Sunday, 29 March 2009

Sunday night is.. Marina Tsvetaeva

I like it that you're burning not for me,
I like it that it's not for you I'm burning
And that the heavy sphere of Planet Earth
Will underneath our feet no more be turning
I like it that I can be unabashed
And humorous and not to play with words
And not to redden with a smothering wave
When with my sleeves I'm lightly touching yours.
I like it, that before my very eyes
You calmly hug another; it is well
That for me also kissing someone else
You will not threaten me with flames of hell.
That this my tender name, not day nor night,
You will recall again, my tender love;
That never in the silence of the church
They will sing “halleluiah” us above.
With this my heart and this my hand I thank
You that – although you don't know it -
You love me thus; and for my peaceful nights
And for rare meetings in the hour of sunset,
That we aren't walking underneath the moon,
That sun is not above our heads this morning,
That you – alas – are burning not for me
And that – alas – it's not for you I'm burning.

Rough, clumsy translation picked off the web, but it's better than nothing. Just come out of a session on Russian poetry: Mandelstam v. Dante, Gumilev v. Vysotsky, and the melodic quality of Tsvetaeva's verse. An all woman session till I come in, and then, shortly after, a young man who later shows he has read deeply into both Russian and Italian verse.

Of Mandelstam and Dante I have a some knowledge, of course, of Gumilev less and of Vysotsky, none, so I listen hard, though the poems are only in Russian, which is as it should be on such an occasion. I don't speak Russian. The third, about Tsvetaeva, is the most available to me. It is essentially about rhythm rather than melody and about vocal interpretation of poetic text. Can we hear it as the poet heard it? Is there an authentic, true way of hearing a poem?

These are pretty much philosophical questions. Can we know how the poet heard it? If it is by the poet's performance of the poem that we judge, does that mean everyone else has to imitate the poet's performance to get maximum value from the poem? What if the poet reads it differently at different times (I experiment with my own in performance, not wildly, but a little, depending on the audience)? Does the poet actually know what there is to be heard? Can the poet control hearing? Is the poet the best interpreter of the poem? Is there a best interpreter? Is there a meaning that we are edging towards, like a homing device?

I suspect the answer to all of these is: no. I suspect that if there were a single point, a single hearing, a single voice, a fully articulated intention, there would be no poem. Sometimes when I am not sure if a poem is working aurally, or syntatically, usually because I have got too tangled up with it, I paste it into Text and get the impersonal computer voice to read it for me. That voice has no capacity for sly persuasion. It cannot emote, amplify or give me dramatic pauses. It has no sensibility, no intimacy. The language is naked, out there, shivering in the cold. And somehow it can look a little clearer there.

This is not some precious piece of Poesy mystification, it is, I believe, the very nature of language: a compound of music, distance, breath, loss, the absurd, the attempt to build something out of such codes as we have.

Tsvetaeva's rhythm certain sounds marked, and very attractive, and poignant, and, when sung, as in the clip, it is pure soul.

Well, soul.. I sit in the small seminar room and think that is what I see before me in the three speakers, three versions of that complex notion, part intuition, part intellect, part emotion, part aspiration: the soul, if only because I can't quite think of a better word for something so rapt, so involved in a corner of the world that opens out to be so much more than music, distance, breath, loss and the absurd. The dimensions of the human. One of the great dimensions is work. The sheer legwork of body and soul.

Now to work myself, to read something for a tutorial after tomorrow.


Brian said...

Perhaps you could copy the text of a problematic poem here:

It makes a little movie! No more sensible or intimate, though.

Gwil W said...

Russian speech has a lovely melodic sound to it. Somewhere there's Joseph Brodsky slowly walking through the gloom that is winter in Venice reciting one of his bleak poems to great effect.
Have you any of your poems in Hungarian in Budapest on YouTube, George? I think it would be great thing if you did it. You needn't go to Budapest. You could find a cobbled street and courtyard in Norwich perhaps?

George S said...

Thank you, Brian. I tried it. I have rarely been so moved by a performance.

I don't think there's anything of mine at all on YouTube, Gwilym. That Hollywood touch has so far eluded me.

I will look out for Brodsky though.

Billy C said...

Thank you for the clip, George. Tsvetaeva has a voice that reached a part of me that I cannot touch or see.