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Gippius and Tsvetaeva

March 15, 2017

Armand Louis de Gontaut, duc de Lauzun, later duc de Biron (1747-1793) is a newborn, 17, 28, 29, and 46 in the five scenes of Tsvetaeva’s Fortuna

I’m still reading mostly nineteenth-century prose, but I also love early twentieth–century poetry, and I’ve been meaning to recommend these posts from the last few months:

  • Two excellent translations of one of my favorite poets, Zinaida Gippius, by Boris Dralyuk,
  • Here and here you’ll find Languagehat perceptively reading my very favorite writer, Marina Tsvetaeva,
  • And Maya Chhabra (a.k.a. between4walls) is translating a Tsvetaeva play about Biron, Fortuna (Фортуна, 1923). It’s this Biron, not this Biron. Besides knowing Russian, Chhabra is a writer and an expert on the French Revolution; you can support her work on Patreon here at levels starting at a dollar.
11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 15, 2017 1:30 pm

    Wow, thank you for the signal boost! I’d hesitate to call myself an expert on the French Revolution, but I do find the period fascinating and love reading about it! Also caveat that my translation excerpts are very rough drafts–before I send it anywhere, I’ll need to smooth it out, check some of the idioms against my Lubensky, and run it by a native speaker who’s kindly offered to help me.

    For those who aren’t familiar with Fortuna, Tsvetaeva wrote it in 1919 and read a monologue of Biron’s from the final scene (the only one of the five scenes set during the French Revolution) at a reading which Lunacharsky attended; Tsvetaeva was exhilarated to read such a blatantly oppositional monologue in front of a member of the government.

    It’s an almost disturbingly decadent play, all champagne froth and roses–the language is gorgeous.

  2. March 15, 2017 3:25 pm

    I’m enjoying Boris Dralyuk’s renderings of these poems – and also his interesting posts about the translation process.

  3. March 20, 2017 9:50 pm

    I’m so glad you and Kaggsy enjoyed the Gippius translations! I’ve also learned a great deal from Languagehat’s wonderful posts on Tsvetaeva (and Pasternak), and I am now following Maya Chhabra’s “Fortuna” with great interest. (You’re all experts in my book!)

  4. March 21, 2017 8:31 am

    Since you’ve confessed that Tsvetaeva is your very favorite writer, I feel empowered to ask you (and the others assembled here) what the hell is the meaning of the last line of «Неподражаемо лжет жизнь…»: “Ибо ладонь — жизнь.” I get that she’s riffing on Pasternak’s often semantically opaque soundplay, and that ладонь is the culmination of the series лжет, звон, синь, столь, лбом, сон, облом, but still, it’s not заум, she’s saying something there, it’s the last line of the poem, and it frustrates me to be set back on my heels going “The palm… is… life? Huh?” (The Palm at the End of the Poem, if you want to get all Wallace Stevens about it.) Any thoughts will be appreciated.

  5. March 21, 2017 8:32 am

    (Sorry, I mean заумь, of course.)

  6. March 21, 2017 1:57 pm

    LH, I believe the palm-life analogy sprang from an encounter with Voloshin. Search the following page for “Скобка о руке”:

    By cradling Pasternak’s book in her palm, she offers him a handshake that is so much more than a handshake, welcoming him into her life.

    It seems to me that, for Tsvetaeva, the palm was a multivalent symbol of life: the site of intimate human connection (handshake), of comfort (caress), of vulnerability (transparent skin, pulsating veins), and of creation (writing, drawing, sculpting). It was also a tool of divination (life line), as well as a visual and phonetic emblem of the plains and pains of existence:

    Проводами продлённая даль…
    Даль и боль, это та же ладонь
    Отрывающаяся — доколь?
    Даль и боль, это та же юдоль.

    23 апреля 1923

  7. March 21, 2017 2:58 pm

    Ah, that’s extremely enlightening, thanks much!

  8. March 21, 2017 10:41 pm

    Yes, thank you! LH, I can only claim to like Tsvetaeva’s poetry a lot, not to understand it, and BD, I’m very grateful for your explanation!

  9. kennethcargill permalink
    March 23, 2017 12:40 am

    It is interesting that a language that does not have separate words for arm and hand nevertheless does distinguish palm (and fist as well). In English the hand is the metonymy for human helpfulness, skill and creativity (“helping hand,” “handyman,” “to have a hand in something”). Palm is a somewhat rarer term, and probably most often associated with divination. However, perhaps Tsvetaeva preferred “ладонь” simply because “рука” is not specific enough.

  10. March 23, 2017 7:43 am

    No, it’s clear from the link Boris provided that she’s simply quoting Voloshin, who complained about her limp, minimalist handshake and told her “Руку нужно давать открыто, прижимать вплоть, всей ладонью к ладони, в этом и весь смысл рукопожатия, потому что ладонь – жизнь” [You have to give your hand openly, really press it, whole palm against palm, that’s the whole meaning of a handshake, because the palm is life].


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