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Selected Poems

Natalya Gorbanevskaya

Translated by Daniel Weissbort

Selected Poems by Natalia Gorbanevskaya
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Categories: 20th Century, Russian, Translation, Women
Imprint: Carcanet Poetry
Publisher: Carcanet Press
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(Pub. Aug 2011)
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  • Description
  • Excerpt
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  • Contents
  • And at thirty-three,
    I encountered, not misfortune
    but history. Strange
    to be cutting, not a door or a window through,
    but a skylight,
    so closely barred, at that,
    that the clouds, through it,
    look like links in chains.
    In 1969 Natalya Gorbanevskaya was sentenced to imprisonment in a Soviet psychiatric hospital for her dissident activities; in 1972 Carcanet published Daniel Weissbort’s first translations of her poems, with a transcript of her trial.

    In this new, enlarged selection of translations he returns to a poet who has continued, in exile, to engage with the cause of human freedom and the poetic traditions of her homeland. Anna Akhmatova regarded Gorbanevskaya as one of the small group of poets who kept Russian poetry alive. Weissbort, one of the leading translators of Russian poetry in Britain, expands our understanding of the continuing vitality of her work. An interview with Valentina Polukhina in which Gorbanevskaya discusses her life and beliefs provides illuminating context.

    Cover painting Yaroslav Gorbanevsky, Vulcan and Venus (detail). Reproduced by kind permission of the artist.
    Note on the Text

    Selected Poems

    from Poberezhye [Seaboard] (1956–66)

    On reading Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451
    The fire in the oven’s barely out
    Morning. A lively wind. The woods
    Concerto for orchestra
    My Fortinbras, poor brother
    I’ll fill the oil lamp
    Why speak of disaster or beauty
    I do not chase rhymes, seeking glory
    Don’t touch me! I scream at passers-by
    Nothing – neither fear
    Unfinished poem
    And mingling tears with the rain’s sweetness
    On Twelfth Night, sings the cricket
    Don’t destroy me, Lord
    Love, what nonsense
    Denying love
    Joyous Mozart with an oar
    In the madhouse
    You are my grief. Laugh then!
    In my own twentieth century
    You howl, you weep ad lib
    Feverish and sweating

    from Angel derevianny [Wooden Angel] (1967–71)

    Just music, nothing else
    What is forever, what does ‘forever’ mean?
    Preparing again to prolong his mortal span
    As brought to bay, the deer falls
    Curses! Joy! They write themselves!
    Darling, darling, astonished
    Hold out a handful of snow
    Forgive, forgive
    My love, in what region
    The train’s French horn sweeps on
    The savage cold of a Russian winter

    from Tri tetradi stikhotvorenii [Three Notebooks of Poems] (1972–4)

    My Moscow, a waxen board
    Make haste, enjoy the oblique caress of the rain, the sunlight
    Drought, malevolent stepmother
    It was not I saved Warsaw then, or Prague after
    Investigating the herring head

    from Pereletaya snezhnuyu granitsu [Flying Over the Snowy Frontier] (1974–8)

    Time to think
    Decrepit Europe, your second childhood looming
    Do not chase phantoms
    My dear, what’s happening

    from Chuzhie kamni [Alien Stones] (1979–82)

    This truth is a lie
    At that time, I fell for foreign poems
    He looked around, and his soul
    The untilled field is hemmed in the bonfires
    A year of dire predictions
    It got warmer and warmer

    from Peremennaya oblachnost’ [Alternating Clouds] (1982–3)

    This little clay bird

    from Gde i kogda [Where and When] (1983–5)

    A poor fly in amber
    Epitaph (On the death of Vadim Delaunay)

    from Sed’maya kniga [Seventh Book] (1985–90)

    Notes for a discussion on statistics
    Where the pollen crowds

    from I ya zhila-byla [Once Upon a Time] (1992–4)

    This phrase from the experts’ diagnosis
    Waiting for the end

    from Nabor [Type-setting] (1994–6)

    And my friend was sold for a bushel of wheat
    My head’s badly arranged
    This groan of ours, this wail

    from Novye vos’mistishiya [New Eight-line] (1996)

    7. The Russian language

    from Kto o chyom poyot [Who Sings What] (1996–7)

    Exegi monumentum

    from 13 vos’mistishii i eshche 67 stikhotvorenii [13 Eight-liners and 67 More Poems] (1997–9)

    The Russian ‘no’

    From Poslednie stikhi togo veka [Last Poems of the Last Century] (1999–2000)

