Another Large Pearl.

The other day I posted about Tsvetaeva’s poem «Отмыкала ларец железный…» [I unlocked the iron casket]; I’ve just come to one she wrote a couple of months later, «На крыльцо выхожу — слушаю…», that uses so much of the same imagery I can’t resist posting a rough translation so anyone interested can compare and contrast:

I go out onto the porch — I listen,
I tell fortunes on lead — I weep.
The nights: stifling,
Boring.
Lights in the distance, a Cossack village.

And it’s bad at noon too — the suburb:
The droshky rattles along the road,
A pauper begs a penny,
And children chase a cat,
And grasshoppers in the grass — hop.

In a black shawl, with a large rose
On my breast, — as the evening falls,
With a red-curled, rosy,
Very merry trickster
I’ll have very — sweet — speech.

Don’t load me with gifts of silver,
With large maternal pearls,
A little ring from a little finger.
I want a costlier present:
Over the village — a glow!

The porch, the cat, the big pearl, the little ring… there’s something going on here, but damned if I know what it is. (As for “And grasshoppers in the grass — hop,” the Russian word for ‘grasshopper’ has nothing to do with grass or hopping, but that’s what the original says — ‘the grasshoppers in the grass — leap/spring/bound’ — so how could I resist? I think Tsvetaeva would have liked it.) And of course if I’ve misunderstood any of the Russian, please let me know.

Comments

  1. I think she was literally playing with fire.

    “Red-curled, rosy, very merry trickster” – that’s the fire she is looking at and toying with temptation to set the village on fire.

    I didn’t know she suffered from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyromania

  2. Toying with fire, I think comes, from fortune telling on molten lead she is engaged in the second stanza.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molybdomancy

  3. На свинце ворожу certainly refers to molybdomancy– does she also foretell a bullet for herself?

    I want to read this in the context of the civil war, but it looks like it was written a bit early for that…

  4. Christopher S says:

    Sorry, this is completely off topic, and can be deleted if deemed inappropriate, but recently I read in the comments section of a post here about the case of someone doing a close textual analysis of a translation of some classical text. They were analyzing the use of the word “the” in that text and as it turned out, there wasn’t even a corresponding word for “the” in that classical language. Can someone remind me of where I read about this?

  5. LH, you’ve got it mostly right, as far as I can tell. Перстеньком с мизинца should be “a ring from the little finger” and как спадет вечер is “when the early night falls” (you misread вечер for ветер).

    I have no idea whether something is really going on. On the surface of it, she is just bored out of her mind and wants to burn a nearby village.

  6. Зарево isn’t your average glow, it’s ominous for sure, whoever is her redheaded disobedient confidant

  7. You don’t like this one, LH?
    За то, что Вас — хоть разорвись над гробом! – Уж не спасти

    And then of course there is the classic for this very night when I’m filtering another batch of rowan hooch, you know that one for sure, since it’s all about languages?

  8. Rowan hooch? Really?

  9. Is that the black shawl from Puskin’s stylized “Moldovan” song, full of wild Euxine passions? (An early Pushkin poem, it soon become popular as a song with music by Verstovsky.) The rose flower reminds me of Khodasevich’s An Mariechen, written five or six years later, addressed to a young girl with “an enormous rose between the unkissed breasts.” Like Tsvetaeva in this poem above, Khodasevich often wrote about his longing for something earth-shattering, but in An Mariechen he limited himself to dreaming of the girl’s getting raped and stabbed to death so she would retain her essential innocence and never experience the vulgar torments of family life.

  10. I think she was literally playing with fire. “Red-curled, rosy, very merry trickster” – that’s the fire she is looking at and toying with temptation to set the village on fire.

    Of course you must be right — thanks!

    Перстеньком с мизинца should be “a ring from the little finger” and как спадет вечер is “when the early night falls” (you misread вечер for ветер).

    And my thanks to you as well; I’ve fixed both.

    I have no idea whether something is really going on. On the surface of it, she is just bored out of her mind and wants to burn a nearby village.

    I didn’t mean “going on in the action of the poem,” I meant “going on with the reuse of the same imagery.” But presumably only Tsvetaeva could tell us that.

    Khodasevich often wrote about his longing for something earth-shattering, but in An Mariechen he limited himself to dreaming of the girl’s getting raped and stabbed to death so she would retain her essential innocence and never experience the vulgar torments of family life.

    Sigh. There was a nasty misogynist strain in the (male) modernists of the ’20s.

  11. My mother was a molybdomancer in a small way: on New Year’s Eve she would read fortunes in the lead she melted in a small pot over the kitchen gas range. She never taught me how to read them, though I have read Tarot cards on occasion — it used to be my way of coping with parties. (Now I cope with them by not going to them.)

  12. Rowan tree is of course better known as Mountain Ash in the American West, but rowan-berry sounds better to my old-world ear. My infusion is lightly sweetened with honey, and one may consider it a “bottled autumn” counterpart to Ray Bradbury’s “summer in a bottle”. In any case, how can a Russian expat think of rowan without remembering the closing line of Tsvetaeva’s Nostalgia?

