Susan Ye Laird, poetry magazine, poetry translations
 Translations
     with S. Ye Laird

This December, we feature English edition of Mikhail Kuzmin's poem in its entirety,  a new translation work by Donald Mager Poet

Through twelve months I persevered
And gave the approximate weather
And that’s not bad. And I trust it’s possible

For a trout to break through the ice
If it persists hard enough. That is all."
  

THE TROUT IS BREAKING THROUGH THE ICE

by Mikhail Kuzmin (1872 – 1936)

translation by Professor Donald Mager

1   First Introduction

The brook stands sealed beneath the ice:

From there you study the wintry sky.

The frozen boundary surface makes

Fragile vibrations, like a lute.

Against it the nimble trout strikes.

Through it the aquamarine sun

Makes you frenzied with torment.

And a scampering bird's—shadow.

The sharper your thrashing presses—

The sharper the sound returns an echo.

Beside the ice a peasant stands.

The trout is breaking through the ice

2   A Later Introduction

Uninvited guests

Join with me for tea

Wanting or not to be here

Smiling as we meet.

 

Their eyes are cloudy dim,

Their fingers are like wax,

Wretchedly touching the rim

Of the weak-tea‟s steamy glass.

 

Forgotten are their names

Like nonexistent words . . .

Their talking is obscure

As from retarded minds . . .

 

The drowned painter clicks

And clatters his little heels,viii

Behind him the soldier boy

With temples low-cut and pale . . .ix

 

And even without the rain,

Oh, you, Mister Dorian—xi

Do you so freely take

A place upon the divan?

Well, keeper of memory,

I cannot return this relic,

Your imaginary “boy”xii

Free of charge, now can I?

3.  First Stab

While she sat aloof, Tristan progressed,
With full orchestra, he sang of his wound to the sea,

Where the green borders on the blue,
Coming to rest in his tempestuous heart.
No one had seen how he had entered the hall
And happened to be sitting in a box
With the young beauty like a Bryullov canvas.xiii

Such women inhabit only novels,
Or chat together as if projected on a screen . . .

Beyond them there are those who commit thefts

And crimes, or feed their carriage horses,
Or poison themselves in attics.
Meanwhile, fastidious and demure,
She looked down on the fatal lovers,
Not even replacing her scarlet shawl,
Which, due to her scrutiny of the hall
Through her lorgnette, had slipped
Completely from her pearly shoulders . . .
I did not know her, but everyone
In the dim, bland, pretentious boxes gazed . . .
Then I was with spiritualists at a séance
But I do not like spirits, and always seem
The sorry blockhead—forgetting what to do.
Inside the wide window, the freezing light
Spilled freely and turned blue.
From the north the moon was shinning:
Iceland, Greenland and Thule
Where green boarders on the blue . . .
And now I remember: my body was immobile,

With anticipation and disgust,
As if dozing before some outburst,

Followed by shame, and later, unalloyed bliss . . .
A light persistent knocking from inside
As if a fish beat its tail against ice . . .
I got up, tottering, like a blind sleepwalker,
Couples were leaving . . .

Suddenly she appeared . . .

Stepping out from the outer foyer with a man

Of twenty years, his eyes were green;
He greeted me as if I were someone else,
And pressing my hand, said: “Have a smoke!”

Like a fish working its tail hard!

Weak-willed—or at the verge of a loftier will!

Followed by shame, and later, unalloyed bliss!

Where the green borders on the blue!

4 Second Stab

A steed beats its hoofs snorting to go,
A blue ribbon hangs from a hunting bow,

Wolves, snow, little bells, gun shots!
Like night, is this some dire retribution?
Is it the Carpathians, chilling to the bone?2

Is that honey hardened in an animal’s horn?

 

The lap rug jerks, a bird of wonder;

The sledge runners screech—“you,Mari,xiv driver!xv”

Halt . . . the driver escapes with your lantern . . .

Here, such as it is, is your household:
A Madonna lights the head of the bed,
A horseshoe enshrined above the doorstep.

Outside the hallway, the snowdrift crunches,

Behind the hedgerow a mouse scratches,

With saddle blankets, lace and carpets
The formal bedroom is heavily spread!

In the fireplace a whole tree is heaped,

And like incense, its sap sparkles . . .

 

Why does the fish seem yellow to you?

Do you even know what you came to do?

Dear, can you leave off making jokes?

No vampires here, no Bohemian woods—

I name you now to the whole world—

So much like one—“brother for life!”

