Eduard Bagritsky and The Odessa Review

The Odessa Review has been as generous to me as Benya Krik was to the guests at his sister’s wedding! This past July the journal’s multitalented Senior Editor, Katya Michaels, invited me to talk about Babel, Odessa, and my approach to translation. I babbled and babbled, then Katya picked through the wreckage and assembled a proper interview.

In it I mention the poet Eduard Bagritsky (1895-1934), who is as close to Odessa’s heart as Babel himself. And the two were great friends. Here is how Babel described Bagritsky: “He’s just like his poems… He loves the sea, a sailor’s salty speech, and a fisherman’s boat on the horizon.”

Below is one of Bagritsky’s earliest poems, in the “futurist” manner (boy, is it ever mannered!), published under a female pseudonym — Nina Voskresenskaya — in an Odessan anthology titled Automobile in the Clouds (Avto v oblakakh, 1915). In it, the young poet marvels at the strange aspect of Odessa’s beloved pedestrian walkway, Deribasovskaya Street (Rue Déribas), after sundown.

Deribasovskaya at Night

(Spring)

Across the dirty sky, words etched with rays
of greenish light: “Chocolate and Cocoa.”
And cars, like cats with trampled tails,
wail frantically: “Meow! Meow!”

Black trees, like scraggly brooms,
have swept the rouged stars from the sky,
and red-haired, loud-mouthed trams
creep over cobble-skulls — done for the night.

Dolphins of granite, looking like fat pugs,
drink from a grimy fountain’s spout,
while Pushkin’s statue reaches for a smoke
and asks a lantern: “Have you got a light?”

Decadent clouds go floating overhead,
and women’s lips all smell like cheap cigars.
The crescent moon — an orange sausage link —
dangles above the roadway’s parted hair.

A seven-story house, arms full of signs,
smokes coal like dandies smoke cigars,
and a red-nosed lantern in a schoolboy’s cap
winks at a sign — he’s doing great so far!

Atop the lakes of oily asphalt, ruddy stars
worship the night in a black mass…
O pimps, rejoice, raise chimneys from the rooftops —
Rue Déribas has found its poetess!

1915


Дерибасовская ночью

(Весна)

На грязном небе выбиты лучами
Зеленые буквы: «Шоколад и какао»,
И автомобили, как коты с придавленными хвостами,
Неистово визжат: «Ах, мяу! мяу!»

Черные деревья растрепанными метлами
Вымели с неба нарумяненные звезды,
И краснорыжие трамваи, погромыхивая мордами,
По черепам булыжников ползут на роздых.

Гранитные дельфины — разжиревшие мопсы —
У грязного фонтана захотели пить,
И памятник Пушкина1, всунувши в рот папиросу,
Просит у фонаря: «Позвольте закурить!»

Дегенеративные тучи проносятся низко,
От женских губ несет копеечными сигарами,
И месяц повис, как оранжевая сосиска,
Над мостовой, расчесавшей пробор тротуарами.

Семиэтажный дом с вывесками в охапке,
Курит уголь, как денди сигару,
И красноносый фонарь в гимназической шапке
Подмигивает вывеске — он сегодня в ударе.

На черных озерах маслянистого асфальта
Рыжие звезды служат ночи мессу…
Радуйтесь, сутенеры, трубы дома подымайте —
И у Дерибасовской есть поэтесса!

1915

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4 thoughts on “Eduard Bagritsky and The Odessa Review

    1. You’re right, of course. And I’m sure he believed, as most 20-year-old poets do, that “Safe in [his] soul there [lay] a hoarded treasure, / whose key [was] only [his]” (trans. Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman).

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