Monday, June 23, 2008

Who Was Galaktion Tabidze?

Born in 1891, in the Republic of Georgia, Galaktion Tabidze was a major Georgian poet in the early 20th century. Because he chose to write in his native language and not Russian, French or English, he is largely unknown. However he is justly famous among Georgian speaking peoples. Much of his work was written during periods of strictly enforced censorship that demanded highly patriotic and communistic themes. Yet Tabidze, who watched many of his contemporaries (including his wife) disappear into the gulags to die, managed to weave a rich number of topics into his poems, including local folklore, loss and regret, bitterness, love and even insanity. Influenced by Baudelaire, Poe and the Symbolists, he stands alongside Rilke, Yeats and Apollinaire as one of the great poets of his age.

This site is intended as a static collection of translations of just a few of Tabidze's work. Unfortunately, they do not live up to the grace of the originals. Hopefully, however, they will give you a feel for some of what Tabidze was doing, both musically and thematically. Please feel free to browse, and leave comments. I have attached links to Georgian versions of the poems, in .pdf format, so that they will be readable even if you don't have the fonts installed on your computer. For more information on Galaktion Tabidze and Georgian literature, I highly recommend Donald Rayfield's history of Georgian Literature.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Last Train

Georgian Version here

Like the chariot of time, this car
cannot be stopped, it will soon leave.
And hope, like Fortune's fickle star
is fading far and fast from me.

I know this voyage’s real name.
Why even bother, now, to grieve?
When have I received from a train
either solace, or sympathy?

The train—like lava—rumbles, dozing.
Conductors call out: All aboard, please!
You must depart, sir, doors are closing.
Conductors call out: All aboard, please!

Ah. Now iron starts to move.
Choked with tears, I’m chasing after,
calling last words to my love:
the last we will speak to each other.

Lord, why curse me with such fortune,
Each time losing hope anew?
For the art of valediction,
Will no one but a poet truly do?

Uncertainty

Georgian version here.

There is inside your heart
a bitter, brutal death,
a place of deep upset
where the lyre cannot breathe.

Once a boiling fire,
now your blood is frozen.
And your eye has no tear,
your heart — no compassion.

And when asked: “What occured,
what does your heart yearn for?”
He raises his arms skyward
yet gives to men no answer.

Monday, June 9, 2008

It was the end of October

Georgian Version here.

* * *

It was the end of October
the type of day when each cloud
in the air seems like Versailles:
the sun too tired to warm it.
It was autumn.
Even the trees were listless,
so listless!
Once in a while, like a tear,
a leaf was cast from a hopeless branch —
golden. Golden
amber piled on the garden path.
And something there was fidgety
in the withered twigs and leaves,
their rustling which generates
all of autumn’s mystery.
The garden was deserted
and
the empty wooden chairs
triggered an illusion
of summer shortly past.
Then summer vanished.
A dreamy young woman
in iris-hued clothes
with golden hair,
the face of Veronica,
and a sky-colored book in her hand
(labeled “Shelley”)
wandered slowly on the garden path.
At a Linden tree, she cut with a carving
knife the word:
Mary.
Her name.
Somewhere they were chopping wood.
The air was thick with copper.
All at once, a small cloud
melancholically stretched
in the sky swiftly turned
wholly hiding the sun.
The listless trees trembled.
A golden column
of leaves swirled in the air,
the dry branches muttering.
And the wind opened Percy Bysshe
Shelly’s blue book
right to the start
of that immortal line
from Time Long Past.
Each New Year’s Eve
I think of this moment--I half-open Musset
to a particular sonnet, which on the twelth page
ends in this way:
Car qui m’eut dit, madame,
que votre coeur sitôt avait changé pour moi?
Are these lines not truly
worth a whole poem?
Myself, I do not know what happens to me:
I can not keep calm for even one minute.
I want to strike out over the mountains
muffled in mist, to look at the world
from every pole. To say:
Lend me your ears.
I will look at this world
and loudly declaim
I defy you!
I love you!
With two million eyes
I look at this New Year
Ninteen-Twenty-Three
And I say:
To the Future!
Victory! Victory!

