new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman

In Europe, poetry on September 9, 2013 at 15:45

From: new year: a translation by Caroline Lemak Brickman, Hypocrite Reader,

Rainer Maria Rilke and Marina Tsvetaeva never met, but they wrote to each other intensely from December 1925 until Rilke’s abrupt death the following December. His death, on the heels of this passionate, short-lived (“impossible,” says Sontag, “glorious”) correspondence, left the Russian poet wrecked. She composed an elegy to him in the form of a New Year’s greeting. A last love letter, a testament, a belated farewell to her newfound mentor, her newlost lover—and perhaps most significantly, her personal poetic deity. “Hence the intensity of Tsvetaeva’s diction in Novogodnee,” remarks Brodsky, “since she is addressing someone who, in contrast to God, has absolute pitch.”

Rilke began the Duino Elegies with the words, “Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the hierarchies of angels?” Tsvetaeva intercepts this cry and takes it further, forcing his hypothetical into her concrete world, uglier than his because it is one where he is lost. As Rilke hoped to be heard, Tsvetaeva hopes to cry out. “When beginning to speak, and—if it ever comes to this—when beginning to speak of oneself,” pronounces Brodsky, “one does so as if confessing, for it is he—not a priest or God but another poet—who hears you.” Tsvetaeva calls on the voice of her poet. She calls on his forms: elegies, letters, prayers. “To hell with the native Russian tongue, with German,” she calls, “I want the tongue of an angel.”

A word on sex. Almost immediately following the most explicitly erotic part of the poem, when an imagined New Year’s toast becomes an orgy of flowing rhymes, drink, and bodies, Tsvetaeva declares:

it’s probably hard for me to see because I’m down in a hole.
it’s probably easier for you because you’re up on high.
you know, nothing ever really happened between us.

Read the essay

Reposted with permission from: Hypocrite Reader


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