March The sun heats up to the seventh sweat,And the maddened ravine rages. Like the labours of a strapping farm girlSpring’s work is in full swing. Sick with anemia, snow shrinksImpotently on blue-veined branches.But life is steaming in the cowshedAnd the tines of the pitchfork radiate health. Those nights, those days and nights!The drumming from the melted snow at noon,The wasting away of icicles from the roof, The chattering of sleepless streams! Everything is wide open, stable and cowshed.
Vladimir Nabokov wrote a lot of poetry in his teens and early twenties. While this poetry does match the work of contemporaries like Akhmatova and Mandelshtam, it still shows a good poetic mind. Much of Nabokov’s early verse has not been translated into English. Here are five poems the young Nabokov wrote about Autumn. Autumn Dance Spin, fall down… We—dark-skinned dryads—are both happy and not happy with the autumn rustle:the forest is bare, and the fauns can see us,
OstinatoUnder the buzzard’s circling point of stillnessthe ocean rolls on thunderously in daylight,blindly chews its bridle of seaweed and snorts foam over sea shores. The earth is covered by darkness which batsnavigate. The buzzard stops and becomes a star.the ocean rolls on thunderously and snorts foam over sea shores. Thomas TranströmerTranslated by John Cobley
Guillaume Apollinaire didn’t write many nature poems, but these two autumn poems are remarkable. They were written in his early thirties and published in Alcools (1913). “Ailing Autumn,” which is often translated as “Sickly Autumn,” is notable for its images, especially the sound images (rumeurs in the French, which has no exact equivalent in English). The sounds move brilliantly from fallen fruit to trampled leaves to the train and finally to life itself. I am not comfortable with Apollinaire’s inclusion of the innocent water nymphs. But this poem comes from a different time over a century ago.
GrodekAt evening, autumn forests resoundWith deadly weapons across the golden plainsAnd blue lakes, while overhead the sunRolls on more darkly. Night embraces The dying warriors and the wild lament 5Of their mangled mouths. Yet silently in the pastureland, Red clouds inhabited by an angry godGather shed blood, lunar coldness. All roads lead to black decay. 10
WONDERFUL AUTUMN The unprecedented autumn built an immense dome;The clouds were ordered not to darken it. And people marveled: September is moving on.Where are the freezing, damp days?The murky canal waters have turned emerald;The nettles were smelling like roses, only stronger. It was sultry from sunrise, unendurable, diabolical, scarlet.All of it would stay with us to the end of our days.The sun was like a rebel entering the capital.And springlike autumn caressed it so ardently,As if the translucent snowdrops would soon turn white …
The grey day drags on,Rain streams cheerlesslyAcross the porch and front doorAnd into my open windows. Behind the fence along the roadThe public garden is flooded.Like beasts in their lair,The clouds sprawl about in disorder. In such bad weather I imagine A book about the beauty of the world. 10I draw a wood nymph For you on the title page. Marina, it’s been a long time,But it wouldn’t be that much troubleTo transfer your neglected ashes
Although the poet and the composer admired each other’s works, they were never friends. Their few encounters over the years were awkward; they were like chalk and cheese. “We were such different people,” Shostakovich told Solomon Volkov (Testimony, p. 274) And he describes an arranged meeting between the two, where “we sat in silence. I was silent and Akhmatova was silent. We said nothing for a while and then parted.” This bizarre encounter is also documented from Akhmatova’s perspective by Zoya Tomashevskaya: “Anna Andreyevna Akmatova told me about her visit to Shostakovich: ‘Dmitri Dmitriyevich invited me to go to see him at Repino….We sat in silence for twenty minutes. It was wonderful.” (Elizabeth Wilson, Shostakovich: A Life Remembered 321).
The Shade What does one woman know about the hour of death?O. Mandel’shtam Always the best dressed, rosiest and tallest,Why are you rising from the depths of long-gone years?Why does this predatory memory, your transparent profile,Sway before me in carriage windows?How we argued then—were you angel or bird?A poet called you “Straw.”The tender light of those Darial eyes Flowed over everyone through your dark eyelashes.O shade! Forgive me, beauty of 1913,But clear weather, Flaubert, insomnia