Ephemera Again

Georgian version here

Ephemera Again

What causes the Cypresses’ bodies to sway:
where is their whispery rustling’s source?
There’s no wind today… no wind today.
Except on the mountain. There, the currents course.
The silence down here is becoming a prison:
Unsleeping, watching, forever unseen.
Up on the peaks a grand poplar has risen,
and soon it goes tumbling into the stream.
A poet’s in danger the same as that poplar:
Seclusion and stature create all his woe.
His enemies libel: they slake him and slur,
they slander and smear him with poison’s aloe.
But he remains noble: he won’t stoop or sway.
The church bells are tolling for him from their spire.
There’s no wind today… no wind today.
Except on the mountain. The winds there race higher.
The great arc of Paris perceived in reflection
comes to the poet in Spring, as he sleeps.
But then suddenly the winds change direction
and soon into his life a young woman sweeps.
Demonic confusion! Confliction! Turmoil!
on every side fires whicker and flick.
The wind blew a woman through his mind and soul
and she’s starting to howl like a lunatic.
Yes! then the ground begins to descend
like a horse at full gallop down from a peak
a coffin is borne by invisible hands—
no one walks in procession or weeps in its wake.
Oh love! You’re as stable as foam on the ocean!
Give the scrivener a sword, or a lightning shaft
To carve into history: “”The Wind Blew a Woman
Through His Mind and Soul,” as an epitaph.
And Paganini… nets of an orgy…
The maestro will drink his wine from a bowl,
A stage illumined with hope will foresee
Feral french horns, and a savage piano.
Once more he takes up his trusted violin
and builds his monuments out of sound and air
that infect the whole world: Rome, London, Berlin,
and soon the old legends echo everywhere.
No! This is wrong! Hope is not some thin string
for finely-wrought fingers, shadowed by ladies.
He leaves, like his strings, the young women weeping
tender chrysolites from wide-open eyes.
For dreamers who have but a single red rose,
He gives permission for their souls to storm.
Cracked mirror, cracked walls: he doesn’t look close
to see the despair that infects every washroom.
And the factories spew and spew their phlegm
as the Dante of our epoch, Verhaeren —
A giant who has magnatized the flames—
will turn iron gears with iron hands.
And soon the gears spin— quicker and quicker:
everything around them, swallowed in steam.
The clanging noise roughens, lights flare, then flicker,
Will we never quit this foul work, Verhaeren?
The time’s near when iron will speak on its own
And, like a dark crime, demand our attentions,
Relentlessly fast, a hyena, it runs
cruel and hot: child of our inventions.
It suffocates everything with burning fingers
Even he who gave it breath, life and light:
It killed Verhaeren! But his memory lingers
and concering his glory, Fate yet still will write.
Or then, Dostoyevsky, as if ninety times
on a foggy night… a foggy night
was sentenced to die: to be shot for his crimes,
and moment to moment awaited his fate…
As the hangman slowly enters his cell
Something else deeper, something more profound
remains there, forever behind a dark veil.
This is the image Dostoyevsky sets down.
He doesn’t seek rescue, or look to the helm,
But stands with a shadow spread over his face
Sentenced to die, to be shot for his crime:
And who’s there to mourns him? What death is this?
From the top of his scaffold, he gazes away
Watching the satyr with a half-starved stare
This is the gaze that his portraits all bear…
Thre’s no wind today… no wind today…

The Daland Schooner

Georgian Version here

The Daland Schooner

I woke as the night flared: thievish, slow.
In the garden, neck-deep, a mist of irises
scattered broken tinsels of shadow.
Past the garden, a bare sea heavy with noises.

I left and above me anchored the Daland
gazing upon its own image like Narcissus.
I caught a mantilla of blue for a garland,
sheltered in earthly sleepwalking irises.

I sailed to my country again on the Daland,
and under the moon my heart woke, afflicted;
I wandered the old roads. Where was my homeland?
I couldn’t remember. Had I had her, had she existed?

Then I shivered with a terrible shadow of memory:
You and Moscow, Petersburg, Lenin, the Kremlin!
The Daland skimmed off over the Black Sea,
And I wept. I wept over such easy parting.

You're Thirteen

Georgian version here

You’re Thirteen

You’re thirteen and you’ve ensnared
a graying lover’s evil dreams.
Line up thirteen bullets here:
I’ll kill myself thirteen times.

Another thirteen years go by,
soon you’ll arrive at twenty-six.
The tallest iris gets the scythe:
time and poem mourn their necks.

How hastily youth slips away—
remorseless wishes of the lion.
And everything glows tenderly
when Autumn sunlight’s pouring in.

