Ann Charters: Yeah
AG: So they’re all.. This is Mayakovsky’s elegy on the suicide of Esenin,
Mayakovsky’s comment on Esenin’s suicide
Ann Charters: This is 1925
AG: (19)25, probably. Esenin, as you remember, his last line, written in blood, is “In this life, to die is nothing new. But, of course to live is nothing new either” – “In this life, to die is nothing. But, of course to live is nothing newer” – That’s actually pretty sharp. They’re sharp last comments.
[Allen begins to read Mayakovsky (in English translation – an alternative translation by way of comparison may be read here)] – “You have passed, as they say, to worlds elsewhere/ Emptiness…/ Fly, cutting your way into starry/dubeity. No advances, no publications for you there./Sobriety. Ah, Esenin, this is not deridingly,/- in my throat not laughter but sorrow racks/I see your cut-open hand lingeringly,/swings your very own bones like a sack./Stop it, chuck it! isn’t it really absurd?/Allowing cheeks to flush with deathly hue?/You who could do such things with words/ that no one else on earth could do./ Why? For what? Perplexity appalls./ Critics mutter,”The main fault we find/ there was hardly any working-class contact at all,/ and the result? Too much beer and wine”. /So to say, if you had swapped bohemianism for class struggle/, there’d have been no bust-up/ Class would have influenced/ your thinking/. But does class quench its thirst with kvass?…”
– “Kvass” is a cabbage cider, alcoholic cider – But does class quench its thirst with kvass?/Class, too, is no fool when it comes to drinking./They’d have attached to you someone from On Guard..” (On Literary Guard, Na literaturnom postu, a monthly journal of the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers) – “They’d have attached to you someone from On Guard magazine/The main accent would have been on content;/a hundred lines a day you’d have written hard./as tedious and long-winded as Doronin’s attempts..” – (“Doronin“, a footnote says, “A contemporary, now forgotten”) – “To my mind, before I’d utter such nonsensical stink/ I’d have choked in my very own breath./ Better far to die in drink/ than be bored to death!/ Neither the noose nor the penknife there/will reveal the true cause of this loss. But,/ maybe, if there had been ink in the Angleterre Hotel/ there’d be no reasons for veins to be cut..” – (Because Esenin wrote his last poem in the Angleterre Hotel, cutting his own veins to make ink) – “Encore!”, imitators coo in delight./ Nearly a platoon has gone down the sink./ Why increase the number of suicides?/ Better to increase the output of ink!/ It’s grevious and misplaced to be mystery-propagators./ For ever now your tongue by teeth’s locked tight./ Of all the people, the language creators/, a sonorous, good-for-nothing master has died./ And as condolences, poetic junk they gave/unrehashed hangovers from funerals of the past,/Blunted rhymes are shoved in to exorcise your grave -/is that how a poet is honored at last?/A monument for you hasn’t yet been cast..” – This is where Akhmatova’s line comes in – “A monument for you hasn’t yet been cast -/ what is it, bronze, reverberant,or granite-grand?/ But there, already, by memory’s bars,/ dedications and memoirs of rubbish stand./ Your name into handkerchiefs they’re snivelling,/ your words by Sobinov..” – (Sobinov (Leonid Sobinov) was a Wagnerian tenor who sang some poems of Esenin) – “your words by Sobinov are lisped here/, and they’ll wind up under a phony birch tree quivering./ “Not a word, my friend, not a wh-i-s-p-e-r” – [Allen quotes from some forgotten poem] – “Ah, to quite a different tune I’d switch/ and just tell Leonid Lohnegrinich!/ I’d rise up here a thundering scandalist./ “I won’t allow my poems to be mangled by nuts…” – [Allen corrects himself – “mutts! – “mangled by mutts”] – “I’d deafen them with a double-barreled whistle./They can stick ’em where the monkey stuck his nuts!”