Friday, June 14, 2013

Beauty and the face of Boris Pasternak

Posted by PicasaToday, as we left for the hot pool therapy for Scott's back, I grabbed a quick shot of this iris. It must be one of the ones we planted a few years back, but we hadn't seen it in bloom. It looks just fine against the leaves of the bleeding heart my grandsons gave me for mother's day almost 20 years ago. That plant just gets better and better. The foliage is completely fresh and new each season. It blooms early, has a long blooming season and looks attractive all summer long. Can't beat that! This iris is even prettier than the photo. The color is very rich, subtle and many-nuanced.
Next door to the physical therapy place is a Habitat for Humanity Resale Store. It's a full-scale one, from books and knick-knacks to furniture. As I went in a fellow was trying to lift one of those heavy CRT TV sets. He said he didn't think he could carry it upstairs at his place and decided not to buy it.
I bought three books at 94 cents each (they were overpriced, considering age and condition, but I enjoyed getting them nonetheless).and two audiotapes at a quarter apiece. One of the delightful things about a resale store for a person of my age is the layers of old technology, like videocassettes and audiotapes. It brings back all sorts of memory threads: about when you got a desired tape-player, or when this same chair was in a friend's house, or when you couldn't wait to see such-and-such a movie.
The tapes I got were a George Winston and a copy of Thriller by Michael Jackson. I think I'll get fifty cents worth of fun from them, but haven't started yet. The books were The Prairie by James Fenimore Cooper, The Reivers by William Faulkner and this one. which is well explained on its front cover, probably in letters too small for you to read. It contains translations of a short autobiography, three stories and a selection of poems. I had hoped to use one of the poems tonight, but these translations are about 70 years old and pretty relentlessly overblown; maybe, anyway . . . This paperback is a 1959 issue of a 1949 title. We were still Cold-Warring with a vengeance then. The back is failing--I won't read much more until I put a little Elmer's Glue into the spine. The introduction was quite interesting, I may have read this autobiography long ago, but the first part held my attention very well. I want you to look at the expression on Pasternak's face in this photo (a single click will enlarge) it's like a Russian bronze of a mighty general. Seriously . . .

Pasternak's poem for tonight was translated by Babette Deutsch, This was a long-familiar name to me about which I remembered nothing. Wikipedia says this poet also made "some of the best English versions of Pasternak's poems." Her translations are at the end of the selection of poems; I had just about given up finding something to use when I got to them. 


I've come from the street, spring, where the poplar stands
Amazed, where distance quails, and the house fears it will fall
Where the air is blue, like the bundle of wash in the hands
Of the convalescent leaving the hospital;

Where evening is empty: a tale begun by a star
And interrupted, to the confusion of rank
On rank of clamorous eyes, waiting for what they are
Never to know, their bottomless gaze blank.

We're few, perhaps three, hellish fellows
Who hail from the flaming Donetz
With a fluid gray bark for our cover
Made of rains clouds and soldiers' soviets
And verses and endless debates
About art or it may be freight rates.

We used to be people, We're epochs.
Pell-mell we rush caravan-wise
As the tundra to groans of the tender
And tension of pistons and ties.
Together we'll rip through your prose,
We'll whirl, a tornado of crows,

And be off! But you'll not understand it
Till late. So the wind in the dawn
Hits the thatch on the roof---for a moment---
But puts immortality on
At trees' stormy sessions, in speech
Of boughs the roof's shingles can't reach.

Boris Pasternak, Safe Conduct, Signet, 1959, pages 219-220.

So, here we have it: a clear demonstration of the power of rhyming and metrical verse in the Russian imagination combined with a clear demonstration of the power of a translation to convey only some small part of that--at the very real risk of sounding silly. But the power of the poet is suggested by lines three and four:

"Where the air is blue, like the bundle of wash in the hands
Of the convalescent leaving the hospital;"

which are truly great! A whole life is contained therein. They are my favorite lines in this poem. Sleep well!


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