 

By law we should be imprisoned.
Alas, from free lives restricted:
But blood for blood and love for love.

Received and given in truest reverence,

Ours is no blood oath of simple vengeance

That God’s command can unmake,

 

Or place on one’s self the mark of Cain . . .

The young landlord seems to faint,
As he cuts a diagonal across his palm . . .

The silent blood drips into the flagon:

Sign of exchange, sign of protection . . .3

They lead the steeds out from the stable . ..

5 Third Stab

 

Like wings that can no longer beat,

Mounted specimens: Holland boats

In miniature.  Or greenhouse light

As bright as from library windows.

 

Yesterday was the ride and the knife,

And the wild ecstatic blood-shared oath

That to me presaged deceit and lies

And some future travesty of truth.

 

To know desire . . . It is too bad
But manly types have brought me peace

In ways that among the local crowd
It is best for one not to converse.

 

You had hardly left, Shakespeare4
Lay open, a butt was still smoking . . .
“The Sonnets”!xvi The world, wide and clear,

Spread beneath March wind’s questioning!

Just as embroidered patterns of snow thaw

When spring follows the first warm rays

So youth exists young and raw,
In certainty of its erratic ways.

6 Fourth Stab

 

Oh how this breakfast is akin
To an orchestrated day,
In which each sound and thought,

My love, lifts up similes:
French horn and clarinet converse,

The harp and piccolo embrace,

The funereal trombone’s lament—

Brings consolation to his end.

 

Oh how this breakfast is akin
To a pair of sideshow twins:5
A single stomach and two hearts,

Two heads and a single back . . .

Born to bear simple taunts,
A mystery inexplicable to us.
To reveal the exchange outright—6

Will make one a fairground sight.

 

You flow—I’m not submerged,

We are two wings—one soul,
We are two souls—one artist,
Two artists—one laureate . . .
Later with bags packed for the train

Why is the ticket still locked in?

Oh how this breakfast is akin

In no way to lies and suspicion.

7 Fifth Stab

 

We cheat this May as if numbed by ice:
We unfurled the awning, removed our coats,
Dragged the billiard table onto the porch
And spent half the day from breakfast until tea

Pinging balls with cues. An early dinner,
Rising at dawn, bathing, relaxing . . .
Time for you to go, and it seems I have to live
As if to live in separation suited me:
Somewhat prosaic, somewhat sanitized.
I was not even waiting for a particular letter
And winced at the canceled stamp” “Grinoke.”xvii  

—We cheat this May as if in delirium,
A madman with briar-roses, a blue sea
And Elinor8 as breath-taking as ever!
Forgive me, my friend, but look close and see
When she comes out mornings to the garden,
How she is a pigeon-gray Amazon—
Look close and see how passion—only strong will. —

Look and see and how this is her—green country! — 

Whose idea was it that peaceful landscapes
Cannot be arenas of catastrophe?

8 Sixth Stab / A Ballad  xviii

 

A goodly mariner, ruddy and tan,10
By sea journeyed afar.
As years went by, gray beard grew long,

His family waited no more.
The granny long since passed away

Who each year prayed for him,
The heart of his youthful fiancée
Grew hard as ice with time,
Under the table out of the way,
With bone an old dog snores—

Forgotten when his master sailed . . .
He knows the guest at the door.xix

The mariner stands, old and confused.

—Hey, who’s master here?!
From distant parts I carry news
For Mistress Annie Ray.

—What news do you have to tell us then?

Your betrothéd’s vanished and gone!—
He rolled up his sleeve and showed the skin

Where a birthmark brightly shown.

—I’m Ervin Green11 and beg to come in! —

Heartless the fiancée—slaps . . .
The father sheds tears. And kissing her son

On his forehead, the mother weeps,

On every side ring out the bells,
A festive “ding” and “dong,”— “Ding-dong” in celebration,
For Annie Ray with the bridal veil
Took Ervin Green as her own.
With bagpipes leading the wedding band,

The couple dropped behind.

Says she: —To you, my wedded man,

I beg to receive one boon.
With detours as you journeyed far,

Till now you lived alone—

Have you forgotten the country’s law

Of the land of your sweetheart’s home?

