Monday, July 7, 2014

Expansive Poetics - 79 (Sergei Esenin - 4)

from August 6 1981 at Naropa and Allen's on-going Expansive Poetics (Russian Poetry) class

AG: (So, I'll continue with Sergei Esenin) today and go on to Anna Akhmatova, and then, I think, leave Russian poetry and then go on to French Surrealists, and some Spanish..  

In 1922, by Esenin  [editorial note - 1921, actually]

"I'm not crying, I'm not calling, I'm not complaining. Everything passes. White smoke from apple trees stricken by the golden dust of fading. I'll no longer be young, it seems. So you shall no longer beat and tremble, my heart, subdued by autumn's damp. And the land of cotton-printed birch trees won't entice me back to be a tramp. Vagrant spirit, now so rarely, rarely, do your stir my lips with molten fire. My lost forever youthful freshness, my tempest eyes, my flood-tide of desire. In my longings now even I'm a miser. Life, what have you been, a dream? It's as if one noisy springtime morning I rushed by upon a rosy steed. Each man has on earth a brief span - from the maples copper leaves drift by. May you everlastingly be blessed that you came to blossom, and to die."

["Не жалею, не зову, не плачу,/ Все пройдет, как с белых яблонь дым./ Увяданья золотом охваченный,/ Я не буду больше молодым./ Ты теперь не так уж будешь биться,/ Сердце, тронутое холодком,/ И страна березового ситца/ Не заманит шляться босиком./ Дух бродяжий! ты все реже, реже/ Расшевеливаешь пламень уст/ О, моя утраченная свежесть,/ Буйство глаз и половодье чувств!/Я теперь скупее стал в желаньях,/ Жизнь моя, иль ты приснилась мне?/ Словно я весенней гулкой ранью/ Проскакал на розовом коне./ Все мы, все мы в этом мире тленны,/ Тихо льется с кленов листьев медь.../ Будь же ты вовек благословенно,/ Что пришло процвесть и умереть"]

So, 1922, drinking a lot, feeling his original inspiration fading (although stronger and stronger in his poetry actually), he begun to suffer hallucinations and got up on stages and made big scandals, like in Berlin, May 1922 (same time as this poem), he was, according to… this is (from) a book by Gordon McVay on Isadora Duncan and Esenin's life together, travelling back to Moscow from America - "He was due to give a lecture in the Schubert Hall. Esenin staggered on stage with a glass of wine in his hand, splashing in all directions. From the stage he said absurd things, roared with laughter, cursed the audience. People tried to lead him off. He refused to go. Finally he hurled his glass on the ground and began to recite "The Hooligan's Confession" to the audience, which, by now was on (their) feet and shouting at him. The poem ended in a loud ovation".

And, apparently, what he would do, both at parties and readings, was actually totally destroy the scene, or in his hotel room, smashing particularly mirrors and windows,  from the Hotel Crillon in Paris to hotels in Brussels and Berlin., and  suffering a specific hallucination (which was, apparently, recurrent), of a black man, like a devil, who came into his room and sat on his bed and stared at him and began accusing him of abusing his poetry, a messenger - the black man. He finally wrote a poem about it, which he recited very rarely and only when he was absolutely , totally, in despair and drunk, and apparently it would reduce everybody to tears.

 [McVay, again] -  "At the Hotel Creon in mid-February he had smashed all the mirrors. On May 1923 he was to swing a candelabra toward a mirror, which crashed to the floor. On one occasion toward the end of her (Isadora Duncan's) life, the poet stood in the middle of the room, weeping, sprinkled with fragments of glass from a mirror he had smashed. A close acquaintance during the last year recalls, "I found him drunk twice with top hat and walking stick in fromt of a large mirror, with an indescribable, inhuman, ironic, smile, talking to his double reflection, and then silently peering at himself".  "The Black Man", so candidly self-indicting, shows the extent of the poet's despair after the years in Moscow's bohemia and his visit to..Europe and America." And then a friend writes - "In the last two years of his life , Esenin recited this poem very rarely. He didn't like speaking of it and looked upon it with distress and pain. He recited it only in moments of extreme intoxication and when in an especially dark frame of mind".

