On Thursday, May 24, I’ll be launching a pamphlet titled Ten Poems from Russia, which I was asked to compile by the kind, thoughtful editors at Candlestick Press and Pushkin Press. The event will take place at 7pm at one of my favorite venues, London’s Pushkin House.
Choosing ten poems to represent the great wealth of the Russian poetic tradition was, as you can well imagine, a considerable challenge. But as I write in my brief introduction, “Any anthology, no matter how expansive, is necessarily reductive. At its best, it is an entryway — a corridor full of inviting doors, which open onto rooms that contain many wonders, as well as many other doors…” The doors in my humble corridor bear the names of Alexander Pushkin, Mikhail Lermontov, Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova, Nikolay Gumilyov, Boris Pasternak, Yuri Kazarnovsky, Georgy Ivanov, and Julia Nemirovskaya.
And one of the most inviting lyrics in the pamphlet is surely Tsvetaeva’s passionate plea to her daughter Ariadna, whom she called Alya, which I describe as “a perfect expression of the Russian notion of freedom — heedless and unbounded.” It was written on June 11, 1917, between two revolutions, when Alya was not quite five years old.
And when you too are dragged — as by a tide —
into a life of endless wandering,
justify your snakish pedigree:
put home — myself — my poems — out of mind.
Know one thing: you will be old tomorrow.
Drink wine, ride troikas, sing loud in the barroom,
be a blue-eyed gypsy, be a temptress.
Know one thing: you’ll never find an equal —
so throw yourself at every lover’s breast.
Oh, the blazing Paris boulevards!
(Do you see them? Millions of eyes!)
Oh, the thunder of Madrid’s guitars!
(I’ve written of them — oh so many times!)
Know one thing: (your gaze is wide and ardent,
the sails are swelling — on your merry way!)
Know one thing: you will be old tomorrow —
child, nothing else is worth the time of day.
You can read the original here. And if you happen to be in London on the 24th, I hope you’ll set your swelling sails for Pushkin House!