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An unexpected meeting with a ghost (Dismal

Wilderness. Midnight. Lightning.) will flabbergast anyone—

Of course, miraculously appearing hitmen,

Unavenged victims, and misers roam around,

Keeping their secret treasures even in death,

Under a vapor in which the shadows of irrepressible

Treasure hunters, who might be appearing

As Vergilian guides.                                       








. . . November is already in the dooryard

A. S. Pushkin



Onto the ice  —  not the foot-free goose, preferring

To glide on the bosom of southern waters.

From the grove  — Cinnabar on gold —

A tracing still remained —

the canon prescribed for spring,

But the Master of rebirth

Breaks through the crowns with fresh shoots

Dappled green.









Sacred plantings, groves and stands of oak

In the service of zealous experts

For deep veneration

And in fear of delay in the fulfillment of their prayers,

Go and look, impatient devotees will take down

To the root. Merchandising old growth

Depends on timber merchants.

But somewhere, they say, freely self-seeding.




Forestry Regulations of the Russian Federation, 2:15; 1.16.19






Communities of small city-dwellers, such as, let's say, pigeons

   and rats,

Satisfy their need for food, but by thieving, from the human

Table. A disoriented elk will not adapt, nor a hornet

Trapped in a westbound streetcar, for the first is hulky

And furious, the second unsociable and stinging. Wherever there's a gap in the asphalt

Penetrating indigenous weeds take root

Right away. Mustard seed wafted in

From who knows where did not hatch out.











Unshakable, like Russia.

A. S. Pushkin



And the delta is not like a delta

(No sense arguing with experts)

And under granite, marble, brickwork,

And under cobblestones, and asphalt paving,

In essence, it's marsh, and swamp. To what does the city owe

Its endurance (ebb and flow of either waters or ash)?

The calculation of shipbuilders? The gamble of architects?

What did the poet know?



Original ↓

Негаданная встреча с привидением (Глухое

Безлюдье. Полночь. Молнии.) кого ни ошарашит, —

Вестимо, бродят неприкаянными душегубцы

Отьявленные, жертвы неотмщённые, скупцы,

Что и по смерти стерегут секретные сокровища,

Под пару коим тени неуёмных

Кладоискательей, тогда как считано

Являемы вергилии.








. . . ноябрь уж у двора

А. С. Пушкин



На лёд — ни лапой вольный гусь, предпочитая

Скользить по лону южных вод.

От рощи — Киноварь по золоту —

Осталась прорись —

Весне наказанный канон,

Но Мастер возрождения

Нарушит кроны свежими побегами

Под прозелень.









Сакральные куртины, рощи и дубравы

В долгу у ревностных адептов

За истовое почитание

И в страхе, что за промедленье в исполненье мольб,

Того гляди, сведут под корень

Нетерпеливые поклонники. Товарный древостой

Зависит от лесопромышленников.

Но где-то, говорят, живется вольно самосеву.




ЛК РФ, 2:15; 1.16,19






Общины малых горожан, таких как, скажем, голуби и   крысы,

Довольствуются поедью с людского, но и подворовывая,

Стола. Не приживутся ни заблудший лось, ни шершень,

Попавший в западню трамвайного вагона, ибо первый росл

И яр, второй и нелюдим, и жалист. Что ни щель в асфальте,

Не медля, пробивные терния из местных

Укореняются. Горчичное зерно, залётное

Ни весть откуда, не проклюнулось.












Неколебимо, как Россия.

А. С. Пушкин



И дельта вроде как не дельта

(Со сведущими спорить толку нет),

И под гранитной, мраморной, кирпичной кладкой,

И под брусчатым, и асфальтым застилом,

По сути, топь, и хлябь. Чему обязан град,

Твердостояньем (сгон, нагон ли вод ли, зол)?

Расчёту корабелов? Риску зодчих?

Что было ведомо поэту?



Translator's Note

For more than half a century, Mikhail Fyodorovich Yeryomin[1] has been writing poems unique in Russian literature. Each of more than two hundred fifty poems (so far) is a discrete eight-line stanza. When he publishes them, each one takes up a separate page. Some are accompanied by notes. Now, after six decades, these form a sweep of verse that has its only English analogue, perhaps, in Berryman’s Dream Songs or Pound's Cantos, and none at all in Russian poetry. (In a French tradition, Maurice Scève’s Renaissance sequence Délie: Objet de plus haute vertu may come closest to Yeryomin’s achievement, but the virtuous love-object of the Russian poet’s obsession is the whole living world over a stretch of time from Creation until now.)