I've never seen a translation of this poem before, which is apparently his great black poem before his suicide, and there is one in this book. It would be interesting to compare this text (which is pre-suicidal) with Gregory Corso's text of (the) visit to the Muse, where he challenges the Muse back. But here, "The Black Man" challenges Esenin. 

Student: How many years ago did (Gregory)  Corso commit suicide?
AG: He didn't commit suicide. Quite the opposite! - How many years ago did you commit suicide?
Student: Well, suicide..
AG: Not physically.
Student: …is smoking cigarettes
AG: Yes, I've been smoking the last few days
Student: Yeah
AG ..myself.  So "The Black Man" ["ЧЕРНЫЙ ЧЕЛОВЕК"]  is to me, then... "My friend.." This is serious, (so) if you want to make a joke of it… [Allen proceeds to read Esenin's poem "The Black Man", in its entirety, in English translation]  - "My friend, my friend/I'm ill, I'm so very ill/I myself cannot fathom the cause of this pain." - [(talking about Isadora Duncan here)] - "Happiness, he contended/ Is quickness of hand and brain/Everone who is slow/Soon acquires a forlorn reputation./ What does it matter/ that sorrow and pain/Are caused by hypocrisy/ And affectation?/  In storms and in tempests/in daily routine/When your losses are heavy/And when you're dejected,/The knack of appearing naive and serene/is the highest of arts that the world has perfected" - [(Esenin replying)] - ""You man in black!/ Do not dare to be so hard!/ It's not your profession/To rummage in shit/What to me is the life/Of some scandalous bard?/Read to others, not me/ That poetic testament."/ The man in black/ Stares me straight in the face/And his eyes become clouded     /With pale-blue vomit/ - As if he were saying/I'm a thief and disgrace/Who has fleeced a close friend/ And slept soundly upon it./  My friend, my friend/I'm ill so very ill/I cannot fathom the cause of this pain./Is the wind whisling shrill/In a barre and desolate desert,/Or like leaves in September,/Does alcohol fall on my brain?/ A frosty night,/ The crossroads are calm, at a standstill/I'm alone by the window/Expecting no friend and no guest./All the lowlands are covered/With lime and with soft crumbly sandstone/And the trees in our garden/Have gathered like horsemen at rest/ Somewhere the bird of the night/Ill-bodingly weeps on the air./And the hoofs of the horsemen/Give out a sharp wooden note./And again that black man/Takes his seat in my chair,/Slightly raising his top hat/And casually doffing his coat./ "Listen, listen!"/ He croaks, as he peers in my face/Bending closer/And closer towards me,/ I have never seen/A man who is base/Let insomnia plague him/So untowardly./ Well suppose I'm mistaken/There's (a) full moon tonight./What else could the great man/Require in his drowsiness?/Maybe she will come furtively with her flabby thighs,/And to her you'll recite/All your lyrical cynical lousiness?/ O I love all you poets!/A comical lot./For my heart always welcomes/A story that's known to each nation --/ How a long-haired monstrosity/Lectures a girl who's all spots/On world-shattering themes/While perspiring with sexual frustration/ I don't know, I've forgotten,/In some village or other/Maybe Kaluga/Or Ryazan - once I knew/A little boy lived /With a peasant, his mother,/His hair was yellow,/And his eyes were pale blue.../  And then he grew up/And (becamea poet what's more/Of limited power,/Yet ready and smart,/And he called some woman/Aged forty or more/A despicable strumpet/And the joy of his heart..." -  [- (Reply by Esenin) - ] - ""Black Man!/You are a loathsome guest/The men who first say this/ About you were wise"./I'm enraged and distraught,/And in my distress/ I hurl my walking-stick/Straight at his eyes.." - [(That's how the mirrors got broken!)] -  "…The moon is dead/ It is dawn, the dark blue of the sky/Awful night!/Night, what dreams you have dashed!/In my top hat I stand./There's no one nearby/ I'm alone.../And the mirror is smashed…"  

