Monday, 11 August 2014

Love Songs of the Russian Thaw

A romantic interlude now, with fresh translations of love poems by two of the most popular bards (poets / singer-songwriters) of Russia's Thaw period. The poems were translated for a poetry evening organised by Trinity College Dublin's Russian and Slavonic department.

"I Love You Now" was written by Vladimir Vysotsky to his wife Marina Vlady. The French daughter of Russian emigrants, winner of a best actress award at Cannes for 'The Conjugal Bed', Marina Vlady reconnected with her Russian heritage in the more tolerant atmosphere that followed Khrushchev's Thaw, becoming a juror at the 4th Moscow International Film Festival in 1965. Meeting the popular Vysotsky while in Russia, the two were married in 1969 and carried on a long-distance relationship for ten years before Vysotsky's death in 1980. This relationship made it possible for Vysotsky to travel abroad to France, the USA and Mexico among other places, broadening his perspective and cultural reach beyond what was available to his contemporaries and leaving us many recordings of his banned songs in Western performances. His wife's importance as a cultural ambassador for the USSR protected him somewhat from the Soviet authorities and their suspicion of his subversive songs. In 'I Love You Now' Vysotsky reflects the uncertainty and intercultural/linguistic issues of their marriage. The clip is illustrated by footage of Vysotsky and Vlady.


I love you now - not secretly, out loud!
Not "after... until" - I burn in your light!
Sobbing or laughing, but I love you now!
I want no past; future's out of sight.
"I loved": a grave holds less despair!
It clips my wings and hobbles hopes.
Though the poet of poets might declare
"I loved you - and love still, perhaps..."

Thus they speak of wilted things -
Condescending pity for the lost.
Thus they speak of dethroned kings,
Regretful for a thing that's past;
For urges stripped of urgency,
When "I love you" loses currency.

I love you now - vows can't explain,
My time is now - I won't cut its vein!
This time, ongoing, while the moment lasts-
I fear no future and I breathe no past.
I'll come to you over sea or land,
Chained or headless, I'll come still!
Only don't mistakenly demand
To 'I love you' be added 'always will'.

That "always" has a bitter taste,
Forged signatures and rot and waste,
A get-out clause, a 'just in case',
Dull poison at the glass's base,
And a slap in the present's face,
Where 'I love now' in doubt is placed.

My French dream overflows with time,
The past's not so, the future's scarier
I'm pilloried in the stocks and I'm
Called up to the language barrier.
The language gap! A state defective!
Together we can leap this fence,
I love you even when it's tense:
In the future and the past perfective.

For discussion of Vladimir Vysotsky's political significance, click here.

"Rain Whips My Face and Collarbones" by Bella Akhmadulina shows the work of the most famous female poet of the era. Called 'the best living poet in the Russian language' by Joseph Brodsky, Akhmadulina (of Tartar/Russian/Italian heritage) was a close friend of Bulat Okudzhava, and her work was often suppressed due to her support of many artists persecuted by the Soviet regime, including Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Sergei Paradjanov. She declared herself apolitical, however (itself a radical stance at the time), and recited her poems of love and human relations to sold-out stadiums in the 1960s, before moving on to discussions of philosophy and religion. By the time of her death in 2010 she had many awards in her homeland and the status of a national treasure.

BELLA AKHMADULINA (Untitled 'Rains whips my face...' - 1955)

Rain whips my face and collarbones,
Over masts the thunders rip,
You have come upon me
Like a storm upon a ship.

What will be will be
I do not seek to know,
If I'll be flung up into joy
Or smashed against sorrow.

I'm frightened and elated
Like a ship riding the wave,
I don't regret our meeting
I do not fear to love.

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