Expansive Poetics – (Nikolay Gumilev)

Nikolay Gumilev (1886-1921)

Allen reads Russian poet, Nikolai Gumilev’s poem “The Lost Tram-Car”

Заблудившийся трамвай

Шел я по улице незнакомой
И вдруг услышал вороний грай,
И звоны лютни, и дальние громы,
Передо мною летел трамвай.

Как я вскочил на его подножку,
Было загадкою для меня,
В воздухе огненную дорожку
Он оставлял и при свете дня.

Мчался он бурей темной, крылатой,
Он заблудился в бездне времен…
Остановите, вагоновожатый,
Остановите сейчас вагон.

Поздно. Уж мы обогнули стену,
Мы проскочили сквозь рощу пальм,
Через Неву, через Нил и Сену
Мы прогремели по трем мостам.

И, промелькнув у оконной рамы,
Бросил нам вслед пытливый взгляд
Нищий старик, — конечно тот самый,
Что умер в Бейруте год назад.

Где я? Так томно и так тревожно
Сердце мое стучит в ответ:
Видишь вокзал, на котором можно
В Индию Духа купить билет?

Вывеска… кровью налитые буквы
Гласят — зеленная, — знаю, тут
Вместо капусты и вместо брюквы
Мертвые головы продают.

В красной рубашке, с лицом, как вымя,
Голову срезал палач и мне,
Она лежала вместе с другими
Здесь, в ящике скользком, на самом дне.

А в переулке забор дощатый,
Дом в три окна и серый газон…
Остановите, вагоновожатый,
Остановите сейчас вагон!

Машенька, ты здесь жила и пела,
Мне, жениху, ковер ткала,
Где же теперь твой голос и тело,
Может ли быть, что ты умерла!

Как ты стонала в своей светлице,
Я же с напудренною косой
Шел представляться Императрице
И не увиделся вновь с тобой.

Понял теперь я: наша свобода
Только оттуда бьющий свет,
Люди и тени стоят у входа
В зоологический сад планет.

И сразу ветер знакомый и сладкий,
И за мостом летит на меня
Всадника длань в железной перчатке
И два копыта его коня.

Верной твердынею православья
Врезан Исакий в вышине,
Там отслужу молебен о здравьи
Машеньки и панихиду по мне

И всё ж навеки сердце угрюмо,
И трудно дышать, и больно жить…
Машенька, я никогда не думал,
Что можно так любить и грустить

“A strange street, then crows/croaking then the sound of a lute/and thunder crawling slow/from a distance – then a train at my feet/ And I leaped, somehow and the railing/ held, and I stood, dazed/stupidly watching a trail/of fire streaking like sunrays./ Rushing like a storm with dark wings/the tram blundered and was lost/in time’s pit…”Driver, off!/Stop! This minute – listen!/ No we’d run round the wall, ploughed a palm grove, clattered a Neva..” (Petersburg) “..bridge, a Nile/ bridge, a bridge on the Seine/ And seen for a second a beggar/watching with knowing eyes -/ the beggar from Beirut, right,/ the same – he died/ Last year. Where am I? My heart/pumps languid fear – “Did you miss/ the station? They sell tickets there/ for the India of the spirit.”/ A sign…Bloody letters/ spelling Grocer – better than turnips or beets they sell /bleeding heads severed./  The butcher with a face like an udder/ and a red shirt takes my hand/ too and slops it in a box of head, at the bottom./  A side street, house with three windows,/wooden fence, a lawn…/ “Driver, I need to get down/ here, stop, this minute!”/ Mashsenka, you lived here and sang,/ and wove me a rug and promised/ to marry me. Bodies and voice/ Where are you?  Not dead?  not you?/You moaned in your room when I powdered/my hair to present myself/to the Empress. I never /saw you again./ I see freedom for us/ is light from another world -/ men and shadows wait/ at the gate of the planets’ zoo/  And the a sweet familiar/ wind, and over that bridge/ an iron glove and two hooves/ rush towards me./ Saint Isaac’s dome on the sky/like God’s true hand -/ let them sing for Mashsenka/ and mourn for me./ How can I breathe? It hurts/ to live. My heart tears/ itself Mashsenka, I never knew/ how much love and sorrow we can bear” (“We could bear”)

That’s from a gigantic book of poems, (translated) by Burton Raffel, called Complete Poems of Osip Mandelstam [sic!]  – and then there is a little tiny book available – (the) Penguin Book of Russian Verse, which had a prose translation of that. Could you check that out, I wonder…

Student: You said that was by (Nikolay) Gumilev (so) is that by Mandelstam?

AG: I’m sorry. I meant Gumilev. I don’t have it here. There’s a large Gumilev around, there’s a Collected Gumilev around (in English). The people that produce all this stuff is (are) called Ardis House, who print up all the twentieth-century Russian poetry, and they’ve put out a Collected Gumilev poetry. [Editorial note – did they? – Allen is perhaps referring here to the 1977 volume “On Russian Poetry”, an earlier, Selected [sic] Gumilev in English (translated by Burton Raffel and Alla Burago) appeared from the State University of New York Press in 1972]

I’m sorry.. Where I got that from was from the Ardis House Russian Literature Tri-Quarterly, actually. And this was.. what year was that? – Nineteen twenty-one?  So that was published in 1921,after the Revolution, and so the street-car gone crazy, or the street-car gone astray, is probably his commentary on the Revolution. Two years later, he was shot for counter-revolutionary activity. He was an aristocrat and he was elegant and he opposed the Bolshevik steam-roller, or what he thought was a Bolshevik steam-roller over the arts, as well as other political and economic moves, like the campaign against the kulaks, which came later ( the kulaks being the small land-owners)
He was marrried to (Anna) Akhmatova, but if you can imagine what was going on then in the minds of all those writers who had been in favor of revolution, just as the writers of the (19)60’s, (19)70’s and (19)80’s are in favor of a revolution. But when the actual revolution came, and was taken over by non-poetic activists, there arose a huge conflict between the imaginative writers and the leaders who had to run the tram-cars and claimed to have a monopoly on the actual practical problems of reality.
Gumilev was very proud in opposition and was fast in opposition and got shot faster than almost anyone.

Although an even greater poet, (Velimir) Khlebnikov, died a year later, who was much more wild-minded and more pixie-like?  (In American poetry, I would say somewhere as a cross between (Gregory) Corso and (Peter) Orlovsky as a poet, in style) – (He -Khlebnikov) died of starvation in 1922, after having been arrested by the White Russians and then by the Red Russians, and then sent out to do propaganda work in Turkey and in provincial towns, then came back to Moscow to see if he could save his situation and get some money publishing a book so he’d have something to eat, and starved and died then). We’ll get to Khlebnikov soon.

[Audio from the above can be heard here, beginning at approximately seventeen minutes in and concluding at approximately twenty-two-and-three-quarters minutes in]

ADDENDA: A recording of  Yevgeny Yevtushenko reading Gumilev’s “The Lost Tram Car”
may be accessed here

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