I watched: did any shining visions,
In prayer as you knelt down,
Appear in answer to your “Amens,”

Whenever they sang the hymns,
And when you dipped the holy water

And sat before the cross,
Were you, dear, not rejected there
By our Lord Savior Christ?
—Hush, Annie Ray, and listen well

And let this nonsense be!
You have not seen the folk who dwell

Far off in the north country.
There shines to all a greenish light
On earth and in the skies,
From underwater a flower bright

Blooms as its stems arise,
As clear to one who risks his life
As are the freezing stars . . .
And whether we are man and wife
See, see what now appears!—

She glanced about both here and there—

Herself she scarcely knew . . .
Where’s the forty-year mariner,12
With whom her life’s to be?

He is noble, he is tall,
No wrinkles mar his face,
Lashes, brow and forehead—well!
She can’t avert her gaze!
A charming blush began to play
Making his cheeks turn red—
No one had seen him ever this way
Even in childhood.
And hair as fine as beaten flax,
And a passionate red mouth,
Of him the green light’s sparkle makes
A miracle of strength.
And after all these years recalled . . .

Here . . . at the castle . . . his sorrow . . .

The youthful-looking baron died
Just at the break of the marrow.
Flowers strewed the grave where he lay,

The mother sore did weep,
And Annie’s voice did speak softly:

“With the likes of him must I then sleep!”

With a gentle crash and dark-blue peal,

And small lights all around,
Hers was a dream both green and cold,

As covered she slept at home.
Her body burns, her eyes shed tears,

Unbearable, she prays.
And there he stands to answer her . . .

Amid night’s dimest rays . . .
—Like Satan—I can destroy your soul
If I should so desire;
But likes of you, love I will,
Till death, my wife, transpires!

11 Ninth Stab

 

Companionless—I seek out other friends:
Preferring now to spend my time with them.
I do not grieve what’s past, nor what portends
Of future happenings, dare I assume?
No revelry—no sociable good cheer,
No voluble and charming pleasantries,
And from white wine I’m not hungover nor
Worn out with obvious and glassy eyes.
For forty days and nights I am prepared,20
My time is diligently occupied,
Caressingly I soothe my flesh with care,
And to myself I say that I am loved.
Some people may change faces when they want,

They may not be restricted to one only.
Is it quite possible I’ve simply dreamt
Up all this nonsense of a green country?21
— But is he drowning? — Figuratively.
— And Grinoke?22 — It exists. A small Scots town.

All metaphors suspended smokily
Will flee beneath the ceiling in a ring,
And sober day dispel all chimeras—
Perhaps they also are examples set for us.

A voice is singing clear and far:

—The river green, one starts to hear,

The tiny boat we cannot save.
A waving hand in soft kid glove

Still beckons to you from afar
Until your heart learns to endure

Ervin Green, the mariner.23

 

12 Tenth Stab

 

To alter some of my light amusements, I
At times go out to those drab buildings where

On entering I test my skill at chance,

But chance is not what lures me like a cur.
In the church of chance—the secret gaming-house,
I cannot start to tell the fervid sleeping
Eyes, parched lips, and brows grown numb and pale.

And there beside the shouting croupier
I sat the whole night through without a break.
It seemed to me I struggled under water,
The green baizexxiii table cover calls to mind
The green country24 beyond the blue ferry . . .
But nothing there I saw could call to mind
The one who’d gone away, and so I took
My chance at playing cards. A man with large

Eyeglasses one time spoke: — Obviously
You are no player, just an amateur,
Or better yet, a seeker of sensations,
But in essence here—it’s all a dreadful bore,

Monotonous and quite uninteresting.

It’s not yet late. Could it be that you

Might be induced to walk along with me

As I go view some minor local sights?

 (12 Tenth Stab continued...) 

And I am one, who in my younger years

Had toured all Europe; even Egypt once.

Things that constitute a small museum, —

Among the junk and entertaining trifles,

Like all collectors, I find value in

What calls attention; no selectiveness,

This passion is, like all the others—dead. —

I hastened to agree to go, although

I do admit I did not like this man:

He seemed both brash and asinine.


But it was now a quarter until one,

And I had no idea what to do.
However chance arranged it all—and yes,
This venture was becoming a sordid mess!
We crossed three neighborhoods; the average gates,

The average middle class apartment blocks,

Bourgeois and drab, the average forgeries
In scarabs, muskets, broken telescopes,
And well-worn parkas eaten up by moths
And lovely puppets who had lost their sticks.
My brain was overgrown with spider webs,

Disoriented, and my head was spinning.
I still intended, even then, to leave . . .
Just then the owner halted me to say:
—Do we displease you? So it seems. Of course

For connoisseurs these wares are far from fine.

