Pasternak’s Blind Wind.

Having read Pasternak’s pseudo-epics (or, as one might uncharitably call them, failed epics) of the mid-1920s, 1905 and Lieutenant Schmidt (both of which seem pretty unknown to English-speakers, to judge from Google results), I’ve taken a break to read Marina Tsvetaeva (along with the biography by Viktoria Schweitzer), and I thought I’d take a moment to give my impression of the long Pasternak poems. They’re both about the 1905 Revolution — apparently Pasternak wasn’t ready to deal with the more recent ones (when he was ready, the result would be Doctor Zhivago) — but nothing in them aroused my interest in either the revolution or the noble Lieutenant Schmidt, who gave up his life for the sake of the revolting sailors. What excited and moved me, and I’m sure what Pasternak put his heart into, are the passages that have nothing to do with politics or biography but are pure descriptions of nature (always close to Pasternak’s soul).

In 1905 there is the bravura passage about the sea that opens the section Морской мятеж [Sailor’s revolt], beginning “Приедается все,/ Лишь тебе не дано примелькаться…” (‘Everything palls;/ Only to you is it not given to become overly familiar from looking’ — you can see from that second line how impossible it is to translate); Dmitry Bykov said it sinks instantly into the memory of any Russian speaker, and I had little trouble memorizing a substantial chunk of it. I suppose the closest thing in English is Byron’s “Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean,—roll!/ Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain…” In Lieutenant Schmidt there’s a similarly glorious section about the Sebastopol harbor beginning “В зимней призрачной красе/ Дремлет рейд в рассветной мгле…” [‘In winter’s spectral beauty/ The roadstead slumbers in dawn’s haze…’], which has an irresistible passage in which he lullingly lingers on palatalized l’s: “Еле-еле лебезит/ Утренняя зыбь./ Каждый еле слышный шелест…” [‘Barely, barely flatter-crawl/ The morning ripples./ Every barely audible rustle…’]. But what prompted me to post was another passage, the start of section 2, that begins “Вырываясь с моря, из-за почты,/ Ветер прет на ощупь, как слепой” [‘Pulling itself out from the sea, beyond the post office,/ The wind makes its way by touch, like a blind man’]. I memorized that as well, with the result that it was fresh in my mind when I hit this bit from Curzio Malaparte’s The Skin: “The black wind is like a blind man, who gropes his way, caressing the air and barely touching nearby objects with his outstretched hands. It is blind, it does not see where it is going…” I don’t think it’s likely that Malaparte had read the Pasternak poem, even though he knew Russian literature, since it probably hadn’t been translated into any language he read; it’s just a coincidence, but certainly a striking one. I will never encounter a wind in my face quite the same way again.

Comments

  1. I note that Byron writes “There let him lay”, thus trampling all prescriptivists, and further rhymes “Trafalgar” with “waves which mar”, thus preserving the Spanish pronunciation with ultimate stress (the name is from Arabic Taraf al-Ghar(b) ‘promontory of the laurel’ or ‘the east’.

  2. It was originally borrowed (as one would expect) with the Spanish ultimate stress; I don’t know at what point it got Anglicized to rhyme with “Al! Grrr…,” but my 13th ed. of Daniel Jones’s Pronouncing Dictionary (1967) calls [ˌtræfəlgˈɑː] “archaic and poetical.” It also notes: “The present Lord Nelson pronounces the family name as trəˈfælgə*. Previous holders of the title pronounced ˌtræfəlgˈɑː*.”

  3. What on earth is Jones talking about? The family name of the Earls Nelson has always been “Nelson”, except on one occasion when it passed (by special remainder) to a nephew named Bolton, who promptlly changed his name to “Nelson”. The earl in 1967 was the 9th, a career police officer; I don’t know what’s doing with the 10th.

  4. What on earth is Jones talking about? The family name of the Earls Nelson has always been “Nelson”

    An excellent question.

