Monday, January 21, 2013

Translator's Challenge: Maria Petrovykh

Georgy Chulkov, Maria Petrovykh, Anna Akhmatova, and Osip Mandelstam (1930s) / Image courtesy of Wikipedia

It was recently announced that this year's Compass Award, organized by the editors of Cardinal Points, will be given for a translation of a poem by Maria Petrovykh (1908-1979), whose name is new to me. I don't think I'm the only ignoramus, either: Stephen Dodson mentioned in a recent Languagehat post that the Wikipedia page for Petrovykh didn't exist until he wrote it. Quite a change from Tsvetaeva, who was this year's poet! But if the award draws attention to a good writer whom we might not otherwise read, then I'm all for it. Here's what the judges have to say about her:
Petrovykh was a poet of exquisite precision and subtlety – a friend of Osip Mandelstam, serving as an inspiration for his famed “Masteritsa vinovatykh vzorov,” and of Anna Akhmatova, who called her “Naznach’ mne svidan’e na etom svete” a “lyric masterpiece.” Yet, unlike her fellow masters, she hasn’t attained universal recognition. In part, this is due to her own humility; she published only one collection in her lifetime, and devoted most of her professional life to editing and translating the work of others. We feel it is high time for Petrovykh's own verse to benefit from the attention of translators as gifted and inspired as she herself was.
I was glad to see that the submission guidelines this year ask for a 400-word commentary from the translator. It's frustrating when you work hard on something only to have others overlook the subtleties of its craftsmanship, but a commentary offers a simple solution to the problem.

Oh, and as always, first prize is a compass. How cool is that?

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Marina Tsvetaeva, "Magdalene"

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's Mary Magdalen in Ecstasy (1606) / Image courtesy of Wikipedia

by Marina Tsvetaeva

I will not say a thing about your wayward
path, for now you are fine, my dear.
I was barefoot, but you shod me
with cascades of hair —
and tears.

Nor will I ever ask you at what cost
you bought these fragrances and oils.
I was naked, but you engulfed
me like a wave — you formed
my roof and walls.

I will caress your naked body now —
softer than water and lower than grass.
I was upright, but you forced me down
and warped me with your tenderness.

Set aside this flax and make my swaddling
by tearing out a patch of hair.
Anointer! What use to me is ointment?
Your very body washed me
like a wave.

Translated from the Russian by Jamie Olson