It's actually a pretty powerful poem. In Russian, apparently, the recitation of it was so completely heart-rendering because the poet, at that point, had become completely identical with the poem, And all the literary people and poetry-lovers and the large intelligensia that were following every step (knew about it) - and the masses also, because he was the most popular poet among the working people, (so that, (as I said), (when) Madam (Nadezhda) Mandelstam was talking with fellow workers in a shoe-factory, or something, he was the only poet that they knew and could quote by heart). Everybody was following him. And this was a poem that was public, and that people heard about and rarely heard him speak, so everybody knew where he was at, in 1923, when this poem was written, (or (19)23 or (19)24).  

["Друг мой, друг мой,/Я очень и очень болен./Сам не знаю, откуда взялась эта боль/.То ли ветер свистит/Над пустым и безлюдным полем,/То ль, как рощу в сентябрь,/Осыпает мозги алкоголь./  Голова моя машет ушами,/Как крыльями птица,/Ей на шее ноги/Маячить больше невмочь./Черный человек,/Черный, черный,/Черный человек/На кровать ко мне садится,/Черный человек/Спать не дает мне всю ночь/  Черный человек/Водит пальцем по мерзкой книгеИ, гнусавя надо мной,/Как над усопшим монах,/Читает мне жизнь/Какого-то прохвоста и забулдыги,/Нагоняя на душу тоску и страх./Черный человек,/Черный, черный.../ «Слушай, слушай, —/Бормочет он мне, —/В книге много прекраснейших/Мыслей и планов./Этот человек/Проживал в стране/Самых отвратительных/Громил и шарлатанов./  В декабре в той стране/Снег до дьявола чист,/И метели заводят/Веселые прялки./Был человек тот авантюрист,/Но самой высокой/И лучшей марки./  Был он изящен,/К тому ж поэт,/Хоть с небольшой,/Но ухватистой силою,/  И какую-то женщину,/Сорока с лишним лет,/Называл скверной девочкой/И своею милою»./  «Счастье, — говорил он, —/Есть ловкость ума и рук./Все неловкие души/За несчастных всегда известны./ Это ничего,/ Что много мук/Приносят изломанные/И лживые жесты./В грозы, в бури,/В житейскую стынь,/При тяжелых утратах/И когда тебе грустно,/Казаться улыбчивым и простым —/Самое высшее в мире искусство»./«Черный человек!/Ты не смеешь этого!/ Ты ведь не на службе/Живешь водолазовой./Что мне до жизни/Скандального поэта./Пожалуйста, другим/Читай и рассказывай»/  Черный человек/Глядит на меня в упор./ И глаза покрываются/ Голубой блевотой./Словно хочет сказать мне,/Что я жулик и вор,/Так бесстыдно и нагло/ Обокравший кого-то./.Друг мой, друг мой,/Я очень и очень болен./Сам не знаю, откуда взялась эта боль./То ли ветер свистит/ Над пустым и безлюдным полем,/То ль, как рощу в сентябрь,/Осыпает мозги алкоголь./  Ночь морозная.../Тих покой перекрестка./Я один у окошка,/Ни гостя, ни друга не жду.Вся равнина покрыта/Сыпучей и мягкой известкой,/И деревья, как всадники,/Съехались в нашем саду.Где-то плачет/Ночная зловещая птица,/Деревянные всадники/Сеют копытливый стук./Вот опять этот черный/На кресло мое садится,/ Приподняв свой цилиндр/И откинув небрежно сюртук./  «Слушай, слушай! —/Хрипит он, смотря мне в лицо./Сам все ближе/И ближе клонится. —/Я не видел, чтоб кто-нибудь/Из подлецов/Так ненужно и глупо/Страдал бессонницей./ Ах, положим, ошибся!/Ведь нынче луна./Что же нужно ещеНапоенному дремой мирику?Может, с толстыми ляжками/Тайно придет «она»,/И ты будешь читать/Свою дохлую томную лирику?/ Ах, люблю я поэтов!/Забавный народ!/В них всегда нахожу я/Историю, сердцу знакомую,/ Как прыщавой курсистке/Длинноволосый урод/Говорит о мирах,/Половой истекая истомою./Не знаю, не помню,/В одном селе,/Может, в Калуге,/А может, в Рязани,/Жил мальчик/В простой крестьянской семье,/Желтоволосый,/С голубыми глазами.../ И вот стал он взрослым,/К тому ж поэт,/Хоть с небольшой,/Но ухватистой силою,/И какую-то женщину,/Сорока с лишним лет,/Называл скверной девочкой/И своею милою»/«Черный человек!/Ты — прескверный гость!/Эта слава давно/Про тебя разносится»/.Я взбешен, разъярен,/И летит моя трость/Прямо к морде его,/В переносицу.../....Месяц умер,/ Синеет в окошко рассвет./Ах, ты, ночь!/Что ты, ночь, наковеркала!/Я в цилиндре стою./Никого со мной нет./Я один.../И — разбитое зеркало…"]

