться могло,
Мне, как лист пятипалый,
Прямо в руки легло,
Только этого мало.

Понапрасну ни зло,
Ни добро не пропало,
Все горело светло,
Только этого мало.

Жизнь брала под крыло,
Берегла и спасала,
Мне и вправду везло.
Только этого мало.

Листьев не обожгло,
Веток не обломало...
День промыт, как стекло,
Только этого мало.



Philip Metres is the author and translator of a number of books and chapbooks, including Sand Opera (forthcoming 2015), I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (forthcoming 2015), Compleat Catalogue of Comedic Novelties: Poetic Texts of Lev Rubinstein (Ugly Duckling Presse forthcoming 2014), A Concordance of Leaves (Diode 2013), abu ghraib arias (Flying Guillotine 2011), To See the Earth (Cleveland State 2008), and Behind the Lines: War Resistance Poetry on the American Homefront since 1941 (University of Iowa 2007).  His work has appeared in Best American Poetry, numerous journals and anthologies, and has garnered two NEA fellowships, the Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, five Ohio Arts Council Grants, the Beatrice Hawley Award (for the forthcoming Sand Opera), the Arab American Book Award, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Anne Halley Prize, and a Russian Institute of Translation grant. He is a 2014 Creative Workforce Fellow. The Creative Workforce Fellowship is a program of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, supported by the residents of Cuyahoga County through a public grant from Cuyahoga Arts & Culture.He is professor of English at John Carroll University in Cleveland. See http://www.philipmetres.com.

Dimitri Psurtsev is a Russian poet and translator of British and American prose writers and poets (including Dylan Thomas, James Aldridge, A. S. Byatt, John Steinbeck, and Dana Gioia). His two books of poetry, Ex Roma Tertia and Tengiz Notebook, were published in Russia in 2001. He teaches translation at Moscow State Linguistic University and lives with his wife Natalia and daughter Anna outside Moscow.