Two Poems

Georgy Ivanov

A Quarter Century Has Passed . . .

"We shall meet again in Petersburg,
as though we had buried the sun there." - O Mandelshtam

A quarter century has passed abroad
and hope has become a joke.
The radiant starscape above Nice
is permanently my native sky.

The stillness of the blissful South,
the murmur of waves, the golden wine . . .

But a Petersburg blizzard is singing
in the snow-plastered window,
that the prophecy of a dead friend

will surely come to pass.

How fussy . . .

"They have given you an incomprehensible name.
You are unconscious;
or — more preciously — your name is
potassium cyanide."   - G Adamovich

How fussy you once were,
My friends!
You didn't drink vodka, didn't like it.
You preferred Côte de Nuits.

Our bread now — potassium cyanide.
Mercuric chloride — our water.
Well, we've gotten used to this,
and haven't totally lost it.

Quite the contrary — in a senseless
                                     and evil
World — we resist evil,
Tenderly circling in a dead man's waltz at the émigré ball.

translated from the Russian by Harry Leeds

Read the original in Russian

Read translator’s note

Georgy Ivanov (1894-1958)  started as an acmeist poet, who emigrated to Paris after the revolution. He is similar to Akhmatova and Mandelshtam, in that his images are meant to literally represent his meaning, in contrast with symbolist poetry (Blok or Bely) in which meaning is separated from reality and interpreted through a symbol.  He moved to a more nihilistic, European style toward the end of his life.

Harry Leeds is a translator of Russian poetry, a fiction writer, and a general lover of Russian writing. He is getting his MFA at the University of Florida. He has forthcoming translations in The Broome Street Review and The Birmingham Poetry Review, and is also working on a collection of Russian futurist poetry.

On 'A Quarter Century Has Passed . . . '

The hope once possessed by the émigrés was the hope of returning to Russia, or, for some, a less violent government. The dead friend in the last strophe is probably Mandelshtam. His prophecy is likely the famous epigraph that precedes the poem (and is followed with, "and then for the first time we will pronounce the blessed word with no meaning").

On 'How fussy . . . '

Many living poets and intellectuals or Russia who started out just before the revolution were forced to emigrate. Ivanov was one of them. Those who stayed were often suppressed or, famously, sent to do hard camps and/or murdered. Those who emigrated lived in mixed financial and psychological circumstances, but didn't suffer as universally and abjectly as their friends and colleagues at home.

As a young poet, Ivanov was involved with some of the futurist groups. He became closer with Gumilev and the acmeists before emigrating to Paris where he became a leader of the émigrés there.