 

And yet for me it has become a game
And one that’s not yet played out to the end.
I had been seeking for my second half

All day and trust there’s light at tunnel’s end.
Isn’t he clear at a glance? — A twin!— “A twin?!”25
— Twin. — “Separated?” — Separated
And so we entered the small room: there stood
In the middle, an aquarium, on top
Covered, like ice, with bluish tinted glass.
A sluggish trout threaded the water and
Rhythmically beat against the glass.
—Its beating’s lackadaisical. —
“Well, where is your twin now?” — Be patient please. — He opened up a passage in the wall,
And smirking, jumped behind the door. And there,
On a stool, with calico green background was
A ragged drunken entity of sorts
(Like the lightning bolt in — “Caligari!”):
While tints of green were showing through his skin,
His lips were twisted, sinister and strained,
And the dry veins across his temple beat,
With light-brown ringlets pressed against his brow,
I stared with expectation and disgust
And could not stop my eyes from staring hard . . .

The fish beat gingerly against the glass . . .
A gentle clinking thumped and brushed the blue . . .

A large American coat, and gray cravat . . .26
The color of a fine rosé champagne. xxv 27
A clutching at the heart and wild scream . . .
— Oh, my God, why are you so familiar?
And luckily . . . not just veins. . . can still beat! . . “

Open, open your green eyes again!
I am the same to whom you used to send,
Those distant postings from the green country!
I am—your mortal brother. The Carpathians—28 Remember? You were reading Shakespeare then29

And the words disperse in the rainbow sign.30

Followed by shame, and later, unalloyed bliss! . .”31

And the fish beat, and beat, and beat, and beat.

9. Seventh Stab

An unexpected swimmer

Mysteriously swims.
He drives toward an opening
That compels and maddens him.

Embarrassed you try to hide
Your nakedness in vain—
And take no interest in
The surrounding rural scene.
Making the sign of the cross
He dove straight down from a cliff . . .

Then cleverly was standing
Like Narcissus himself.
With the gnats, and dragonflies,
And a blazing country sun . . .
From the heavens you look down
As if from a distant land . . .

Premonition? Memory?
His body underwater
Sparkles and is shot through
With a mica green color.
The current near the bank
Swiftly runs, keep left! . . .
Silvery bright and beating
The trout, the trout, the trout! . .

10 Eighth Stab

The crystal spreads out beams into distinct13

And separate parts—a rainbow then appears Refracting merrily as if alive.
If one is born again, one first must die.

I stepped on to the porch; the roses dimmed

Beneath a cloak of rosy furrowed clouds.

The sunset spattered swallows out across

The crimson sky, and sparkled on the pond.

A far flock glowed. And suddenly I see:

A motorcar that darts up arrow-like
(A rare phenomenon around these parts),

And out of it unfurls a bright green cloak

I have no time at all to ponder it
As I look straight into the sharp green eyes,
And somehow changed his hand grasps mine,
And right away a dusty weary face
Inspires in me the old exquisite pang.
—I felt strange there . . . Deminished . . . Weak.
Our angel of the transformations fled,14
A while longer—I’ll be fully dazed,
And the rose be just a rose, the sky be sky,
No longer vast! I then, again, from dust
Began to turn to dust! And drying up
Were blood and bile and brains and lymph. Good God!
No sign of rest and no sign of exchange!15
I am encircled by unyielding glass
And like a fish I stab! “But a bright green cloak?”
—Green cloak? Which one? — “The one in which you came.” —That? an apparition — there’s no green cloak. —
A large American coat to keep out dust,
Soft gloves, a jaunty cap, and gray cravat16
The color of a fine rosé champagne.xxi 17
“Stay here!” — But can’t you see: not possible!
I sink more deeply with each passing day! —
A fleeting chill has passed across his face
As though he were a vivisectionist.
I acquiesced and quickly stepped outside,
The motor had been chugging all the while.
And after five days I received a letter
With the foreign cancellation: “Grinoke.”18
— I only longed to write to you, lest you
By luck excusably forget, but that
Was just my luck—because with Elinor,19
A window is—a window, rose—a rose.
You see, one ought to recognize, even
If one thinks it foolish to condone,
That within words a “higher meaning” lurks.
So then by simple luck, by pure raw luck,—xxii
A letter on the fifth day came to us.

13 Eleventh Stab

—  You breathe? You live? No apparition?

—  I—the first-born of the green emptiness.

—  I hear a heart pound, warm with blood . . .

—  I, who asked for love, am not yet dead . . .

—  Ruddy cheeks come back, decay reverses . . .32

—  An enigmatic exchange is unfolding33 . . .