  13. I forgot to mention Blok’s famous 1906 poem, Rus’, as a possible source of the burning village trope.

    @LH: I don’t think Khodasevich was being (deliberately) misogynistic. Rather, he had his dualist/Gnostic period when he wished this world (“my quiet hell”) to end violently. (I found my personal key to Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading in День, a 1921 poem by Khodasevich.) For Khodasevich, murder was a micro-apocalypse, a catalyst, a gateway – like the village fire Tsvetaeva’s protagonist wished for a gift. Consider Khodasevich’s poem from 1921:

    I’m still waiting – a frenzied car
    will run somebody over.
    A pale idler will bloody
    the bumper’s dry dust.

    And from there it will go, it will begin –
    the swing, the wrench, the trouble.
    A star will snap off down to earth
    and water will get bitter.

    Read it all – it’s a very good one.

  14. O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!
    O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
    O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer’s day,
    Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:
    Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
    O rowan dead, upon your head your hair is dry and grey;
    Your crown is spilled, your voice is stilled for ever and a day.
    O Orofarnë, Lassemista, Carnimírië!

  15. Orofarnë is a cognate with the Greek όρος??

  16. I don’t think Khodasevich was being (deliberately) misogynistic.

    Of course not; presumably none of them were being deliberately misogynistic. It was the spirit of the times. For a well-written analysis of the man-centered artistic world of Olesha, Babel, and Platonov, among others, I recommend Eliot Borenstein’s Men without Women: Masculinity and Revolution in Russian Fiction, 1917–1929.

  17. Browsed through poems of the same period, after noticing another old favorite, “Daniel”, just weeks off, where the Bible burns in the closing lines. It’s Lent, and it’s all permeated by fascination with the stories of foreign-faith invaders who, among other things, burned Moscow to the ground.

    And there is an obligatory rowan, with its bitter, dear taste, a bit later in the year, too:

    Красною кистью
    Рябина зажглась.
    Падали листья,
    Я родилась.

    Спорили сотни
    Колоколов.
    День был субботний:
    Иоанн Богослов.

    Мне и доныне
    Хочется грызть
    Жаркой рябины
    Горькую кисть.

    (October 8 1892 was Saturday. In the Orthodox calendar it’s the day of John of the Apocalypse)

  18. Wonderful!

  19. Orofarnë is a cognate with the Greek όρος??

    If you mean “inspired by it,” I suspect so.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    My mother was a molybdomancer in a small way: on New Year’s Eve she would read fortunes in the lead she melted in a small pot over the kitchen gas range. She never taught me how to read them

    Bleigießen, “lead-pouring”, is a common custom in German-speaking places: you melt lead on a spoon above a flame, pour it in water, and simply interpret the shapes like clouds.

  21. Bleigießen, “lead-pouring”, is a common custom in German-speaking places
    Never heard of this custom in Russia, but what do I know. Nowadays it’s said to be a Christmas time rite, a last resort divining method for the maidens who can’t determine their future mates by any other magic means. But all the book references belong to this century, not any older! I wouldn’t be surprised if it all comes from translations from some Western handbook…

  22. Oro- is indeed ‘hill’, and farne is ‘plant, growing thing’. The ph is a convention for writing ff; I’m not sure why the gemination. Similarly, Lassemista is ‘leaf-gray’, and Carnimírië is a bahuvrihi compound ‘red-jewel(led)’. By the way, these are the names of specific rowan trees cut down by orcs. The acute accent marks length; the diaeresis just reminds anglophones to pronounce the final -e. And the Elvish languages are definitely Indo-European, though of no specific branch.

  23. Oh, but not what is the morphology of the Russian word for “grasshopper”?

    Would this be кузнечик ~ кузнец = blacksmith?

  24. Yup, and the latter is related to ковать ‘to forge.’

  25. David Marjanović says:

    I should clarify: Bleigießen is exclusively performed on New Year’s Eve.

  26. simply interpret the shapes like clouds

    My mother, though, didn’t just say “Ooh, looks like a doggie”. She got answers out of those shapes, and I don’t know how (too late now). During the year, the lead existed in the shape of a frog, because she put it into a frog-shaped mold at the end of the effort. I used to play with this frog, as well as an identical-looking but much lighter frog; I don’t know what metal it was. The water was in a big bucket, possibly a galvanized-iron mop bucket.

  27. David Marjanović says:

    She got answers out of those shapes

    Of course. With a trifling input of creativity, a doggie stands for a lot of things that might happen during a year.

  28. The Eastern Slavs preferred wax to lead, I think, for divination. The timeframe was the twelve days of Christmas, especially the night before Epiphany. The Greek Orthodox celebrate Epiphany and the Lord’s Baptism on the same day, so it’s the period “from the star to the water.” See Zhukovsky’s Svetlana (1813).

Speak Your Mind

*