  5. The peerage title is Earl Nelson, of Trafalgar and of Merton in the County of Surrey. The famous Lord Nelson never held that precise title, so far as I am aware, since he died without legitimate issue, and so the peerage was created anew to be passed to his brother.

  6. I have always said “Trafalgar” with penultimate stress, but with the THOUGHT vowel; I suppose that’s just my ignorance.

    Here’s the whole story of the titles, for those who, like me, enjoy reveling in pointless details:

    In 1798, after the Battle of the Nile, Nelson was created Baron Nelson of the Nile. Although life peerages as such did not exist at the time, it was expected that the title would die with him.

    In 1799, he was also created Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily (later the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies), with a special provision allowing each Duke or Duchess to appoint their successors.

    In 1801, after the Battle of Copenhagen, Nelson was created Viscount Nelson of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk. A few months later he was created Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the County of Norfolk with a special remainder to his father and sisters (permitting their heirs to inherit). So this third title was expected to survive him, and after his death duly passed to his elder brother William Nelson as the heir of his father.

    William therefore became in 1805 the 2nd Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the County of Norfolk as well as Duke of Bronté. Shortly thereafter, he was created Earl Nelson and Viscount Merton, both of Trafalgar (the first use of this word) and of Merton in the County of Surrey. He also had no heirs male, and his titles were with a special remainder to the heirs of his sisters. His nephew Thomas Bolton thus became the 2rd Earl Nelson, with the subsidiary titles of Viscount Merton and Baron Nelson etc., changing his name to “Nelson” as I mentioned above, and the current or 10th Earl is his heir male. The dukedom of Bronté passed to William Nelson’s daughter by his will and so into the line of the Barons (later Viscounts) of Bridport (also a famous naval family, surnamed “Hood”); the current occupant is the 4th Viscount and 7th Duke.

    At his death, Nelson’s titles in full were the thunderous “The Most Noble Lord Horatio Nelson, Viscount and Baron Nelson, of the Nile and of Burnham Thorpe in the County of Norfolk, Baron Nelson of the Nile and of Hilborough in the said County, Knight of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath, Vice Admiral of the White Squadron of the Fleet, Commander in Chief of his Majesty’s Ships and Vessels in the Mediterranean, Duke of Bronté in the Kingdom of Sicily, Knight Grand Cross of the Sicilian Order of St Ferdinand and of Merit, Member of the Ottoman Order of the Crescent, Knight Grand Commander of the Order of St Joachim.” Because of the Sicilian title, he signed himself “Nelson & Brontë”.

  7. Perhaps Jones was using “family name” not as a compound noun meaning “surname” but as a N+N phrase meaning “name of some sort with some connection to his family”.

  8. That makes sense. He probably said “surname” for what we call “family name.”

  9. That’s the basic meaning of “family name” for me as well. It just means a surname by default, since I rarely deal with people who have other kinds of family names.

  10. J.W. Brewer says:

    That sequence of Nelson’s titles no doubt reflects some UK standard convention as to their order, but I would imagine the official order if there were a need to recite all of his titles in a Kingdom-of-the-Two-Sicilies context would be different. For those of us with allegiance to neither the UK nor the Two Sicilies should we not be free to employ some third, external and “objective” ordering? Although I suppose the notion that a Sicilian dukedom ought to “objectively” outrank a British viscounty (is that the right word? viscountdom? vice-comitatinicity?) in the grand scheme of things might be naive, given that the institution that granted the British titles has lasted longer than the institution that granted the dukedom.

  11. Pasternak’s pseudo-epics

    the epic scope might have failed, but it’s full of graphic, crazily metaphoric alliterative (vintage Pasternak) vignettes, and this makes 1905 one of my ever favorite pieces – despite the fact that the irresistible tidbits are spread in the sea of not so interesting narration (which makes me think that perhaps it is *my* failure to dig into it and to start understanding and appreciating what doesn’t ring with me yet).