—  What does restored sight first discover? —

—  A fish, I see, breaking through the ice. —

—  Let my arms enclose you . . . Try . . . standing . . .

—  It makes way for air in the thick covering . . .

—  From unconscious laziness did I make you green?

—  I am rising up to the next level. —

—  And may your spirit flame again?

—  The fire melts copper into gold.

—  And is the angel of transformations here again? 34

—  Yes the angel of transformations is here again.

14 Twelfth Stab

At the bridge the horse grows white

Covered by snow coming down

And hand into hand is gripped
As quickly we drive back home.

There are no words, just smiles,

No moon, just burning stars—

Cycles and anomalies
In constant flux, like water.

Along the Nevá, around the canals,

And up the snow covered stairs,

You run straight into the house

As if welcome and long familiar.

Two small china garlands,

At the table two places, set,

And deep in your green eyes

Two roses on a stem reflect.

The entrance clock resounds

With twelve unhurried strokes . . .

This at last is my trout’s resonant

Breaking through of the ice.

Are we alive? alive and real.
And were we dead? The longed-for grave!

And in its time-honored ritual
The cork from the bottle—pops!

This is not a place of mourning;

Nor of distrust, nor of care!
Come, fair-haired, through the door

Into this crazy New Year!

15 Epilogue

 

Can’t you tell? Right from the start
I tried to make a record of twelve months

And simply show how each encounter went

As I lightly explored the circle of desire.

And here is what turned out! Clearly, I

Desired nothing and became dejected.
It is reminiscent of an unruly mob

Extracted from some once read novel,
The deceased all jumbled with the living,

Mixed up in such a way that I myself
Was hardly pleased I’d even started it.

Through twelve months I persevered
And gave the approximate weather
And that’s not bad. And I trust it’s possible

For a trout to break through the ice
If it persists hard enough. That is all.

Works Cited

 


1. Cornwell, Neil (ed.). Reference Guide to Russian Literature. London: Fitzroy  Dearborn, 1998.
2. Feinstein, Elaine. Anna of All the Russias: A Life of Anna Akhmatova. New York:  Knopf, 2006.
3. Gibian, George and H. W. Tjalsma (ed.). Russian Modernism: Culture and the Avant- Garde, 1900-1930. Ithaca: Cornell U. P., 1976.
4. Кузмин, Мшхаил. Стихотворения. [Kuzmin, Mikhail. Verses.] Ed. В. В. Еремин.

5. Санкт-Петербуг: Гуманитарное агентство «Академический проект,» 2000. [Ed. V. V. Yeremen. St. Petersburg: Humanities Agency “Academic Project,” 2000.]

6. Kuzmin, Michael. Wings: Prose and Poetry. Trans. Neil Granoien and Michael Green. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1972.

7. Lauritsen, John and David Thorstad. The Early Homosexual Rights Movement (1854- 1935). New York: Times Change Press, 1974).

8. Malmstad, John E. and Nikolay Bogomolov. Mikhail Kuzmin: A Life In Art. Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1999.

9. Malmstad, John E. and Gennady Shmakov. “Kuzmin’s “The Trout Breaking through the Ice.” Gibian, George and H. W. Tjalsma (ed.). Russian Modernism: 10. Culture and the Avant-Garde, 1900-1930. Ithaca: Cornell U. P., 1976.

11. Mandelstam, Osip. Complete Critical Prose. Trans. Jane Gary Harris and Constance Link. Second edition. Dana Point, CA: Ardis, 1979, 1997.

12. Moss, Kevin (ed). Out of the Blue: Russia’s Hidden Gay Literarue: An Anthology. Intro. by Simon Karlinsky.  San Fransicos: Gay Sunshine press, 1997.

13. Tjalsma, H. W. “The Petersburg Poets.” Russian Modernism: Culture and the Avant- Garde, 1900-1930. Ed. George Gibian and H. W. Tjalsma. Ithaca: Cornell U. P., 1976.

Mikhail Kuzmin( 1872 - 1936) , 1919 portrait by his lover Yuri Yurkun (1895 - 1938 )

" Petrograd, 1921. With food scarce and ice forming on the inside of the windows, poet and musician Mikhail Smourov fights to keep his lover, his privacy, and his artistic soul. Outside, the Bolshevik government is closing in all dissenters. Smourov’s diaries may hold the key to life or death for everyone he has ever held dear. "

--  a staged reading of 'Trout breaking through', as part of Voyage Theater Company’s Parts Unknown Play Reading Series

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