listen

– Vladimir Mayakovsky. Listen

translated by Maria Enzensberger

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What a furnace! What a battle!
To this day, I tell you, down my
spine there goes an icy shiver:
how she fought beside your father –
tautening her bow – with her own sinew? –
with her own womanly will – so wondrous
was her bow its upsurge seemed, to
gods and humans both, a doubled
female breast, an airy outline,
like a wave against a galleon! –
Taking aim, not just with eye and
elbow but with every pulsing
vein, aiming her whole, aimed,
body, equal of men – no: equal
of gods (her never-used-up quiver
fuller than a horn of plenty),
radiant under the foe’s arrows,
there she stood – afraid of nothing.
Bowstring taunting tauter bowstrings,
fleshless bosom turned aside and
merging with the chest-tight bow so
close the arrows seemed to fly
not from the string but from the heart! Those
arrows passionate for destruction,
so thick and fast, in endless sequence,
that they could have been (but was it
war or thread she span?) a single
arrow flying from the string.
Was that a lion fighting beside her?
No, for in that cruel battle
even a god would have seemed timid.
Facing arrows, spurning pleasures,
thus she fought beside your father.

– Marina Tsvetaeva. excerpt from Phaedra

translated by Angela Livingstone

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I love you, miracle of Peter’s,
your stern and graceful countenance,
the broad Nevá’s imperious waters,
the granite blocks that line your banks,
the railings in cast-iron muster,
the melancholy of your nights,
transparent twilight, moonless lustre,
when, in my room, I use no lights
to write and read, when massed facades
and sleeping empty boulevards
are clear to see, and all afire
glitters the admiralty’s spire,
and, not permitting night to smother
the golden skies, there rushes through
a new dawn to replace the other,
and night gets half-an-hour’s due.

– Alexander Pushkin. excerpt from The Bronze Horseman: A Petersburg Tale

translated by Stanley Mitchell

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The table was turned to light. I lay
my head down like meat on a scale,
my soul throbbing on a thread.
I could see myself from above:
I would have been balanced
by a stout market weight.
                                                I lay
in the middle of the snowy shield
pocked along its western side,
in a circle of never-freezing swamps,
forests with fractured legs
and split-skulled railway stations,
their snowy pates blackened
over and again.
                            On that day,


the clocks stopped, souls of trains
no longer flew along lampless levies,
upon the gray fins of steam;
neither crow weddings nor snowstorms
nor thaws penetrated this limbo
where I lay in disgrace, naked,
in my own blood, outside the future’s
magnetic pull.


But then the wheel of blinding snow
shifted and began to turn on its axle,
and a wedge of seven planes flew low
over my head, turning back,
and gauze grew hard as tree bark
all over my body, and another’s
blood flowed into my veins, and
I breathed like a fish on sand,
swallowing the hard, mica-flecked,
cold and blessed air.


My lips were covered with sores, and also
I was fed by a spoon, and also
I could not remember my name,
but the language of King David came
alive on my tongue.
                                    And then
even the snow disappeared,
and early spring, rising on tiptoes,
draped her green scarf over the trees.

1964

– Arseny Tarkovsky. Field Hospital

translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev

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She has yet to be born:
she is music and word,
and she eternally bonds
all life in this world.

The sea breathes gently;
the day glitters wildly.
A bowl of dazed azure
sways pale foam-lilac.

May I too reach back
to that ancient silence,
like a note of crystal
pure from its source.

Stay, Aphrodite, as foam.
Return, word, to music.
Heart, be shy of heart,
fused with life’s root.

– Osip Mandelstam. Silentium

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk

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