./And so disperse such talentless filth,/ blowing away jacket-sails, engendered darkness,/ so that helter-skelter run Kogan and his ilk..” – (Petr (Semionvich) Kogan, a (strict Marxist) literary critic (and president of the Academy of Literary Science) – “mutilating oncomers with spears of his moustaches./ The ranks of rubbish meanwhile hasn’t grown any thinner./ There’s so much to do – just to catch up with things yet./ Life must be changed to begin with./ And having changed it – then one can sing it./These days are difficult for the pen./ But tell me, you crooks and wheezy criminals,/ what great ones ever chose where and when?/ A path already trodden, smooth and easy?/ The word is the C-in-C of human powers..” – (What’s “C-in-C”? Communist?, I don’t know, Communists in Communism?, I don’t know [Editorial note: “C in C”, “Commander-in-Chief”, surely?] – oh, Committee?, (it’s) “Central Committee”, I bet. The word (language) is the Central Committee of the Communist Power of human powers – “The word is the C-in-C of human powers./ Forward march!, That time may whistle by like rockets,/ So that the wind shall carry to the past of ours/ only the ruffling of our hair./ Our planet is poorly equipped for delight./ One must snatch gladness from the days that are./In this life/ it’s not difficult to die./ To make life/ is more difficult by far.” – (So he reverses Esenin’s couplet “In this life to die is nothing new. But, of course, to live is nothing newer” – (“V etoi zhizni umirat’ ne novo,/No i zhit’ konechno, ne novei”) – (“There’s nothing new in dying now/Though living is no newer.” – or, in an alternative translation, “In this life there’s nothing new in dying/But nor of course is living any newer”)
I don’t know which was smarter. Actually, Esenin’s, in a way.
Ann Charters: This emphasis on statues in Akhmatova’ s poem (“Requiem”) – she wants a statue, if they’re going to put it up, not in the town where she was born, but where she stood in line in Stalin‘s… before Stalin’s prison. And in “To Esenin“, Mayakovsky (is) saying, “If they’re going to make a great statue… (because Russia loves to make statues to its poets, you know – it’s like Boulder, Colorado is going to have a statue of, maybe, like, the four, you know, people on Mount Rushmore, after some years have passed..) At any rate, Mayakovsky has a statue (in fact, there are many statues to Mayakovsky). This is the irony of ironies, because where do you suppose they put up the big statue in Moscow to Mayakovsky? Has anybody been there? Does anybody..?
AG: Yeah, I’ve been there.
Ann Charters: ..Yeah. Well, remember where they put it up?
AG: By a subway station or something.
Ann Charters: Well, the subway station is called (the) Mayakovsky stop, also (they really do things in a big way in Moscow!). And (so) there’s this magnificent bronze statue in the center of Moscow, down-town, which is a very heroic figure of Mayakovsky reading, with (wearing) a beautiful European suit. But the irony of ironies is that the statue has been located right across the street from a theatre where I went to see a Tchaikovsky concert one night in Moscow and I was talking about this – “Why is the statue there?” – It’s almost as if Mayakovsky with his hand out is trying to reach the theatre. And they laughed at me, the people I spoke to, and said, “Now, it’s a concert hall, but in Mayakovsky’s day it was the Meyerhold Theatre, where productions of, among other plays, “The Bedbug” took place, with the very famous director, (Vsevolod) Meyerhold (who was a Stalin victim in the camps in the middle (19)30’s). And they changed the name, obviously, after he disappeared. Ironically, there’s Mayakovsky listening to what’s coming from the music hall, you know, the concert hall, classical music – but the memory, perhaps, in his mind is of the Meyerhold and the production of Mayakovsky’s last plays in that very theatre.
AG: And his last play was stopped, finally
Ann Charters: Yes, yes.
AG: They closed the doors of the theatre on him.
Annn Charters: Yeah, yeah.
(Audio for the above may be heard here, starting at approximately eight-and-a-half minutes in and continuing to approximately sixteen-and-a-half minutes in)