Half light and other poe.., p.1

Half-light and Other Poems, page 1


Half-light and Other Poems

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Half-light and Other Poems


  Published by Arc Publications,

  Nanholme Mill, Shaw Wood Road

  Todmorden OL14 6DA, UK


  Translation copyright © Peter France 2015

  Copyright in Introduction © Peter France 2015

  Copyright in the present edition © Arc Publications 2015

  978 1908376 88 6 (pbk)

  978 1908376 89 3 (hbk)

  978 1908376 90 9 (ebk)

  Design by Tony Ward

  Cover design by Tony Ward

  Printed by Lightning Source


  There are one or more variant versions for many of the poems printed here. With a small number of exceptions on points of detail (notably in the poem ‘Rhyme’), the translations have been made from the one-volume edition of Baratynsky’s poems edited by L. G. Frizman and published in the Novaya Biblioteka Poeta collection (St Petersburg, 2000). Earlier versions of some of the translations appeared in Fulcrum, Cardinal Points, International Literary Quarterly, The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (ed. R. Chandler, 2015) and European Romantic Poetry (ed. M. Ferber, 2005). The translator’s thanks go to all those who have helped and encouraged him in this labour of love, in particular Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk, Ilya Kutik, Irina Mashinski, Siân Reynolds and Antony Wood.

  This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to provision of relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part of this book may take place without

  the written permission of Arc Publications.

  ‘Arc Classics:

  New Translations of Great Poets of the Past’

  Series Editor: Jean Boase-Beier

  Yevgeny Baratynsky



  Translated and introduced by



  To the memory of my dear friend and co-translator, the poet Jon Stallworthy




  Князью Петру Андреевичу Вяземскому


  To Prince Pyotr Andreevich Vyazemsky

  Последний поэт


  The Last Poet

  «Предрассудок! он обломок»


  ‘Prejudice? just a fragment’







  «Всегда и в пурпуре и в злате»


  ‘Always in purple and in gold’

  «Увы! Творец непервых сил!»


  ‘Alas! poor average writer’









  A Grumble



  To a Sage

  «Филида с каждою зимою»


  ‘Phyllis with each returning winter’




  «Были бури, непогоды»


  ‘I have known them, storms and bad weather’

  «На что вы, дни!»


  ‘Days! What’s the use!’







  «Сначала мысль, воплощена»


  ‘Thought, when embodied first of all’

  «Еще, как патриарх, не древен я»


  ‘I am not yet ancient as a patriarch’

  «Толпе тревожный день приветен»


  ‘Fretful daytime pleases the multitude’

  «Здравствуй, отрох сладкогласный!»


  ‘Greetings! sweet-tongued boy’

  «Что за звуки?»


  ‘What sounds are these?’

  «Все мысль да мысль!»


  ‘Thought, yet more thought!’







  «Благословен святое возвестивший!»


  ‘Blessed be he who speaks of what is sacred!’







  An Admission




  Последняя смерть


  Ultimate Death

  «Мой дар убог»


  ‘My talent is pitiful’

  «К чему невольнику мечтания свободы?»


  ‘What is the freedom of dreams to the prisoner’

  «Болящий дух врачует песнопенье»


  ‘Song heals the aching spirit’

  «Я посетил тебя, пленительная сень»


  ‘Enchanted groves, I came to visit

  На посев леса


  Planting a Wood




  Biographical Notes


  Among the great figures of Russian literature, Yevgeny Baratynsky is one of the least known outside Russia. Why this should be so is rather mysterious. Partly it must be due to the ‘purgatory’ that he suffered for some sixty years after his death in 1844 – and again in post-Revolutionary Russia, where it was only in the last third of the twentieth century that he came into his own as one of the outstanding poets in the language.

  Whatever the cause, for the most part he has been published in English in a fragmentary way. And yet there is a lot that might attract foreign readers to his poetry. Of all European writers of the time, he seems closest to Giacomo Leopardi, long considered one of Italy’s greatest lyric poets. Leopardi, born in 1798 and dying in 1837, was an almost exact contemporary of Baratynsky (1800-1844), and there is much in the clear-sighted, bleak vision of man and society in the Canti that reminds one of the poet of Half-light: the historical pessimism, the noia (something like Baudelaire’s spleen), the awareness of human fragility and ephemerality, but also the idealism and the vital honesty and magnanimity.

  The parallels are not exact of course. Leopardi’s poetic language, with its unprecedented exploration of freer verse forms, is quite different from that of the classicist Baratynsky, for whom metre and (usually) rhyme gave strength and permanence to poetry. And although both came from noble families that were removed from real power, Leopardi’s situation in post-Napoleonic Italy was poles apart from the Russian poet’s experience of post-Napoleonic Russia. Their private lives, too, though both difficult, evolved in quite separate ways.

  Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (sometimes spelled Boratynsky) was born in the first year of the new century on the family property in the Tambov region of central Russia. His father, losing the favour of Tsar Paul I, went to live in the country, devoting himself to improving his estate and creating a beautiful garden. Yevgeny remembered this garden fondly (see the poem ‘Enchanted Groves’), but he was less influenced by his father than by his strong-willed, intelligent and affectionate mother, Aleksandra Fyodorovna Cherepanova (many of his letters to her survive and some have been translated into English by G. R. Barratt [The Hague, 1973]). The boy was at first educated by tutors at home, but after his father’s death in 1810, he was given a place at the School of Pages, an elite boarding school in St Petersburg. To all appearances, his future was assured.

