To His Beloved Self, the Author Dedicates These Verses

Vladimir Mayakovsky

Four words.
Heavy, like a punch.
"Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's – unto the Lord
                                                             what is the Lord's."

And for one
such as me,
where do I turn?
Where is my rest prepared?

Where I
an infant,
like the Great ocean,
I would stand on tiptoes like the waves,
caressing with the tides the moon.
Where shall I find a beloved,
one such as I?
Such would not fit into the tiny sky!

Oh, were I a pauper!
Like a billionaire!
What is money to the soul?
An insatiable thief is in her.
My desires' unruly horde
will not be satisfied by the gold of all the Californias.

If I am to be tongue-tied,
like Dante,
or Petrarch,
set my soul aflame for the one!
With verses direct her to turn to ash!
And my words
and my love –
a triumphal arc:
without a trace will pass through her
the lovelies of all the centuries.

Oh, were I
like the thunder,
I would moan,
embrace with my quaking the earth's decrepit monastery.
I would with all the thunder's might
roar away with the voice of a giant –
the comets will throw up their burning hands
crashing down in their loneliness.

With my eyes' light I would gnaw at the nights –
Oh, were I
lusterless like the sun!
As though I need nothing more
than to water with my shining
the earth's starved bosoms.

I will walk on,
dragging my beastly lover.
On what night,
by what Goliaths was I sired,
so giant
and so useless?


translated from the Russian by Alex Cigale

Read the original in Russian

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893 - 1930) was born in Baghdati, Georgia. When his father died in 1906, he moved with his family to Moscow. He began to compose poetry following one of his arrests for political activity, during a period of solitary confinement in 1909. The 1912 Futurist publication A Slap in the Face of Public Taste contained Mayakovsky's first published poems, along with the influential manifesto of that name. Mayakovsky, along with his mentor and so-called "father of Russian Futurism," David Burlyuk, were expelled from the Moscow Art School in 1914 for their political activities. As a trained visual artist, Mayakovsky made significant contributions to theater, cinema, and particularly to early Soviet propaganda poster art and as editor of the Constructivist journal LEF. Mayakovsky's final work, his famous suicide note, reads: "The love boat has smashed up against the rocks of life."

Alex Cigale is an Editor-at-large at Asymptote. His translations from the Russian, and his own English-language poems, have appeared in Colorado Review, Cortland Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, New England Review, PEN America, Two Lines, Drunken Boat, Gargoyle, and elsewhere. He is on the editorial boards of COEUR Journal, Madhatters' Annual, The St. Petersburg Review, Third Wednesday, and Verse Junkies. From 2011 until 2013, he was an assistant professor at the American University of Central Asia. He is a 2014-2015 NEA Translation Fellow for his work on Mikhail Eremin.