AG: I think we went over two versions of his last poem (about "to live is…"). What was that? - "To live is..

Student: Nothing new.

AG: Nothing new. "Dying is nothing new, but to live is nothing new either." 

AG: A last poem of his. A last poem, 1924, before he died:

"One by one we gradually are leaving/ for the land of quietness and bliss/. Soon maybe I  also shall be needing/ to embrace the hour of my release./ Beloved birch trees of the forest,/ Mother Earth, you sands upon the plain,/ Contemplating those who died before us/, I can't hide my longing and my pain./ I was too much in love with this world,/ Of the things that enslave our soul./ May the aspens find a peace untrammeled/ As they gaze into the rosy waves./ I pondered many thoughts in silence,/ Many songs quietly conceived./ On this dark gloomy planet,/ I am happy that I lived and breathed,/ I'm happy that I fondled women,/ Crumpled flowers, tumbled in grass,/ And that I never struck animals, our brothers./ They never felt pain from my anger./ I'm aware that we'll find no forest/ And no ringing of the swan-necked rye./ That is why all those who died before us/ Always chill my heart until I cry./ I'm aware that there won't be any meadows/ Glowing golden in that misty land. /That's why the people are so precious/ Who walk on earth with me hand-in-hand." - [(That was Esenin's mortal appreciation)]

["Мы теперь уходим понемногу/В ту страну, где тишь и благодать./Может быть, и скоро мне в дорогу/Бренные пожитки собирать/  .Милые березовые чащи!/Ты, земля! И вы, равнин пески!/Перед этим сонмом уходящих/Я не в силах скрыть моей тоски./  Слишком я любил на этом свете/Все, что душу облекает в плоть./Мир осинам, что, раскинув ветви,/Загляделись в розовую водь!  Много дум я в тишине продумал,/Много песен про себя сложил,/И на этой на земле угрюмой/Счастлив тем, что я дышал и жил./  Счастлив тем, что целовал я женщин,/Мял цветы, валялся на траве/И зверье, как братьев наших меньших,/Никогда не бил по голове./  Знаю я, что не цветут там чащи,/Не звенит лебяжьей шеей рожь./Оттого пред сонмом уходящих/Я всегда испытываю дрожь./Знаю я, что в той стране не будет/Этих нив, златящихся во мгле.../Оттого и дороги мне люди,/Что живут со мною на земле."]

[Audio for the above may be heard here, beginning at the start of the tape and concluding, approximately fourteen-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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