Snow

Georgian version here

Snow

I am vicious with love for the indigo snow
Untouched, as it blankets the river.
My mad love will undergo every woe,
Every wet frigid grief will endure.
My darling, my soul is a bottle of snow:
I grow old, and the days faster flee.
I have traveled my homeland only to know
It when it was a velvet blue sea.
But I am not troubled. I am winter’s kin
And this is the life that I know,
Yet I will remember forever the skin
Of your pale hands embedded in snow.
My darling, I still can envision your fingers,
In a garland of snow, humbly bent:
A glimse of your scarf in the blue desert lingers
Disappears, and then glimmers again.
And thus my mad love for the indigo snow
Untouched, as it blankets the river,
It drifts as the grieving winds pivot and flow,
It coats every broken blue flower.
The snow comes! A bright day arrives with its tiding.
I’m covered with tired blue dreams.
Somehow either winter or I must keep striving.
Somehow I or the wind must remain.
Here is a gentle game. Here is a road…
All alone, all alone you traverse it.
But I love the snow, just as I once loved
The sorrow your voice kept so secret.
It called to me then, it was so potent then:
The placid days, crystal and fair.
Your hair rushing ‘round in the scattering wind
And leaves from the field in your hair.
I pine for you now. How I wish you were mine!
I’m a vagrant who longs for his home.
Now my only companion’s a copse of white pine.
I must face myself once more, alone.
The snow comes! A bright day arrives with its tiding,
I’m covered with tired blue thoughts.
Somehow either winter or I must keep striving!
Somehow I or the wind must pick up!

My Heart's the Black Sea

Georgian version here

My Heart’s the Black Sea

I was travelling, night approaching,
The sea showed me its gardens.
—Shota Rustaveli


My heart’s the Black Sea leaning on
and beating on Adjaran slopes.
The furious storms I’ve undergone:
let them miss your placid boats.

And though the others cannot tell,
Your pine and fir will understand
that I’m not carved from mud or shale,
but made of doubt and faith: a man.

As such, I’ll suffer what may come:
Thirst, thunderstorm or freezing rain,
As long as, with the rising dawn
one hope has light enough to shine.

I’ll suffer every obstacle —
each prison cell, each bitter slight,
As long as I can still see well
enough to know my country’s plight.

The darkest taste of loneliness,
the saddest unbefriended state:
I’ll suffer all, as long as I
can see my country’s shining light.

Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

Georgian version here

Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

And now before my eyes I find
your cottage, where the woods begin,
And this night like a river, winds
into an azure opening.

Sisters proferring with roses
whisper such sweet haunting words:
“You’re such a noble,” one proposes.
“You are a poet,” the next avers.

And in this fashion July passes,
every second, every hour,
City of Tbilisi: anxious
kingdom of the troubadour.

Indigenous Ephemera

Georgian version here

Indigenous Ephemera

I can’t even tell the indigenous trees.
Winter has covered the footpath’s last mile…
“It’s been a while?” I call to the breeze,
and the forest responds: it’s been a while…

Moss coats cliffs, rock-faces, lees.
Eons have passed since this moaning began.
“Is it Amiran?*” I call to the breeze,
and the forest responds: it is Amiran…

His groaning, grown sharp, poisons my days.
Once again his heart and my heart are one.
“But he’s gone?” I call to the breeze,
and the forest responds: he is gone…

The Terg river rushes, singing its din
The sun begins setting. Night is far, yet.
Colors proliferate, then start to blend:
A thicket of ruby, of cobalt and scarlet…

Qazbegi’s summit is covered in clouds,
and the sky is crowded with cherries. Enough!
Baskets of petals pour out of the skies,
Then fear tolls from the Darial bluffs.

Fate tore us apart after only one meeting,
Silent and fleeting — in the midst of chaos.
Now Terg, takes these memories inflaming my heart
And let them depart in your shadowy course.

Moss coats cliffs, rock-faces, lees.
Eons have passed since this moaning began.
“Is it Amiran?” I call to the breeze,
and the forest responds: it is Amiran…

* NB -- Amiran (or Amirani) is a hero of Georgian myth similar to Prometheus. He was chained underneath a mountain for defying the Gods. Tergi and Qazbegi are a famous river and mountain, respectively.

My Life

Georgian version here

My Life

My life is the purest color of wine,
It shall shine until it dries.
With it I’ve earned a poet’s glory,
worth everything — even mere immortality.
Once more, the ashen days follow en masse,
I will never tire of raising my glass
to you, whose passion… is nothing but ardor.
Myself, I fear neither the past nor the future.

Blue Horses

Georgian version here

This poem was inspired by Walter Crane's Horses of Neptune

Blue Horses

Like snowdrifts of mist gilded in sunset,
the shore was sun-lit in eternity’s realm.
No promise in sight, nothing to look at,
Only the quiet — nomadic and numb.
Only the quiet: the cold, rampant storm
of eternity’s realm holding nothing but grief.
Eyes covered in ash, you lie prone in your tomb,
lying in heaven, and still your soul grieves.
Through a thin forest of disfigured faces
each barren day races: hurrying, gone.
I’ve terrible visions of my blue stallions
bearing your coffin, as the world looks on.
And seconds race by. I am not concerned:
those immortal linens won’t shine with your tears.
The tortures that churned in you died — all illusions
of night: a burning soul howling with prayer.
At wildfire’s rate, like a swift turn of fate,
my blue horses dart with a thunderous roar!
There are no bouquets, no calm reveries,
only your new home — this grave’s sepulcher.
Who’ll remember your face? Who’ll speak your name?
If you moan, who’ll come? Who’ll hear you whisper?
There’s no one for solace upon those strange shores,
where cryptic chimeras sleep, darkly twisted.
Nothing could block out the light from this chamber:
from only dry numbers, still, desert winds rise!
Through a thin forest of disfigured faces
each barren day surges then, hurrying, dies.
In the mist’s rampant storm, eternity’s realm,
In heaven or tomb, by dark curse deplored:
at a hurricane’s rate, like a swift turn of fate,
my blue horses dart with a thunderous roar!