    But of course I already cited some of my fav passages here:
    http://languagehat.com/balagola/

    Just for a change, then, here’s another amazing tidbit, about the bomb-makers of the XIX c.

    и родись мы на двадцать, иль тридцать раньше // подойдя со двора в керосиновой мгле фонарей // мы нашли бы, что те лаборантши – наши матери или приятельницы матерей

  12. the epic scope might have failed, but it’s full of graphic, crazily metaphoric alliterative (vintage Pasternak) vignettes

    Oh, absolutely, and that’s what I was trying to say!

  13. David Marjanović says:

    I’ve encountered “family name” in an American context as “first name that is traditional in the family”.

    (No such thing over here, where fashion in names is far too merciless.)

  14. @David Marjanović: That kind of family name certainly exists, but they are not that common. If you tell somebody that you’ve named your newborn son “Knute,” they might well ask you, “Oh, is that a family name?” But that really means, “Why did you give this adorable little boy such a tacky, old-fashioned name?”

  15. @John Cowan: Byron… rhymes “Trafalgar” with “waves which mar”…

    Hardy rhymed it with “are” and “far” in The Night of Trafalgar, and Chesterton stressed either the first or last syllable in the line “In foam and flame at Trafalgar, on Albuera plains,” from The Secret People.

  16. While giving “Albuera” four syllables. Like “iguana,” of course.

  17. Alexei K.: The meter of “The Secret People” is six-stress lines with a distinct caesura (sense break without a pause) between the third and fourth stress. So the first half of the line is “In fóam and fláme at Trafálgar”, and the second half can be read either way, as “ón Al-bué-ra pláins”, or as “on Ál-bu-é-ra pláins”. (The first alternative promotes the otherwise unstressed syllable “on”, but this is normal in English verse.) Note that the alliteration on /f/ reinforces this reading of the first half: in English stress-verse, alliteration normally happens on the stressed syllables, though it is no longer so systematic as it was in Old English.

    It’s true that there are a few unmistakably seven-stress lines, like “The ínns of Gód where nó man páid || that wére the wáll of the wéak”, and a few that could be scanned either way, like the line after that, “The Kíng’s Sérvants áte them áll/all. || And stíll we díd not spéak.” But there’s no particular reason to believe that the Trafalgar line is one of them.

    Only about 2000 people live in La Albuera today. Which is still way more than live in Kaskaskia, the home of Pierre Menard (the real one).

  18. But there’s no particular reason to believe that the Trafalgar line is one of them.

    Except that that may well still have been the high/official pronunciation in Hardy’s day.

  19. Poets are notorious for twisting both pronunciations and meanings (consider Browning!) to suit their verses.

  20. Sure, but in this case neither looks any twistier than the other to me, so it’s not evidence either way.

  21. @John Cowan: There are quite a few seven-stress lines with four stresses before the caesura, but your argument about alliterative syllables likely getting stressed convinces me that “fal” is probably one of them. “In foam and flame at Trafalgar” becomes almost identical, metrically, to “A war that we understood not.”

    Elsewhere, Chesterton remarks that

    The day of Trafalgar is Spanish in name
    And the Spaniards refuse to pronounce it the same…

    Hardy sides with the Spaniards on this:

    Dead Nelson and his half dead crew, his foes from near and far,
    Were rolled together on the deep that night at Trafalgar!

  22. (No such thing over here, where fashion in names is far too merciless.)

    Working in paediatrics at the moment, I have been surprised at the whims of fashion of names in Donegal, that bit of the Republic just west of Northern Ireland. In my mind .ie was quite a conservative country in naming children, with a big exception of using the leagan Gaeilge much more commonly from a couple of generations ago. But no, now there are Karsons and Robyns and other given names where the infant will have to correct people all its life.

