No. 2 - Year 9 - 06/2019
Literary Translation


DOI: 10.15291/sic/
The heart’s wave would not
froth up so beautifully, and would not
become spirit, if, fate, the old
silent rock, did not oppose it.
Hyperion, quoted inexactly,
Johann Christian Holderin (1770-1843)


Down a line of humming pillars,
Propping up the Empyrean,
I send you my share
Of earthly dust.
Down an avenue
Of sighs—by a line on a pole—
My telegraphic: I lo—o—ve...

I implore... (no printed form
Will hold it! Using this line is easier!)
These—the pillars, upon which Atlas
Lowered the racetrack
Of the Celestials...
Down these pillars
My telegraphic: go—o—odbye...

Hear this? This is the last stop
In my broken throat: forgi—i—ve...
This—rigging above the sea of fields,
Quiet Atlanta’s path:

Up, up—and we are en—tangled
In Ariadne’s: we are re—tur—ned,

And mangled! ... A charity ward’s
Dolor: I’ll never get out!
These—in a sendoff of steel
Lines—are the voices of Hades

Distancing themselves... Distance
Imploring: Take pi—ty...

On me! (From the chorus—can
You make this out?) In the dying clamor
Of obstinate passion is—
The small breath of Eurydice:

Down the embankments—and—ditches
Eurydice’s: a—a—las,

Don’t lea—

17 March 1923


I want to say to you... well, no, to put into lines
And squeeze into rhyme... My heart’s—grown larger!
But still’s too cramped, I’m afraid, for the sort of trouble
Found in all of Racine and Shakespeare!

“They each wept, and if blood could ache...
They each wept, and if there were snakes—in the roses”...
There was just one—for Phaedra—Hippolytus!
Ariadne keened—but just over Theseus!

Torn apart! Leaving no shores or landmarks!
Yes, I can say, having lost count,
That in you I lose all those
Who sometime and somewhere were fabulous!

What expectations—when the air is full
Of you—when you take up all the air!
When I am like Naxos—to the bone!
When blood runs under my skin—like the Styx!

Vanity! in me! Everywhere! having closed
My eyes: It’s fathomless! no daylight! A date
Lies on the calendar...
Like you—A rift,
I’m no Ariadne and not able...
—A loss!

O, over what seas and in what cities
Do I look for you? (The invisible—as the blinded!)
I trust my seeing you off to these lines,
And having come up against this telegraph pole—I cry.

18 March 1923



All sorted out and all discarded,
(In particular—your message!)
Wildest of dissonances
Of schools, of thaws... (a whole choir

Of help!) Sleeves hoisted
Like banners...
These lyrical lines hum
With my high desire.

Telegraph pole! Could anything
Be a more ready choice? So long as the sky remains—
An indisputable transmitter of feeling,
The palpable news of lips...

Know, so long as there is a vault to heaven,
So long as there are dawns at the border—
So with clarity and in every part everywhere
And lovingly I will bind you.

Across the ill-starred years of this epoch,
Over mock-embankments—from rigging to rigging—
My un-issued sighs,
My tempestuous passion...

Beyond my telegrams (those unregistered
And unfailing urgencies!)
Spring-melt rushes down the drainpipes
To flood the line’s expanse.

19 March 1923


Well-ordered streets!
Telegraph lines!

Bombastic—lustings—of mine,
A cry—from my gut and onto the wind!
This heart of mine, like a spark
Of magnetism—disrupts the meter.

—“Meter and measure?” But a four—th
Dimension takes vengeance!—Rushing
Above the metrical—this mortal
And false witness—of a whistle!

Ssh... So what if (after all aren’t there
Lines and poles everywhere?) understanding
Were to dawn on you: he difficulties
Of these utterances—are just the howl

Of a nightingale, run off the rails:
—Without you, beloved, the world is empty!—
Fallen, as I am, in lo—ve with the Lyre
Of your arms, and the Layla of your lips!

20 March 1923


I’m no reader of the dark arts! On the white book
Of the River Don’s vista I train my eye!
Wherever you are not—there I overtake you,
Pass through you—and haul you back.

In my arrogance, as from a tall cedar,
I survey the world: its vessels swim,
Their lights yaw... Out of the sea’s depths
I wrench you up—from the bottom!

What you go through for me! When I am everywhere:
I, who am dawns and stones, bread and sigh,
I, who am and will be, and who probe
Your lips—as God probes your soul:

Who breathe—into your hour of hoarseness,
Who drag you through the hedgerows
Of an archangel’s judgment!—I, with a mouth full of thorns
And bloodied, haul you back from the dead!

Give up! You know this is no fairy-tale!
—Give up!—This arrow describes its compass...
—Give up!—Not one has ever escaped
The one who takes you in without arms:

By breathing... (Whose bosom rises,
Whose eyelids are blind, around whose mouth mica—dries...)
As a woman of some intuition—I have come to mislead you,
Samuel—and am bound to return alone:

Since another woman is with you, and since on Judgment
Day we will cease to contend...
I circle and wait.
I who am and will be, I, who probe
Your soul—as I probe your lips, using my own

To lay you to rest...

