The International Literary Quarterly

August 2009


Shanta Acharya
Evgeny Baratynsky
Mary Caponegro
Peter France
Aamer Hussein
Edie Meidav
Ian Patterson
Mori Ponsowy
Jem Poster
Joan Retallack
Fiona Sampson
John Stauffer
Judith Taylor
Karen Thornber
Stephen Wilson
Leslie Woodard

Issue 8 Guest Artist:
Kenneth Draper RA

Founding Editor: Peter Robertson
Art Editor: Calum Colvin

Consulting Editors
Marjorie Agosín
Daniel Albright
Meena Alexander
Maria Teresa Andruetto
Rosemary Ashton
Leonard Barkan
Shadi Bartsch
Thomas Bartscherer
Susan Bassnett
Gillian Beer
David Bellos
Richard Berengarten
Charles Bernstein
Sujata Bhatt
Elleke Boehmer
Eavan Boland
Stephen Booth
Alain de Botton
Carmen Boulossa
Rachel Bowlby
Svetlana Boym
Peter Brooks
Marina Brownlee
Roberto Brodsky
Carmen Bugan
Jill Dawson
Junot Díaz
Denis Donoghue
Ariel Dorfman
Rita Dove
Denise Duhamel
Robert Elsie
Stefano Evangelista
Tibor Fischer
Shelley Fisher Fishkin
Peter France
Marjorie Garber
Anne Garréta
Marilyn Gaull
Zulfikar Ghose
Paul Giles
Vasco Graça Moura
A. C. Grayling
Stephen Greenblatt
Lavinia Greenlaw
Edith Grossman
Boris Groys
David Harsent
Benjamin Harshav
Geoffrey Hartman
Molly Haskell
Beatriz Hausner
Kathryn Hughes
Aamer Hussein
Djelal Kadir
John Kelly
Mimi Khalvati
Annette Kolodny
Julia Kristeva
George Landow
Chang-Rae Lee
Suzanne Jill Levine
Margot Livesey
Julia Lovell
Alberto Manguel
Marina Mayoral
Ben Marcus
Paul Mariani
Richard McCabe
Campbell McGrath
Jamie McKendrick
Susana Moore
Martha Nussbaum
Tim Parks
Caryl Phillips
Elena Poniatowska
Elizabeth Powers
Elizabeth Prettejohn
Martin Puchner
Kate Pullinger
Paula Rabinowitz
Rajeswari Sunder Rajan
James Richardson
Ritchie Robertson
Avital Ronell
Michael Scammell
Celeste Schenck
Sudeep Sen
Werner Sollors
Frances Spalding
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
Susan Stewart
Rebecca Stott
Mark Strand
Kathryn Sutherland
John Whittier Treat
David Treuer
David Trinidad
Marina Warner
Edwin Williamson
Michael Wood
Theodore Zeldin

Associate Editor: Neil Langdon Inglis
Assistant Editor: Jeff Barry
Assistant Editor: Ana de Biase
Assistant Editor: Sophie Lewis
Art Consultant: Angie Roytgolz

Click to enlarge picture Click to enlarge picture. Two poems by Evgeny Baratynsky
     Translated from Russian by Peter France
‘It is high time that Baratynsky finally got the place on the Russian Parnassus that has long belonged to him’. Such was Pushkin’s wish. That wish has at last come true in Russia, where Baratynsky was recognized as one of the country’s outstanding poets only in the last third of the twentieth century – and even then he was primarily a ‘poet’s poet’. Elsewhere, however, Baratynsky is still little known; there have been no more than a handful of translations into English.
            Yet there is much in his writing that might have brought foreign readers to him. Of his contemporaries in the West, he is perhaps closest to Giacomo Leopardi, one of Italy’s greatest lyric poets. There is much in the clear-sighted, if bleak, vision of man and society in Leopardi’s Canti that reminds one of Baratynsky: the anti-modernist pessimism, the noia (something like Baudelaire’s spleen), the awareness of human fragility, but also the idealism, honesty and magnanimity.

