Ukraine: The Poetry of Arseny Tarkovsky

Arseny Tarkovsky is one of the leading Russian poets to emerge from the Soviet era. His son film auteur Andrei Tarkovsky used his poetry to profound effect in his 1975 feature film Mirror (Zrekalo).

According to Joseph Nakpil, Arseny Aleksandrovich Tarkovsky was born on June 25th, 1907 in what is now Kirovohrad, in Central Ukraine. His father, Aleksandr Karlovich, was a Ukrainian nationalist of Polish origins who was sentenced to five years in East Siberia. As a young writer, Arseny had himself had been involved in Ukrainian nationalism. He was in a group of writers who published a satirical acrostic against Lenin and was sentenced to be executed, but, somehow, he escaped.

One of the poems in Zerkalo is First Dates. The subtitles in the Youtube video above are from a translation by Tatiana Kameneva.

First Dates

Each moment of our dates, not many,

We celebrated as an Epiphany.

Alone in the whole world.

More daring and lighter than a bird

Down the stairs, like a dizzy apparition,

You came to take me on your road,

Through rain-soaked lilacs,

To your own possession,

To the looking glass world.

As night descended

I was blessed with grace,

The altar gate opened up,

And in the darkness shining

And slowly reclining

Was your body naked.

On waking up I said:

God bless you!

Although I knew how daring and undue

My blessing was: You were fast asleep,

Your closed eyelids with the universal blue

The lilac on the table so strained to sweep.

Touched by the blue, your lids

Were quite serene, your hand was warm.

And rivers pulsed in crystal slits,

Mountains smoked, and oceans swarmed.

You held a sphere in your palm,

Of crystal; on your throne you were sleeping calm.

And, oh my God! –

Belonging only to me,

You woke and at once transformed

The language humans speak and think.

Speech rushed up sonorously formed,

With the word “you” so much reformed

As to evolve a new sense meaning king.

And suddenly all changed, like in a trance,

Even trivial things, so often used and tried,

When standing ‘tween us, guarding us,

Was water, solid, stratified.

It carried us I don’t know where.

Retreating before us, like some mirage,

Were cities, miraculously fair.

Under our feet the mint grass spread,

The birds were following our tread,

The fishes came to a river bend,

And to our eyes the sky was open.

Behind us our fate was groping,

Like an insane man with a razor in his hand.

– Arseny Tarkovsky