The best description of Yeryomin’s poetry comes from Mikhail Aizenberg’s comprehensive essay “A Few Others”[2] :

“Generally speaking, there is no school you could put Eremin [Yeryomin] in, even conditionally. . . The assigned eight-line canon, the absence (except for his early verse) of rhyme — all this is no accident. In general, Eremin’s texts can contain nothing accidental. the verse’s superdense fabric would offer terrible resistance to anything too free or casual. . . . [T]he verbal transformations obey their own laws, and the poems grow like crystals. . . . They strive to take in everything, to become everything. . . . This kind of poetics, woven together with maximally intense thought, has no direct analogues or traces of obvious influences.”

Nevertheless, Yeryomin has been associated with the Leningrad “Philological School” of the 1960s and 70s—including primarily Vladimir Uflyand, Leonid Vinogradov, Sergey Kulle, Mikhail Krasilnikov, Yuri Mikhailov, Aleksandr Kondratov, and Lev Losev as well as Yeryomin—which was experimenting with the possibilities of vers libre when that kind of thing was generally treated warily in Russian poetry. It flourished as a community until the emigration of Losev in the mid-1970s. Yeryomin’s work stands out even from the work of his close contemporaries and associates by the abundant variety embedded in his steadfast regularity of form.

         Working with these poems can call on an encyclopedic knowledge, or compel me to compile one. Physical dictionaries heap up on my desk until I look and feel like a medieval portrait of Saint Jerome, while online resources reproduce on an electronic screen. Some poems ask me to call on my memory of Osip Mandelstam's poetry and send me re-reading four chapters of the Book of Revelation; others return me to a body of Pushkin's work that is immediately accessible to every literate Russian but not to a foreign reader unsteeped in the literature.  While natural and scientific references are readily accessible to a translator and a general reader, cultural allusions prove wonderfully rich and particularly vexing. If I were to translate each one of these references literally, I would lose the reader in a distracting wilderness; if I were to footnote them all, I would sink the poems in scholarly quicksand. Best to let the reader know they are there, create equivalents where possible, and let the rest go, as an encouragement for readers to learn the originals inside and out.

           I can spend days worrying just a line or two, like the proverbial dog with its favorite bone. I leave it and walk around, read, or solve a crossword puzzle, split wood or clean house, coming back again and again to this word and that one, changing vocabulary and syntax for rhythm, rhythm for assonance. Slowly these sets of eight lines fill out, fill in. Throughout, I have been guided and warned by William Butler Yeats in "Adam's Curse": "A line will take us hours maybe; / Yet if it does not seem a moment's thought, / Our stitching and unstitching has been naught."

           Because Yeryomin has his own command of English, I can work more closely with him than with many of the other poets I translate. As a translator, I am more opportunistic than theoretical. My aim has been to convey in English, by whatever means necessary, the content and force of the original, and I am flexible in my approach — sometimes adhering closely to original formal constructs, sometimes deviating from them. Yeryomin's work demands the eight-line format, sensitivity to technical terms, rhythms, and wordplay. Rhythms, of course, are as much linguistic constructs as words and idioms. In at least one case, Yeryomin invited me to translate what lies behind the words, rather than what the words themselves indicate. In another case, he asked for a rhythmic impossibility in English. Equivalence therefore sometimes replaces congruence.

         Yeryomin has been publishing his poems for more than sixty years now, and I have been translating some of them for half that time. During these decades, we have been in each other's company in person hardly at all — probably less than a week if we total up all the brief meetings; the poems themselves have constituted our community.


[1] In an academic transliteration of the poet’s name, it is written Eremin. The poet himself prefers a transliteration that more closely approximates the English pronunciation. Because he has been published in German translation also (V. the anthology Moderne russische Poesie seit 1966, ed. Walter Thümler, Oberbaum Verlag, Berlin: 1990) his surname sometimes appears as Jerjomin. Another translator, Alex Cigale, has published some of his own English translations using the transliteration "Eremin."

[2] translated by Marian Schwartz in Russian Studies in Literature, spring 1996, pp 28-9

J. Kates


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