            Evgeny Abramovich Baratynsky was born into a family of landed gentry in  1800 in the Tambov region of central Russia. After his father’s death in 1810, he was given a place at the School of Pages, an elite boarding school in St Petersburg, but in 1816 his education was cut short in a traumatic way, when he and a classmate stole money from another classmate’s father. According to Baratynsky himself, this was an act of Romantic rebellion, modelled on Schiller’s play Die Räuber; be that as it may, the culprits were quickly found out, disgraced and expelled from the school. Baratynsky could no longer hope for a career as an officer, but after a period of suicidal depression he decided to rehabilitate himself by enlisting as a private soldier.
            His conditions of service were initially comfortable enough, since he continued to live in St Petersburg, one of a circle of gifted poets (later seen as the ‘Pushkin Pléiade)’. Soon he was transferred to Finland, but even here he was able to make frequent visits to the Russian capital. The years in Finland were very productive of verse, much of it published in advanced St Petersburg journals. Baratynsky was close to several of the young writers and officers who embraced the progressive cause, yet he himself, though he sympathized with their radical ideas and aspirations, held back for the most part from direct political commitment.
            In May 1825, just a few months before his friends’ ill-fated December uprising against Tsar Nicholas I, Baratynsky was pardoned and promoted to officer rank. At the end of the same year, he retired from the service and moved to Moscow. He married the following year, and for nearly twenty years he and his wife lived quietly in Moscow or on their nearby Muranovo estate. It was a happy marriage, but this was a difficult period for Baratynsky. In the wake of the Decembrist coup, Russia was subject to despotic rule and political repression, and the general feeling of hopelessness naturally communicated itself to a sensitive and idealistic spirit such as Baratynsky. At the end of the 1830s he wrote in a letter: ‘These last ten years of existence, which seem at first glance to have nothing special about them, have been for me more burdensome than all my years of confinement in Finland.’
            But they were also the years of his best poetry. His first collection was published in 1827, followed by a much larger one in 1835, in which ‘Ultimate Death’ first appeared. Then in 1842 came Twilight, for most readers Baratynsky’s masterpiece, a gathering of poems written after 1834 and presented as a unified whole under a highly meaningful title (probably the first example of this type of poetic ‘book’ in Russian). By the time of its publication, however, the poets of the ‘Pushkin Pléiade’ had gone out of fashion; many reactions to Baratynsky’s new book were negative or indifferent.
            The same year saw an imperial decree which seemed to promise a reform of serfdom; timid and abortive though this was, it was greeted at first with enthusiasm. The general atmosphere became more hopeful, and Baratynsky shared in this positive mood. In 1843 he set out on his first visit to Western Europe, spending the winter in Paris, where he discussed politics with the group surrounding the radical thinker Aleksandr Herzen. From Paris he travelled to Italy, and some of his poems of this time breathe a striking new air of hope, notably ‘Steamship’, one of his last poems. But read with hindsight, this final poem may take on a different coloration, for hardly had Baratynsky arrived in Italy than he died, quite unexpectedly. His body was brought back by sea and buried in St Petersburg. And with his death a  twilight set in for his reputation, an obscurity that lasted until the Symbolists brought a new dawn at the beginning of the new century.

The two translations offered here are part of an on-going project to present Baratynsky to an English-speaking readership (a sizeable selections of poems from Twilight, with commentaries by the Russian poet and critic Ilya Kutik,is included in the forthcoming number of the journal Fulcrum). They are ‘close’ rather than ‘free’ translations, aiming to convey the poet’s vision and his voice in a form that owes a good deal to the classical shaping of the original. Both poems belong to Baratynsky’s mature years, but they represent opposite poles in his thought. ‘Ultimate Death’, composed in 1828, is an extraordinary tragic vision of humanity’s rise and fall, an ecological prophecy that is bound to find a particular resonance in our own anxious age. ‘Steamship’, on the other hand, written some 15 years later, expresses a short-lived and rather unusual upsurge of optimism in the work of a poet who is characterized above all by a clear-sighted and far from optimistic view of nineteenth-century progress.     

Peter France                                                                 Edinburgh, April 2009


Ultimate Death

There is a way of being; but how can I
describe it? It is neither sleep, nor waking;
somewhere between the two, we walk the line
that separates insanity from reason.
Our mind is fully in control,
but at the same time we see visions roll –
each wilder, more capricious than the last –
from every side upon our heads, as if
we were abandoned to the elements
that rage across our long-lost native land;
but sometimes, under the influence of dreams,
we see a light that others cannot see.

Was it the fiction of a feverish dream
or the creation of my reckless mind,
this vision that rose up before my eyes
in the black depths of night? I cannot say,
but at that time I seemed to see revealed
what was to come in future years, events
ascended into air, developing
and shifting like the clouds, and whole epochs
from time to time lay open to my sight,
and finally I saw without a veil
the ultimate fate of everything alive.

