04 May 2015

The Hydrofoil / Гидрофойл

The Hydrofoil

Neither in galley, nor mouse-ridden hold, but
down in the engine room’s where it took hold, that
new sort of elegy’s complex rapport.
Moët-rinse gullet, and hasten with boarding,
onto the pyroscaphe follow the poet.
Poem starts to function. Sail raised aloft.

I spy a sailor suit, blue-stripy jersey.
Wotcha there, Kushner! Cooee, Kublanovsky!
Is there much living still left to our lot?
Anchor of hope. But despair with its cannon.
Seagulls in shedloads; no cuckoo to hand, though.
Is then our answer to be: ‘not a lot’?

This is his legacy, old Boratynsky,
that we should squander his paladin metre
on evanescence and stomach-churn fear?
Russians have too long been partial to thinking,
‘life’s but a kopek and fate but a turkey’.
If we sing, why not his big-seas idea?

See the waves coming, one after another.
Could this be death? Where’s thy sting, if no other?
Sting see I none. Spitting over the side,
I see the azure horizons of Tuscany, 
à la Voronezh I pour out a vodka,
down it in one, pour another. All right!

Golgotha—yes, sure, I too take my hat off,
only, the thing is, the sugary decaf
coffee of faith doesn’t suit me, nor will.
Whether it’s heaven or Jungian ocean,
in these suspensions the I has no portion—
letter in long poem, thread in thick twill.

What lies before me? The site of the scaffold,
or an Elysium that mourning makes cheerful,
shades that I cherish, of father and friend?
Something is ending, and I really mean it.
Something from which it begins its beginning—
that thing that God begins from the end.

[From Новые сведения о Карле и Кларе (New Information Concerning Karl and Klara), 1996]

(Translation © 2015 G.S. Smith)

Translator's notes: Loseff’s poem colonises the distinctive metre of Evgenii Boratynsky’s classic ode ‘The Pyroscaphe’ (1844), a six-line stanza in dactylic tetrameter rhyming AAbCCb, to reclaim and reassert his stance of defiant resolution in the face of danger; the poem was written on board ship at night during a voyage from Marseilles to Naples. Boratynsky (b. 1800; Loseff uses this form rather than the more customary ‘Baratynsky’) died suddenly soon after this voyage. Loseff equates Baratynsky’s steam paddle-wheeler with a hydrofoil, perhaps thinking of the ‘Meteor’ class introduced for river traffic on the Neva in the late 1950s and still in service.
The Leningrad/Petersburg poet Aleksandr Kushner (b. 1936), a long-term friend of Loseff, published his first collection in 1962, and has gone on with his quiet and consistent lyric poetry ever since. See most recently Apollo in the Grass: Selected Poems, translated by Carol Ueland and Robert Carnevale (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2015).
Yurii Kublanovsky (b. 1947) began as a Moscow-based dissident poet; he was expelled from Russia in 1982, returned there in 1990, and has since attained eminence as poet, editor, and consultant; among other activities, he is a member of the Patriarchal Council on Culture. For some translations of his (and Kushner’s) earlier poetry, see G.S.Smith, Contemporary Russian Poetry: A Bilingual Anthology (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1993).


Не на галере, не в трюме мышином,
он задышал в отделенье машинном,
новых элегий коленчатый лад.
Прополоскав себе горло моэтом,
на пироскаф поспешим за поэтом.
Стих заработал. Парус подъят.

Вижу матроску, тельняшку, полоски.
Кушнер — ку-ку! И ку-ку, Кублановский!
Много ль осталось нам на веку?
Якорь надежды. Отчаянья пушки.
Чаек до чёрта, да нету кукушки.
Это ль ответ на вопрос: ни ку-ку.

Это ли нам завещал Боратынский —
даром растрачивать стих богатырский
на обмиранье, страх в животе?
В русском народе давно есть идейка:
жизнь-де копейка, судьба-де индейка.
Петь — так хотя бы о той же воде.

Вижу: волна на волну набежала.
Смерть это, что ли? Но где ж её жало?
Жала не вижу. В воду плюю.
Вижу я синие дали Тосканы
и по-воронежски водку в стаканы
лью, выпиваю, сызнова лью.

Я, как и все, поклоняюсь Голгофе,
только вот бескофеиновый кофе
с сахаром веры, знать, не по мне.
Рай ли вдали, юнгианское ль море,
я исчезает в этом растворе —
буква в поэме, нитка в рядне.

Что там маячит? Палаческий Лисий
Нос или плачущий светлый элизий,
милые тени — друга, отца?
Что-то подходит к концу, это точно.
Что-то, за чем начинается то, что
Бог начинает с конца.

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