Tsvetaeva’s mature style is elliptical to the point that it’s sometimes hard to figure out what she’s talking about. Usually after I marinate in the verses for a while it becomes clear, but sometimes I’m at a loss and try to find a translation to lean on. Unfortunately, she’s poorly served by translation (unlike Akhmatova and Mandelstam, for whom pretty much everything has been Englished), so when I got stuck in her 1921 poem cycle Благая весть (“Good tidings,” with overtones of Благовещение ‘Annunciation’ — the poems are a response to the unexpected news that her beloved husband Sergei Efron was alive) I had to make do with an amateur online translation by someone who does not seem to actually know Russian (compare the Isidor Schneider translation of Gorky’s autobiography, mocked at LH here, here, and here). It was some help in a couple of places, but in general it raised more questions than it solved. What drove me to post was the bizarre line “Foaming lops on a mantle,” attempting to translate “Гривой/ Вспенённые зыби” [‘Like a mane (are the) foaming ripples’]. I thought “lops” might be a typo, but when I turned to my trusty Oxford Russian dictionary I found зыбь defined as “ripple; … (poet.) lop.” Lop?! Utterly flummoxed, I turned to my trusty Oxford English Dictionary and found, at the tail end of a series of nouns lop (“A spider”; “A flea”; “The smaller branches and twigs of trees, such as are not measured for timber; faggot-wood, loppings”; “A lobe (of the liver)”; “The infusion of bark and ooze used in tanning leather”) the following:
A state of the sea in which the waves are short and lumpy.
1829 P. Hawker Diary (1893) I. 360 There was too much ‘lop’.
1838 P. Hawker Diary (1893) II. 153 The wigeon..were always on a ‘lop of the sea’.
1847 Illustr. London News 10 July 18/2 There being a ‘lop’ on, the boat lurched to windward.
1899 F. T. Bullen Way Navy 38 Quite a ‘lop’ of a sea gets up, but these battleships take no heed of it.
Now, this entry hasn’t been updated since 1903, so I can’t say that the word hasn’t been used in over a century, but I can say that I’ve never run across it, and it enrages me that the lexicographers who compiled the dictionary, fine fellows that they were, felt comfortable giving “lop” as an equivalent of зыбь without further explanation. Have any of you ever run across it in this sense? [An “English boatie” in the comment thread says “I’ve heard of a ‘lop,'” so I withdraw the tentative accusation of obsolete status.]
And while I have your attention, I’ll ask the Russian-speakers among you what you think is meant by the line “Меж дулом и хлябью” [‘Between gun-muzzle and хлябь’] in poem 5 — хлябь can mean either ‘abyss’ (archaically) or ‘mud’ (colloquially), and neither seems obviously correct to me here.