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Арфа скальда

January 24, 2010
О арфа скальда! Долго ты спала
В тени, в пыли забытого угла;
Но лишь луны, очаровавшей мглу,
Лазурный свет блеснул в твоем углу,
Вдруг чудный звон затрепетал в струне,

Как бред души, встревоженной во сне.

Какой он жизнью на тебя дохнул?
Иль старину тебе он вспомянул —
Как по ночам здесь сладострастных дев
Давно минувший вторился напев,
Иль в сих цветущих и поднесь садах
Их легких ног скользил незримый шаг?

April 21, 1834

Iambic pentameter, aabbcc.  Does the fact that all the rhymes are masculine mark the text as “Germanic” or “Northern”?  (Didn’t Zhukovskii use all masculine rhymes in translations from German and English, shocking readers?)  Note two forms of угол in consecutive rhymes and the final consonants in садах/шаг.

First published in 1838 in Современник; the same version is printed in the 2002- PSS.

I have the impression that the theme of the скальд peaked before the mid-1830s and its use here perhaps seemed, if not out of fashion, then a deliberate return to something familiar to readers of poetry.  The past/present contrast implicit in that theme seems more critical here than its link to Scandinavia.

The two alternatives in the second stanza seem at first very close: the same арфа, the same сладострастные девы in each.  The difference seems to be how the two time-frames are linked.  It may be through an act of memory, as the арфа recalls a давно минувший напев that is nonetheless gone from the present.  Or the past may endure, unseen and supernatural, in the present, just as the цветущие и поднесь сады endure.

Inanimate things are quite animate in this poem.  Not only is the sleeping арфа (and its звон) associated with a sleeping душа (and its бред), but the subjects of the verbs are арфа, свет, звон, напев, шаг.  The maidens, the skald, and even the moon slip into the genitive.  The title and first three words emphasize this device.

The question that dominates the second stanza is something of a deflection from the mysteriousness of the first.  We are led to consider what the awakening of the dusty instrument means in terms of the relationship between present and past, which leaves us little time to wonder, say, why moonlight is involved, and why this night but not every night.  Or does the арфа mumble in its sleep every month at the full moon?

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