Homesickness

by Marina Tsvetaeva | trans. Boris Dralyuk

 

Homesickness! Silly fallacy

laid bare so long ago.

It’s all the same where I’m to be

entirely alone —

 

Homesickness! Silly fallacy

laid bare so long ago.

It’s all the same where I’m to be

entirely alone —

 

it’s all the same across what stones

I lug my shopping basket,

toward some house as alien

as a hospital or barracks.

 

I do not care what faces see

me bristle like a captive lion,

or out of which society

I’m quickly forced into my own

 

fenced realm of silent feelings.

I’m like an iceless polar bear —

just where I fail to fit (won’t try!)

and am belittled, I don’t care.

 

My native tongue will not delude

me with its milky call.

I won’t, I can’t be understood

in any tongue at all

 

by passersby (voracious eaters

of newspapers, milkers of rumor) —

they’re of the twentieth century,

and me — no time is home to me!

 

Dumbfounded, like a log that fell

on an abandoned lane,

all is the same to me, all, all

the same, and what has been

 

most dear to me now matters least.

All signs, all memories and dates

have been erased:

A soul born — any place.

 

My homeland cared for me so little

that the most clever snoop

could search my soul for birthmarks — he’ll

find nothing with his loupe!

 

Yes, every house is strange to me

and every temple — barren.

All, all the same. Yet, if I see,

alone along the verge — a rowan…

 

May 3, 1934

Тоска по родине! Давно

Разоблачённая морока!

Мне совершенно всё равно —

Где совершенно одинокой

 

Быть, по каким камням домой

Брести с кошёлкою базарной

В дом, и не знающий, что — мой,

Как госпиталь или казарма.

 

Мне всё равно, каких среди

Лиц ощетиниваться пленным

Львом, из какой людской среды

Быть вытесненной — непременно —

 

В себя, в единоличье чувств.

Камчатским медведём без льдины

Где не ужиться (и не тщусь!),

Где унижаться — мне едино.

 

Не обольщусь и языком

Родным, его призывом млечным.

Мне безразлично — на каком

Непонимаемой быть встречным!

 

(Читателем, газетных тонн

Глотателем, доильцем сплетен…)

Двадцатого столетья — он,

А я — до всякого столетья!

 

Остолбеневши, как бревно,

Оставшееся от аллеи,

Мне все́ — равны, мне всё — равно,

И, может быть, всего равнее —

 

Роднее бывшее — всего.

Все признаки с меня, все меты,

Все даты — как рукой сняло:

Душа, родившаяся — где-то.

 

Тaк край меня не уберёг

Мой, что и самый зоркий сыщик

Вдоль всей души, всей — поперёк!

Родимого пятна не сыщет!

 

 

Всяк дом мне чужд, всяк храм мне пуст,

И всё — равно, и всё — едино.

Но если по дороге — куст

Встаёт, особенно — рябина…

 

3 мая 1934


“Homesickness,” one of Marina Tsvetaeva’s most famous poems, pulses with an especially heavy charge of the emotional energy that infuses all of the poet’s work. It was written in 1934, when the poet felt equally alienated from the Russia she had left behind after the Revolution and the stifling émigré milieu of her new “home,” Paris. Tsvetaeva’s fellow émigrés found little to like in her inventive poems and took umbrage at her perceived rudeness. At the same time, she knew that returning to Soviet Russia posed unthinkable risks. It is this sense of being suspended between unacceptable alternatives that finds expression in “Homesickness.”

The poem captures the heartrending crisis of exile in short, violently enjambed lines that buffet the reader like fast-crashing waves. Its riveting rhythm and surprising slant rhymes are typical of Tsvetaeva’s technique, but here they serve a particular purpose. It is as if the poet is trying, desperately, to bring formal order to emotional chaos, to convince herself that she is indeed beyond homesickness. And thanks to the power of her talent, the illusion holds — until the last two lines. The Russian émigré poet and critic Olga Tabachnikova offers a memorable description of the poem’s effect in her book Russian Irrationalism from Pushkin to Brodsky (2015): “Pain is always greater and more stunning when it is denied, subdued, stranded, but makes its way all the same from under these inner prohibitions and constraints.” In this, Tsvetaeva’s “Homesickness” calls to mind another dazzling formal masterpiece by an émigré poet, Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art.”

~ Boris Dralyuk

***

Marina Tsvetaeva, one of the major Russian poets of the 20th century, was born in Moscow in 1892 and emigrated from Soviet Russia in 1922. After a brief period in Berlin and Prague, she and her family settled in Paris in 1925, which was then the capital of the Russian emigration. She returned to Soviet Russia in 1939 to join her husband and daughter, both of whom were arrested soon thereafter. She committed suicide in Yelabuga on August 31, 1941.

Boris Dralyuk is a literary translator and the Executive Editor of the Los Angeles Review of Books. He is the editor of 1917: Stories and Poems from the Russian Revolution (Pushkin Press, 2016) and co-editor, with Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski, of The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (2015). His most recent translations include Isaac Babel’s Red Cavalry and Odessa Stories (Pushkin Press, 2014 and 2016) and Mikhail Zoshchenko’s Sentimental Tales (Columbia University Press, 2018).  His website is: https://bdralyuk.wordpress.com

image: Boris Chaliapin. Portrait of Marina Tsvetaeva. 1933. Watercolor on paper

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