  His school days, in which he discovered a love for literature and the desire to be a poet, were cut short by an event that changed the course of his life. Whether in emulation of the Robin-Hood activities of the hero of Schiller’s Die Räuber (as he later claimed) or simply to buy good things for his sixteenth birthday party, he and a classmate stole a substantial sum of money from another classmate’s father; they were immediately found out, disgraced and expelled from the school. A career as an officer was now closed to Baratynsky, especially in view of the personal disfavour of the tsar. Even so, after a period of suicidal depression, he decided to attempt to rehabilitate himself by enlisting as a private soldier.

  His conditions of service were in fact quite favourable. At first he continued to live in St Petersburg, where he was one of a circle of highly gifted poets (later to be considered as the Pléiade of the Golden Age), including Aleksandr Pushkin, for many years a friend and ally, and his particular friend Anton Delvig. Before long he was transferred to Finland, but even here he was able to make frequent visits to St Petersburg – unlike Pushkin, who was at the same time exiled to the distant South for four years. Baratynsky’s view of Finland was a Romantic one, full of granite cliffs and waterfalls – his affecting long poem, ‘Eda’, set among Finnish country people, is a northern equivalent of Pushkin’s verse tale of the tragic love of a Russian soldier and a village girl, ‘The Prisoner of the Caucasus’ – and Pushkin thought highly of his rival’s poem. The years spent in Finland were in fact very productive of verse, much of it published, sometimes with cuts imposed by the censor, in advanced St Petersburg journals. At this time Baratynsky was close to the young writers and officers who embraced the Decembrist cause, yet he himself, though he sympathised with their radical ideas and aspirations, held back for the most part from direct political commitment, as some of the Decembrists noted in their unfavourable reactions to ‘Eda’.

  In May 1825, after nine years of disgrace, and just a few months before the ill-fated December uprising against the newly crowned tsar Nicholas I, Baratynsky was finally pardoned and promoted to officer rank. At the end of the same year, he retired from the service and moved to Moscow to be near his ailing mother. The following year he married Nastasya L’vovna Engel’gardt, and for nearly twenty years the couple lived principally in Moscow or in nearby Muranovo, an estate belonging to Baratynsky’s wife. The marriage was a happy one, but this was a difficult period for Baratynsky, particularly the years between 1833 and 1842. In Moscow, then rather a provincial city, he was far from the centre of the literary world; he wrote to a friend in 1825: ‘The fate I can anticipate will be like the monotonous Russian plains, covered in snow as they are now, and presenting an eternally melancholy prospect.’ Worse than this, in the wake of the failed Decembrist coup Russia was in the grip of despotic rule and political repression, and the general feeling of hopelessness naturally communicated itself to a sensitive and idealistic spirit such as Baratynsky. In addition, he found himself uncomfortably torn between the two ideological camps that struggled over Russia’s future, the Slavophils and the Westernizers. At the end of the 1830s he wrote to another correspondent: ‘These last ten years of existence, which seem at first glance to have nothing special about them, have been for me more burdensome than all my years of confinement in Finland.’

  But they were also productive years, the years of his best poetry. He found new literary allies, and a new inspiration in the work of German philosophers. His first volume of poetry was published in 1827, followed by a much larger collection in 1835 – the latter in two volumes, the first devoted to short poems, the second to longer ones such as ‘Eda’ and the satirical, yet elegiac ‘Feasts’. Then in 1842 came Half-light, Baratynsky’s most important work, a gathering of poems written since 1834 and presented as a unified whole under a highly meaningful title. By the time of its publication, however, the poets of the Golden Age had largely gone out of fashion, and Baratynsky with them; many reactions to his new book were negative or indifferent.

  The same year of 1842 saw an imperial decree which seemed to promise a reform, or even an end, of serfdom; timid and abortive though this was, it was greeted at first with enthusiasm. The general atmosphere became more hopeful, and Baratynsky shared in this positive mood. In 1843 he set out on his first visit to Western Europe, spending the winter in Paris, where he discussed politics with friends of the radical thinker Aleksandr Herzen – but also read his poems in his own French prose translation in literary gatherings, where they apparently contributed to the birth of the French ‘poème en prose’. Looking back after his death on Baratynsky’s mood at this time, a Paris-based Russian poet wrote:

  He looked on life with melancholy but boldly

  and was always pressing onwards;

  he thirsted for activity, and called on us to act...

  From Paris he travelled to Italy, and some of his poems of this time breathe a striking new air of hope, notably ‘Steamship’, one of his last poems, written during a sea journey, where he seems to celebrate the collaboration of nature and modern human activity.

  ‘Steamship’ ends with the line: ‘Tomorrow I see Elysium on earth’. It seemed as if Italy was exercising its customary magic. But read with hindsight, this final poem take
s on a different coloration, for a few weeks after Baratynsky’s arrival in Italy he died, quite unexpectedly. His body was brought back by sea and buried in St Petersburg. Only a few friends came to the funeral, notably Prince Vyazemsky, one of the last survivors of the Golden Age and the addressee of Baratynsky’s dedication of Half-light. And with his death a twilight set in for his reputation, an obscurity that lasted until the Symbolists brought a new dawn at the beginning of the new century.

  ‘It is high time that Baratynsky finally got the place on the Russian Parnassus that has long belonged to him’. Such was Pushkin’s wish, and Victor Terras’s Handbook of Russian Literature notes that today his wish has come true in Russia, but that ‘Baratynsky is still little known outside Russia’. That was written in the 1980s, but as far as the English-speaking world is concerned, things haven’t changed a great deal. Half-light has never been published in English translation. True, there are translations of a number of poems in various anthologies, including those of Alan Myers in his selection of nineteenth-century Russian poetry, An Age Ago (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988, with a foreword by Joseph Brodsky). Five poems from Half-light also appear in what seems to be the only volume devoted solely to Baratynsky in English, the Selected Poems by Jill Higgs (Hub Editions, Spalding, 2004).

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