Sweeping Wind

Georgian version here

Sweeping Wind

Sweeping wind, sweeping wind, sweeping wind,
Brushing leaves, rushing up, gusting through…
Rows of trees, whole armies, bow and bend
Where are you, where are you, where are you?
First it rains, then it snows, then it snows.
Where you are, I’ll never know, never know!
Everywhere, haunting me, is your face.
Every day, all the time, every place…
An endless sky sifts its misty musings in
Sweeping wind, sweeping wind, sweeping wind…

You're going away

Georgian version here

Another, more loosely-based translation/version I made is here

* *
*

You’re going away… and reaping your torment,
like hay from a seaside recently shorn.
Whoever said you’ve lived your last moments?
No: today is the day you were born.

You’re going away… but no one is angry,
either on earth or in paradise.
Whoever said that you were unlucky?
No: today is the day you were blessed.

You’re going away… may your journey be sweet.
Tales of your other dwellings are fiction.
Whoever said that you slept on the street?
No. You are sheltered now: you have protection.

You’re going… and many long for such fortune.
For anywhere else, fortune doesn’t exist.
Now you are finally up in the heavens—
now you reside as Eternity’s guest.

The tangled window

Georgian version here

* *
*

The tangled window,
night and curtain,
a flickering candle
left, forgotten
after a vision
of you, in the twilight
departed
to never return.

Laughter, fire,
bitter tears,
extraordinary
shining eyes—
glorious and dismal,
A tempest of ideas
departed
to never return.

Those brilliant
extraordinary eyes
that so vividly pierced
the darkness
like a far-off
flash of lightning,
departed
to never return.

And with those eyes
I think, a song
miserable, vile, died
with an avalanche.
And my own life
took this path:
departing
to never return.

One Eye Blinded

Georgian version here

This poem was inspired by Mikhail Vrubel's illustrations for Lermontov's The Demon

One Eye Blinded

One eye he blinded by design,
in this way learning treachery,
and in the other, kismet gained:
his power and severity.
Through history’s over-maquillé tides,
their Momus’ bitter mockeries
orbit, like a falcon’s eyes,
this century — Mephistopheles.

And Edgar Was Third

Georgian version here

This poem's title refers to Edgar Allan Poe

And Edgar Was Third

We two toward the temple bore,
sunlight fading. Prayers. Tolling.
On our eerie way, Lenore,
the wind was snapping branches, howling.
These wings were pining for a bold
dispassion toward your isolation.
But suddenly there was a third
between us, quelling conversation.
And a hollow voice intoned:
The final hour’s drawing near.
In the crying, dying wind,
we three toward the temple bore.

To Gautier

Georgian version here

This poem contains many references, and is dedicated to Théophile Gautier

To Gautier

You named your native haven Pimodan,
A place forever Delaroche’s hues.
The light awaited us, and it was laden
Laden with laurel and with petit choux
This blessed time is even now more perfect!
In each: the lightning of Brumel and Lauzon.
And please, please where are all the altruistic
Poets, painters, passing ladies, mimosian?
Surrounding us are white streams of rememberance.
Surrounding us are streams, light and clandestine:
The place glowed — a snug, erudite Parnassus,
It was a legendary lifestyle of the mind.
But we were seeking something profound, something Georgian…
Rhyme — and subtle nuance, rhythmic shadows.
Where were all the people from the pattern:
The Maenads — swan and wing — Infantas?
For now the road is thornier than thorn,
And no one else is trampled as this soul.
Now I’m an empty mountain church, forlorn,
And the dying sunlight dooms me with a smile.

The Fields

Georgian version here

The Fields

Swaying, a slender figure appears
walking alone, sickle in hand,
singing a song, her voice is the pasture
at village’s edge, where an old outpost stands.
The song is a soulful hymn of farewell
sung to a row of cranes facing the sea,
while the sun, like a spider is closing itself
in the delicate criss-crossing thicket of trees.
But what does the soul know of slavery? Nothing!
The rustle and braying of sheep fill the streets:
a young village virgin and flock are returning.
And the Virgin will soon return to the huts.