Mountain Poem, by Marina Tsvetaeva, transl. by Diana Burgin

Mountain Poem, by Marina Tsvetaeva, transl. by Diana Burgin

Postby admin » Wed Jul 17, 2019 11:09 pm

Mountain Poem
by Marina Tsvetaeva[1]
translated by Diana Lewis Burgin

Liebster, Dich wundert die Rede?
Alle Schiedenden reden wir
Trunkene und nehmen gerne sich

[Google translate]
Dearest, are you surprised?
All the arbitrators we talk
Drunk and like to take
         -– Friederich Holderlin


I shrug – and mountains fall,
And my soul – mounts.
Let me of mourning sing:
Of my mountain sing!

Never can I stop up
The unfilled black gap.
Let me of mourning sing
On the mountain’s top.


That mountain mimed a recruit’s
Chest, knocked in by a shell.
That mountain desired lips
Virginal, a marriage ritual

Did that mountain demand.
– In the inner ear an ocean rumbled
Like a burst of sudden hurrahs!!
That mountain pursued and grumbled.

That mountain was a thunder-blast!
Silly having Titans as playmates.
Do you recall that mountain’s last
Cottage – where the suburb terminates?

That mountain was – worlds!
For one, God charges dearly!
Mountain my mourning unfurled.
That mountain rose over the city.


Not Parnassus, not Sinai –
Simply a bare, barracks-like
Hill. ‘Form up! Fire!’
What’s the reason, then, in my eyes
(It being October, not May)
That mountain was – paradise?


Like paradise proffered on someone’s
Palm – don’t touch if it burns!
Mountain kept throwing herself under-
Foot, using her rutted steep turns.

As if seizing a Titan with conifer
And shrubbery paws,
Mountain kept grabbing my skirts,
Commanding me: ‘Stop!’

Oh, it was far from an A-B-C
Paradise – that draft of drafts!
Mountain kept throwing us backward,
And summoning: ‘Lie flat!’

Struck dumb by the energy,
– What? It is still unclear! –
Mountain, procuress of sanctity,
Would indicate: ‘Here…’


Persephone’s pomegranate seed!
How to forget you in winters’ rime?
I recall lips, a double-edged seashell
Opening itself to mine.

Persephone, by a seed brought under!
Persisting crimson of lips,
And your eyelashes – like jagged notches,
And a star’s golden tips…


Passion is not deceit, and not fantasy,
And no lie, – but it is brief!
Oh, if only we’d been in reality
Love’s mediocrities!

Oh, if only it were plain and sensible:
Just – a hill, just – a mound…
(Mountains, they say, are measurable
In height by their pull to the ground.)

In clumps of dun-colored heather,
Amid destitute islands of spruce…
(Ecstasy’s peak – tops the level
Of life.)
     “Take me! I’m yours…”

But the family’s tender kindnesses,
But the twitter of fledglings – alas!
All because in this world we were highnesses –
Love’s sky-dwelling class!


Mountain mourned (and mountains mourn with
Mocking mud at moments of moving-on),
Mountain mourned for the dove-like
Tenderness of our murky morns.

Mountain mourned for our friendship:
Lips’ kinship-bond most steadfast.
Mountain mentioned that according
To one’s tears shall things come to pass.

Also, mountain mentioned that – life’s a
Mall, a lifelong shopping for hearts!
Also, mountain mourned: “If only
He’d let Hagar and the babe depart!”

Also, she mentioned that this is a demon
At play, that the game’s a dud.
Mountain mouthed on, we were muted,
Leaving mountain to judge.


Mountain mourned, what’s now blood and heat
Shall be – merely misery.
Mountain mentioned she would not release
Us, or with another let you be.

Mountain mourned, what’s now the world and Rome
Shall be – merely smoke.
Mountain mentioned we were to be with
Other people (I don’t envy those folks!)

Mountain mourned the awful burden
Of a vow it’s too late to vow.
Mountain mentioned, duty and passion –
That Gordian Knot's ancient now.

Mountain mourned our mourning –
Tomorrow! Not now! When above brows
There’s no longer memento, just mori!
Tomorrow when we’ll understand.