    My drink’s neither hot, nor weak
    He Who let us sin and badmouth Him
    Time to stop
    Don’t fear or grieve
    I don’t see, hear, sensing
    We live – at times
    Telegraph Lane
    Blessed is the epic poet
    On the long, long rue Vaugirard
    There she is, myself
    But I was always
    Man, made in God’s image
    Hey, comrade lords
    Notes of a Cold War veteran
    And as children
    And sacred inspiration
    10 = 9 (In memory of the Oberiuty)
    Words float either here or there, scurrying
    A citizen?
    From Pindemonti
    You realise, don’t you
    And at thirty-three
    Words are out?
    I read the list of ships…
    On the snow-frontier, eyelashes freeze to a column
    Like a shattered embrasure
    And He suffered, and for a moment
    A rickety dog kennel
    It happened in August
    Rien de rien
    Enough to pass
    Who’s forgotten and what?
    ‘…not awful to die’
    No castles, parks
    And adding breath to the coal
    Like a virtual hand-drill into a virtual wall
    from Another 13 eight-liners
    1. A metro station
    4. Socrates, you’re a valorous man, but a lousy spouse
    Don’t limp
    Mile by mile

    from Poema bez poemy [Poem without a Poem] (2001)

    Epigraph to the book Last Poems of the Last Century
    Where it’s not stamped down, measured
    The female sympathiser is certainly convivial
    If temples, cells and imperial chambers
    And correcting, improving
    A poem without a poem
    Dear inky one
    What can I not forget
    A cup, a dish, a spoon
    Yesterday’s terrifying ferment
    With every passing day
    Nothing more, nothing less

    from Chainaya roza [Tea Rose] (2002–5)

    Between the roofs
    Against the glass pane, a knife
    And former misfortune, they say
    In the August sky, a flight of stars
    How, where, whence
    In the pale, empty dark
    My mother was born in Russia
    from Military eight-liners
    1. Thanks to the hand, painstakingly tracing
    7. What’s happened to me
    8. You’ll say: everywhere
    9. And here’s a Russian problem
    11. A review: how vague, the language
    3. One-two-three-four-five
    What’s he looking for
    Yesterday, the evenings
    from Square of discord
    6. Enter, don’t leave

    from Krugi po vode [Circles in the Water] (January 2006–August 2008)

    I exit at the Gare de l’Est
    What is it began to whisper
    Neither stubs of tails, line-ends, full stops
    Don’t restrain yourself! Out with the truth!
    Lord, hear me
    No road worker can set Raspail
    Who is knocking at the brow, but from without
    Logs in the oven don’t burn, but do warm
    Wherever you went
    I shall rake up on the wind, like a candle
    Snack on some medication
    By this overgrown route
    These waves, hillocks
    And Troy has not fallen
    What is relevant – age, weight
    For the first time I feel sorry for the unwritten poems
    Unbearable is a poem’s eruption
    I go, go, don’t whistle
    I know, know
    These places
    Is there nothing to read?
    Sometimes silence is like music
    Three poems about the rain:
    1. But do you like
    2. Close the gate
    3. Only three? Three thousand
    Somewhere, someone
    But music and in the deaf ear
    Walk without hurrying
    Like a shop assistant opening the store
    Two poems about something or other
    1. Of course, it’s not yet
    2. The naked truth
    Search and you’ll find
    Even so, into a noose, into heaven
    How few pinball machines now in Paris

    from Razvilki [Forks in the Road] (August 2008–December 2009)

    Not trying to surprise
    Deaf and old
    In general I don’t fear rain
    I live modestly, but quite well

    from Shtoito. Stikhi 2010 [Sumthing. Poems 2010] (2010)

    I loved freedom
    Verbs pursue me

    The Language Problem of a Poet in Exile
    Address by Natalya Gorbanevskaya to the full editorial board meeting of Kontinent, Munich, May 1983

    Interview with Natalya Gorbanevskaya
    by Valentina Polukhina

    Natalya Gorbanevskaya
    Natalya Gorbanevskaya was born in Moscow in 1936. Expelled from Moscow University, she graduated from the Philology Department of Leningrad University. She was arrrested in 1968 for protesting against the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. Gorbanevskaya now lives in Paris, where until 2001 she worked for the Russian émigré newspaper Russkaya mysl ... read more
    Daniel Weissbort
    Daniel Weissbort was born in 1935. He read History at Cambridge and did postgraduate work in the politics of literature during the post-Stalin period. He has translated many modern Russian poets, including Nikolai Zabolotsky and Yunna Morits. He edited Ted Hughes: Selected Translations (2006). He is Emeritus Professor of English and ... read more
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