    I would almost ascribe it to some spiritual affinity to those parts of the US that have similar naming habits, and indeed when I work across the border in the wee North that approach to naming children is very strong among those, let us say, with some ethnic affinity to William of Orange, and thence some commonality with the US Scotch-Irish, but most of the locals with this tendency are Papists, the real East Donegal Protestants are about as conservative as they have ever been. It’s interesting—maybe it’s just down to a vanished influence of the parish priest on naming children. I need to work a bit more further south to get a bit more perspective.

  23. In the future there will be a single website presenting two-three names, which are changed frequently but at unpredictable intervals according to the whims of the webmaster, and no one will dare to name their newborn without consulting it.

  24. January First-of-May says:

    In my mind .ie was quite a conservative country in naming children, with a big exception of using the leagan Gaeilge much more commonly from a couple of generations ago.

    Well, it’s a bit hard to figure out name use statistics when a child’s actual name could be Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo [half a dozen further generations with more traditional names omitted], while legally he was known as Jams O’Donnell…

    Unrelatedly, in Russian, Трафальгар is stressed on the last syllable. I had no idea that English did it differently.

  25. The wind makes its way by touch, like a blind man
    reminded me immediately of Blok’s ‘The Twelve’, черный ветер, белый снег, на ногах не стоит человек – black wind, white snow, a man can hardly stand up, which Harrison Sallisbury took for the title of his history of the October revolution.

  26. Well, it’s a bit hard to figure out name use statistics when a child’s actual name could be Bonaparte, son of Michelangelo [half a dozen further generations with more traditional names omitted], while legally he was known as Jams O’Donnell…

    Hahah, XD. A caution; the Poor Mouth was no more documentary than was Švejk.

  27. Трафальгар is stressed on the last syllable
    last syllable stress in Russian could be a French influence.

    Dead Nelson and his half dead crew, his foes from near and far,
    Were rolled together on the deep that night at Trafalgar!

    Excellent find! But in English, we do shift stresses occasionally for poetic/rhethoric emphasis?

  28. David Marjanović says:

    But in English, we do shift stresses occasionally for poetic/rhethoric emphasis?

    Certainly more often than in German, where it seems to be limited to mockery:

    Ich bin ein Fußballer,
    das Leben fällt mir schwer,
    das Denken noch viel mehr!
    Ich bin ein Fußballer.

  29. last syllable stress in Russian could be a French influence.

    No need to drag in French; when the word was borrowed, it was end-stressed in both Spanish and English.

  30. Going back to Pasternak, I would recommend 1905 for its panorama of snapshots of old Moscow in turmoil. I read both 1905 and Lieutenant Schmidt in my late teens. Looking through them today, I’m still impressed by the Moscow poem, almost as much as I was in my more impressionable years.

  31. Yes, they’re both full of good things; by calling them “failed epics” I didn’t mean to imply they weren’t good poems, just that they didn’t work as epics. The form went against Pasternak’s instincts, but he couldn’t help writing great poetry.

  32. I am a football player,
    Life for me’s a curse,
    And thinking’s so much worse!
    I am a football player.

  33. But the point is that the German stanza rhymes Fußballer with schwer and mehr by shifting the stress to the end of the word (and unreducing the vowel).

  34. David Marjanović says:

    Exactly: shifting [ˈfuːsˌb̥al(ː)ɐ] to [ˈfuːsb̥alˌ(ː)eːɐ̯] achieves the rhyme at the cost of ensuing hilarity.

  35. I know, but something’s gotta give.

  36. I am a football plair,
    And life for me’s unfair,
    And thinking is a bear!
    I am a football plair.

  37. *Applause*

  38. Yes, that’s excellent.

  39. Trond Engen says:

    Mitt yrke er fotball,
    et utakknemlig kall,
    og tenking gjør meg gall.
    Mitt yrke er fotball.

  40. David Marjanović says:

    🙂

  41. David Marjanović says:

    No, actually, “plair” isn’t weird enough. It strikes me as a perfectly expectable pronunciation in the kind of RP accent where firepower turns into fahpah.

    So I suggest starting with a footballer, turning him into a footballor, and then end-stressing him enough to rhyme him with chore and more.

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