18 June 2016


Photo © N. Sharymova


Exhausted by rage and/or boredom,
I laid myself down in the sun,
with the back of my head supported
on my Velemir—thick, weighty tome.

Little insects started assailing,
it was hot, it was bolkonskyoid,
then a grasshopper left on my eyelid
a letter, written in gold. 

The pull from one text to the other,
the urge that they have to blend,
sends a charge through my viscous-dough matter,
so it burgeons and starts to ferment.

(Translation © 2016 G.S. Smith)

[From Тайный советник (Privy Councillor), 1987]

The poem plays with one of the most famous short poems in Russian, ‘Kuznechik’ (‘The Grasshopper’), by Velemir Khlebnikov (1885-1922), written in 1908 or 1909 and published in 1912; bristling with neologisms and onomatopeic effects, it exists in several versions, and has been extensively analysed. A reading of it by Khlebnikov’s friend Roman Jakobson may be heard at http://avantgarde.narod.ru/voices/rja_kuzn.mp3

[«Кузнечик»/Крылышкуя золотописьмом/Тончайших жил,/Кузнечик в кузов пуза/уложил/Прибрежных много трав и вер./«Пинь, пинь, пинь!» — тарарахнул зинзивер./О, лебедиво!/О, озари! A very approximate translation (ignoring rhyme) would be: ‘The Grasshopper. Winglinging the goldwriting/of its most delicate veins/A grasshopper’s laid away in its paunch-hopper/Many shoreline grasses and faiths./‘Peen! peen! peen! rat-tat-tatted a great tit./O, swanaculous!/O, illumine!’]

Professor Robin Milner-Gulland has pointed out (private communication, for which I am most indebted) that a more disguised, but perhaps equally important text lying behind Loseff’s poem is Nikolai Zabolotsky’s ‘Vsё, chto bylo v dushe’ (1936), which begins: ‘Everything I had in my heart, seemed again to be lost,/I lay in the grass, tormented by sadness and boredom,/and the beautiful body of a flower stood over me,/and a grasshopper, like a little watchman, stood before.’ [‘Всё, что было в душе, всё как будто опять потерялось,/И лежал я в траве, и печалью и скукой томим,/И прекрасное тело цветка надо мной поднималось,/И кузнечик, как маленький сторож, стоял перед ним.’]

‘bolkonskyoid’ refers to the scene in War and Peace where Andrei Bolkonsky lies delirious on the field of Austerlitz after the battle.


Утомленный то скукой, то злостью,
я на солнце улегся пластом,
упираясь затылочной костью 
в Велемира увесистый том.

Совершали букашки набеги,
было жарко и болконскиймо,
и тогда мне кузнечик на веки
положил золотое письмо.

Притяжение текста и текста,
их стремление слиться в одно
гонит токи сквозь вязкое тесто,
и вспухает, и бродит оно.

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