At first the world was like a magic garden;
on every side were the marks of art and wealth –
villages, towns and cities, everywhere
palaces, fountains, theatres, everywhere
people, and all the elements obeyed
the ingenious laws that they laid down. Already
they had created artificial islands
floating upon the unruly depths of ocean.
Already they were soaring through the heights
of heaven on wilful wings of their invention.
All things on earth were breathing a new life.
All things on earth seemed lost in exultation.

The barren years were past. The husbandmen
called up at will the winds, the rains, the cold
and heat, and seeds returned a hundredfold
into their hands; the savage beasts had fled
into the forest’s night, the ocean’s flood,
the sky’s immensity, overcome by man,
and the world shone in triumph everywhere.
Here then, I thought, dazed by these golden times,
is the imperishable feast of reason!
Shaming her enemies, teaching them a lesson,
enlightenment has scaled unheard-of heights.

Ages went by, and now a different vision
began to gleam before me. What is mankind?
To what unknown discoveries have we risen?
I proudly thought – but what now filled my mind!
Only with difficulty could my troubled brain
begin to apprehend the coming epoch.
My eyes no longer recognized the people;
accustomed to the golden gifts of fortune,
they gazed on all things imperturbably,
all that of old had stirred their ancestors,
moved thoughts and passions irresistibly.

Forgetting all desire for earthly things,
shrinking from such vulgar stimulation,
and deaf to the spirit’s call, the voice of dreams,
they acted now on a different motivation,
and their whole being was bound hand and foot,
a captive in the hands of fantasy.
An artificial nature had taken the place
of bodily nature for them; they were swept
into the empyrean or into chaos on wings
of thought, but on earth they barely crept,
and all their marriages remained unblest.

Ages went by, and now my eyes beheld
a fearful sight: death walked the land and the waves;
the fate of living beings was fulfilled.
Where were the people? Where? Dead in their graves!
Like mouldering columns at the frontiers
the last few families were dying out;
towns stood in ruin, senseless flocks unguarded
wandered the meadows where the weeds ran riot;
their food had vanished with the hands that fed them,
and I could hear their hungry lamentation.

And when their bleating died away, a deep
and solemn silence seized on everything,
and nature, savage and imperial,
put on the purple of antiquity.
Magnificent and gloomy the spectacle
of forests, valleys, mountains, seas unpeopled!
The sun still rose into the firmament
and animated nature as in former days,
but nothing was left on earth to celebrate
its rising. Only mist curled on its face,
blue wreaths of smoke, a cleansing sacrifice.

Есть бытие; но именем каким
Его назвать? Ни сон оно, ни бденье;
Меж  них оно, и в человеке им
С безумием граничит разуменье.
Он в полноте понятья своего,
А между тем, как волны, на него,
Одни других мятежней, своенравней,
Видения бегут со всех сторон,
Как будто бы своей отчизны давней
Стихийному смятенью отдан он;
Но иногда, мечтой воспламененный,
Он видит свет, другим не откровенный .
Созданье ли болезненной мечты
Иль  дерзкого ума соображенье,
Во глубине полночной темноты
Представшее  очам моим виденье?
Не ведаю; но предо мной тогда
Раскрылися  грядущие года;
События  вставали, развивались,
Волнуяся, подобно облакам,
И полными эпохами являлись
От времени до времени очам,
И наконец я видел без покрова
Последнюю  судьбу всего живого.
Сначала мир явил мне дивный сад;
Везде искусств, обилия приметы;
Близ веси весь и подле града град,
Везде дворцы, театры, водометы,
Везде народ, и хитрый свой закон
Стихии все признать заставил он.
Уж  он морей мятежные пучины
На островах искусственных селил,
Уж рассекал небесные равнины
По прихоти им вымышленных  крил;
Все на земле движением дышало,
Все на земле как будто ликовало.
Исчезнули бесплодные года,
Оратаи по воле призывали
Ветра, дожди, жары и холода,
И верною сторицей воздавали
Посевы им, и хищный зверь исчез
Во тьме лесов, и в высоте небес,
И в бездне вод, сраженный человеком,
И царствовал повсюду светлый мир.
Вот, мыслил я, прельщенный дивным  веком,
Вот разума великолепный пир!
Врагам его и в стыд и в поученье,
Вот до чего достигло просвещенье!
Прошли века. Яснеть очам моим
Видение другое начинало:
Что человек? что вновь открыто им?
Я гордо мнил, и что же мне предстало?
Наставшую эпоху я с трудом
Постигнуть мог смутившимся умом.
Глаза мои людей не узнавали;
Привыкшие  к обилью дольных благ,
На все они спокойные взирали,
Что суеты рождало в их отцах,
Что мысли их, что страсти их, бывало,
Влечением всесильным увлекало.
Желания земные позабыв,
Чуждаясяих грубого влеченья,
Душевных  снов, высоких снов призыв
Им заменил другие побужденья,
И в полное владение свое
Фантазия взяла  их бытие,
И умственной природе уступила
Телесная природа между них:
Их в эмпирей и в хаос уносила
Живая  мысль на крылиях своих;
Но по земле с трудом они ступали,
И браки их бесплодны пребывали.
Прошли  века, и тут моим очам
Открылася ужасная картина:
Ходила смерть по суше, по водам,
Свершилася живущего судьбина.
Где люди? где? Скрывалися в гробах!
Как древние столпы на рубежах,
Последние семейства истлевали;
В развалинах стояли города,
По пажитям  заглохнувшим блуждали
Без пастырей безумные стада;
С людьми для них исчезло пропитанье;
Мне слышалось  их гладное блеянье.
И тишина  глубокая вослед
Торжественно повсюду воцарилась,
И в дикую порфиру древних лет
Державная природа облачилась.
Величествен и грустен был позор
Пустынных  вод, лесов, долин и гор.
По-прежнему  животворя природу,
На небосклон светило дня взошло,
Но на земле ничто его восходу
Произнести привета не могло.
Один туман над ней, синея, вился
И жертвою чистительной дымился.