A sound…as if somebody’s simply –
Well…mewling nearby?
Mountain mourned that singly, we
Must descend through the mire –

Into life, which, as we all know, is a:

Mob – barracks – bazaar.

She mentioned as well that all mountain
Poems are written like that.


That mountain was like the hump
Of Atlas, a Titan griping.
The city will be proud of that
Mountain, where from morn to night we

Staked our lives – as on a card!
Passionate, in not being we’re obstinate.
On a par with a bear’s snarl
And the twelve apostles –

Honor my gloomy grotto.
(Grotto was I – and waves cavorted!)
Do you recall the final move
In the game – where the suburb aborted?

That mountain was – worlds!
Gods revenge their likenesses!
Mountain my mourning unfurled.
That mountain’s on me – like a monument.


Years pass by, that mountain’s monument
Is removed, by a slab replaced.
Cottages shall our mountain ornament,
She’ll be hemmed in by palisades.

They say, in places like these outskirts
Air is purer and life’s a breeze.
And she’ll be carved into lot strips,
With cross-pieces she will be creased.

They will straighten out my mountain passes,
Turn my gorges upside down!
For there has to be – at least somebody
Home in happiness, a whole happy town!

Happiness – in the house! Love without fantasies!
With nothing adventuresome!
Be a real woman – and endure it!
(There used to be, when he’d come,

Happiness – in the house!) Love unembellished
Either by parting, or a knife.
On the ruins of our happiness a
Town will rise – of husbands and wives.

And in that blessed airiness
– While you still can, sin! –
There’ll be shopkeepers on holiday
Raking the profits in,

Making plans for floors and corridors –
So that every thread winds home to rest!
For there must be – at least someone who
Needs a roof with a stork’s nest.


But under the weight of those foundations
Mountain will not forget – the mime.
There are dissolute folk, not forgetful ones:
Mountain has mountains of time!

From the all-persistent crevasses
Too late will cottagers grasp:
No hillside this, abloom in families –
It’s a crater about to crack!

With vineyards Vesuvius
Can’t be chained! A giant with flax
Can’t be bound! The sanity dubious
Of lips is enough to tax

Vineyards into a growl leonine,
Belching hate’s lava in tons.
May your daughters all be concubines,
And poets – your sons!

May your daughter give birth out of wedlock!
Your son, die for gypsy girls’ love!
May you not have a den of iniquity,
You oafs, built on my blood!

Firmer than any cornerstone,
Like a mortal’s death-bed vow:
‘May you not have your dollop of happiness,
Ants, on my mountain, now!’

At an hour unknown, a time unforeseen,
You shall realize as a whole family
The Seventh Commandment’s burden[2]
In its measureless enormity.


There are blanks in memory, cataracts
On eyes: the seven veils…
I don’t remember you – separately,
Instead of features – whiteness prevails.

Lacking marks. As if you’re all a
White blank. (A soul, all in sores,
All a sore.) Marking particulars
With chalk is – a tailor’s chore!

Sky’s vault is all of a piece constructed.
Is the ocean – a droplets’ conglobe?
Lacking marks. Truly – someone special –
Whole. Love’s a bond, not a probe.

Whether your hair’s chestnut or raven –
Let a neighbor say: he can gawk.
Can passion really in parts be riven?
Am I a doctor? Do I make clocks?

Like a circle, you’re whole, integrated.
A whole whirlwind, a stupor complete.
I don’t remember you separated
From love. Sign of equality.

(In the heaps of sleepy sheerings
– Waterfall, hillocks of foam –
Something new, strange to the hearing,
Rather than: I – the we of the throne…

But then, in our poor and tethered
Life – “life as it is in fact” –
I don’t see you together
With anyone else.
          Memory’s pay-back.

Prague. Smikhov Hill, January 1924



[1]The Russian text of Poema gory comes from Marina Tsvetaeva, Sobranie sochinenii v semi tomakh, ed. A. A. Saakiants and L. A. Mnukhin (Moscow: Ellis Lak, 1994-1997), Volume 3.
[2]Here Tsvetaeva uses the noun "mountain" in a purely metaphoric sense of "heavy burden."
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