ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Five Poems by Marina Tsvetaeva, translated from the Russian by Mary Jane White.



Drained — taken — overcome —
— Flat on my back!   — I will die.
Like Polyxena, who beheld Achilles
There, on the wall —

In red — a bloody tower on the horizon
Of bodies he had laid low.
Like Polyxena praying:  "Who is this?"
(And knew — the pyre!)

The united sorcery
Of awe, of love.
Like Polyxena, who beheld the Achaean
And whispered — and —

Do you know that ebb of Atlantean
Blood down my cheeks?
Over an invincible — expanse of no-man's land —
The quaking of our blood.

13 September 1923



O you — of all below-line notes
The lowest! — Let's put an end to our quarrel!
Like that consumptive woman, who moaned
All night:  ravish me again!

Who wrung her hands, as fights
And close blows and ropes of oaths intruded.
(Her sailor — no longer handsome — slept
As blood dropped on his rum-
Pled pillowcase . . .)
                               And then, bottoms up
With the glass, of crystal and blood
Laughing . . . — and she mistook blood for wine,
And she mistook death for love.

"You sleep.  I'm — need to go!  No preliminaries, no rehearsals —
Just the curtain!  Tomorrow, flat on my back!"
Like that consumptive woman, who begged
Everyone:  ravish me

A bit more! . . . (My hands are clean now,
My gaze troubled, fingers stiff . . .)
Like that woman with her sailor — with you, o life,
I haggle: for another minute

Ravish me! . . .

15 September 1923



The cry of stations:  don't go!
Of terminals:  take pity!
And that of the brief stops:
Not exactly Dante's
"Abandon hope!"
And that of the engines.

Whose iron shuddered
Like the thunder of an ocean wave.
At the tiny ticket-window,
It crossed my mind — they traffic in space?
In seas and dry land?
In perishable meat:
We are meat — not souls!
We are mouths — not roses!
From us?  No — over us
The wheels carry off our loved ones!

At such and such miles per hour.

Tiny ticket-windows.
Little dice of passionate chance.
One of us was right,
Who said:  love — will stun the life out of you!

"This is life — on the rails!  Don't cry!"
Rights of way — easements — rights of way . . .
(Owners reluctant to look into the eyes
Of their horses bound for slaughter).

"Unbroken and seamless, there is
No such happiness.  Did I really buy it like that?"
The dressmaker was right, who held
Her tongue about it:  "Use cross-ties."

24 September 1923



Blanch —faced
Guardian of the age-old lapping —
Knight, knight,
Keeping watch on the river.

(O could I find peace
In it from arms and mouths?!)
Set at your post of partings.

The oaths, the rings . . .
Yes, like stones into the river
How many — of us
Over four centuries!

Admission into the waters
Is free.  As are roses — in bloom!
He's thrown me over — I'll throw myself over!
That's vengeance for you!

We never tire of this
 — So long as passion exists!
Taking our vengeance off bridges.
Making short but wide work of us,

My wings!  Into the slime,
Into the scum — like brocade!
No lament for the moment
Over the bridge — toll!

 --- "Off a fatal bridge
Down — I dare myself!"
I, at a level with you,
Prague Knight.

Whether it's sweetness or sadness
In it — is clearer to you,
Knight, watching over
The river — of days.

27 September 1923



If not a bayonet — then a tusk, a snowbank, a squall, —
On the hour, another train — to Immortality!
I came and knew one thing:  it's just another stop.
And not worth unpacking.

Upon everyone, everything — my indifferent eyes,
Come to rest — on the immemorial.
O how natural to enter third class
Through the closeness of the ladies' rooms!

Where after warmed-over cutlets, cheeks
Are grown cold . . . — Can't we go further,
My soul?  I'd sooner go down a streetlamp's drain
To escape this deadening discord:

Of end papers, diapers,
Red-hot curling irons,
Scorched hair,
Women's hats, oil cloths,
All the eau-de-Col—-ognes
Of families, the joys
Of sewing (Mere trifles!)
Is there a coffeepot?
Crackers, pillows, matrons, nannies,
The closeness of nurseries, and baths.

I don't want to be in this box of women's bodies
Waiting on the hour of my death!
I want this train to be drinking and singing:
Death — too, belongs in another class!

In a daze, a stupor, on a concertina, in distress, in vanity!
— These unbelievers do cling so to life! —
Prompting some pilgrim or other to say:  "In the next world" . . .
So I interrupt to say:  it must be better!

A platform.   — And sleepers.  — And a last shrub
In my hand. — I let loose.   — It's too late
To hang on.  — Sleepers.   — I'm tired
Of so many mouths.   — I look to the stars.

So through a rainbow of all the vanishing
Planets — did someone at least number them? —
I look and see one thing:  another end.
And not worth regretting.

6 October 1923


Mary Jane White: MFA in Poetry, University of Iowa Writers' Workshop
National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Poetry
National Endowment for the Arts Fellow in Translation (to translate Tsvetaeva)
Bread Loaf Scholar in Poetry
Bread Loaf Scholar in Translation
Squaw Valley Scholar in Poetry
Translation contributor to Russian Poetry: The Modern Period, A New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Eckerd College "Writers in Paradise" Scholar in Poetry

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