Swollen with savage, terrible affection,
they batter us, the Mediterranean waves.
Then high above our stern we see our captain –
a blast from his whistle, and suddenly our sail
flings open to the wind, joins hands with steam.
Ocean’s deep sighing scatters into foam.

We hurtle on. The mighty engine’s wheels
tear at the billowing bosom of the deep.
The sail swells out. The shore has disappeared.
We are alone among the warring waves;
only a seagull circling in our wake
skims white between the water and the sky.

Only, far off, a dweller of the seas,
bird of the waves, a sister of the gull,
spreading its sail like a wide-stretching wing,
wearily struggling in the turbulent flow,
a fishing boat is rocking on the ocean –
both land and shoreline are clean gone from vision.

I have left many countries in my wake;
my soul, confused by contrary directions,
has suffered both false joys and genuine woes;
I had confronted many perplexing questions
before the sailors of Marseille hauled up
the anchor, emblem of a new-found hope.

From childhood my tumultuous heart has carried me
over the free realms of the watery god;
I greedily stretched out my hands to it.
And as a reward for my dark passion here
the sea’s distemper gently strokes my head,
the breakers splash me with the foam of health.

What does it matter if the shore’s far or near!
The heart already warms to its delight.
I gaze on Thetis, she draws out for me
a happy destiny from her azure urn.
Tomorrow we see the towers of Livorno –
Tomorrow we see Elysium on earth!

Дикою, грозною ласкою полны,
Бьют в наш корабль средиземные волны.
Вот над кормою стал капитан.
Визгнул свисток его. Братствуя с паром,
Ветру наш парус раздался недаром:
Пенясь, глубоко вздохнул океан!
Мчимся. Колеса могучей машины
Роют волнистое лоно пучины.
Парус надулся. Берег исчез.
Наедине мы с морскими волнами;
Только что чайка вьется за нами
Белая, рея меж вод и небес.
Только вдали, океана жилица,
Чайке подобна, вод его птица,
Парус развив, как большое крыло,
С бурной стихией в томительном споре,
Лодка рыбачья качается в море,-
С брегом набрежное скрылось, ушло!
Много земель я оставил за мною;
Вынес я много смятенной душою
Радостей ложных, истинных зол;
Много мятежных  решил я вопросов,
Прежде  чем руки марсельских матросов
Подняли якорь, надежды символ!
С детства влекла меня сердца тревога
В область свободную влажного бога;
Жадные  длани я к ней простирал.
Темную  страсть мою днесь награждая,
Кротко щадит меня немочь морская,
Пеною  здравия брызжет мне вал!
Нужды  нет, близко ль, далеко ль до брега!
В сердце к нему приготовлена нега.
Вижу  Фетиду; мне жребий благой
Емлет она из лазоревой урны:
Завтра увижу я башни Ливурны,
Завтра увижу Элизий земной!