25 March 1923


Hour, when the tsars above
And sacraments move, one to another.
(Hour, when I walk downhill):
Hills come to know.

Designs gather in a circle.
Fates converge: I can’t give up!
(Hour, when I see no arms)

Souls come to see.

25 March 1923


At the hour my dear brother
Passed the last of the elms
(Those waving, formed up in file),
Tears came—greater than my eyes.

At the hour my dear friend
Rounded the last of the capes
(To mental sighs: revert!)
Waves came—greater than my arms.

Indeed my arms—followed you—to my shoulders!
Indeed my lips followed too—to entreat!
Little by little my voice lost volume,
Little by little my wrist lost fingers.

At the hour my dear visitor...
—Lord, look at us!—
Tears came greater than the eyes
Of humanity, than the stars
Of the Atlantic...

25 March 1923


Patiently, as one pounds stone,
Patiently, as one waits to die,
Patiently, as one absorbs news,
Patiently, as one nurses revenge—

I wait for you (fingers laced—
As a consort waits on a Sovereign)
Patiently, as one waits on rhyme,
Patiently, as one worries a cuticle.

I wait for you (eyes—downcast,
Teeth in my lips. Stunned. A paving brick).
Patiently, as one holds off coming,
Patiently, as one strings beads.

Creak of a sledge, answering creak
Of a door: roar of taiga winds.
An imperial decree has issued:
—Regime change, entry of a new grandee.

Unearthly home that it is—
It is my own.

27 March 1923


Spring brings on sleep. So, let’s sleep.
Even apart, it seems we yield: every piece
Of our broken set unites in sleep.
Maybe we see each other in dreams.

The one who sees it all knows whose
Palm—slips into whose, who—is with whom,
To whom I bring my sorrow,
To whom I confide my everlasting

Sorrow (a child, whose father
Goes unnamed and whose end
Comes unexpectedly!) O, sorrow of those
Who cry with no shoulder to cry on!

Crying over what slips from my fingers
As memory, like a pebble off a bridge...
Over all the places already taken,
Over all the hearts already engaged

To servitude—with no break—forever.
Bound to live—a lifetime—without joy!
O, buried—barely able to rise!—at dawn!
Consigned to a shelf, that Elysium of the stunted.

Over how you and I are quieter
Than grass, stone, terror, water...
Over the seamstress taking up a hem, left to:

5 April 1923


I may sleep with others—in rosy tangles
Of tangles... For problematical fractions
Of weeks...
But I will be in you
As a treasure-house of similes

At second-hand—in the sands, gleaned
From detritus—overheard in the winds,
On the tracks... Beyond all the hungry
Outposts, where youth wasted itself.

My shawl—remember it? Drawn tight
In the cold, and hotter than hell
Thrown open...
Know, that a miracle
Of the heart—lies beneath my skirt, a living creature:

Song! With this firstborn, finer
Than all earlier-born and all Rachels...
—My truest heart, caught up in thickets
I clear with our imagined connections!

11 April 1923

Note About Contributor(s)

Marina Tsvetaeva

Marina Tsvetaeva (1982-1941) was a Russian poet, born in Moscow, much admired by Joseph Brodsky, who stated in 1978: “Well, if you are talking about the twentieth century, I’ll give you a list of poets. Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Tsvetaeva (and she is the greatest one, in my view. The greatest poet in the twentieth century was a woman.)” The poems translated here were written while Tsvetaeva was living in exile in Prague, where she lived from 1922 to 1925, before moving on to Paris. She eventually returned to the Soviet Union just before World War II, where she committed suicide, having lost her husband to the KGB, believing she had lost her daughter to the Gulag, and leaving behind a teenage son, who did not survive military service in the war. Her daughter, Alya, emerged from the Gulag late in life and did much to preserve her mother’s legacy.

Mary Jane White

Mary Jane White is a poet and translator from Amen Lake, Deer River, Minnesota. She earned an MFA from the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, received NEA Fellowships in 1979 and 1985 in both poetry and translation, and was twice awarded writing scholarships to Bread Loaf (1979, 2016) and to Squaw Valley Community of Writers (2006). Her book Starry Sky to Starry Sky (1988) is available from Holy Cow! Press, and it contains translations of Marina Tsvetaeva which first appeared as a cover feature in The American Poetry Review. Mary Jane White’s recent Tsvetaeva translations include: New Year’s, an Elegy for Rilke, a chapbook from Adastra Press (Massachusetts); “Poem of the Hill” in the Summer 2007 issue of The New England Review; “Poem of the End” in the Winter 2008 issue of The Hudson Review, reprinted in two anthologies, From a Terrace in Prague (Prague 2011) and Poets Translate Poets (Syracuse 2013).