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

Tarkovsky Monument 2

Sketch for Ya Magu Govorit’, Berhijrah Series, Koboi Project, Niranjan Rajah. After Andrei Tarkovsky’s Zerkalo.

I sent my dear friend (and esteemed Micheal Chekhov educator) Hugo Moss a link to the previous ‘Tarkovsky Monument’ post in Messenger and his acute response has prompted this second post.

Hugo: … it’s a lovely piece … heartfelt and so moving – and we will certainly forgive you your enthusiasm-driven sweeping statement. If I were to make a criticism it is that you don’t actually make the case for the statement, since all the things you declare as the things you love about Tarkovsky don’t in themselves add up to “most important artist of the 20 century in any medium”. That’s not to say I don’t accept your opinion, but you don’t allow me the chance to agree with you …

Niranjan: Oh I see what you mean. In a way, that is the idea … I did not want to try to prove the unprovable …  it is hyperbole after all … but partly, I did not develop the arguments that I promised, or alluded to, due to haste and brevity … time and space … or lack there of!

Hugo: Yes but you state you’re going to ‘justify’ it …

Niranjan: Ah yes … I see that is indeed an overstatement … I will go back and remove that claim … I will change the post to say that I will ‘contextualize’ it. But now that you have asked me … I will try to make my justification and I will make another post (below in this post) of it!

The main criteria or justification for my belief is that film is the medium of the 20th Century. The other mediums – painting, sculpture, literature, theatre and the like are old and therefore had necessarily become decadent by the end of the 19th Century (by decadent I mean fully matured and ripened, redolent in idiom with well defined syntax and grammars). Film was new-born at the dawn of the 20th Century and youthful at mid-century, and  just beginning to mature in the 1960s. Any artist not practicing his art in the film medium misses, in my estimation, and by default, the right to be considered the greatest artist of this time and, according to Ingmar Bergman, himself a contender for the title, Andrei Tarkovsky is the ‘greatest’ artist in the film medium!

The second criteria stems from my belief about the nature of art. Art is – the search for universal truths or ‘truth’, and it is in terms of the deployment of the mechanics and aesthetics of cinema in the service of this inquiry, Andrei Tarkovsky couches his project. I suggest that in this quest, he has no betters in the film medium and only few peers in any medium of any time.

The third criteria stems from my belief about the purpose of art … While art is a search for the aforementioned ‘truth’, artists must pursue this search in a manner that provides succor for the human condition … In this regard, I believe Andrei’s films play an exemplary role. Indeed this is what is most important about the films of this great artist. Important enough, I suggest, to make him the greatest!

(edited version of a post made in AUGUST 2, 2017)

Tarkovsky Monument

monument to Andrei Tarkovsky was opened on the 29th July 2017 in Suzdal, where his epic, Andrei Rublev, was shot in 1965 … well over half a century ago. Andrei Tarkovsky was in my view the most important artist of the 20 century in any medium. Yes, that is a sweeping statement! … but I have just watched his films in the cinema – Solaris 3 times and Stalker twice in the course of the last week (july, 2017), and feel this claim is justified. I shall do my best to ‘contextualize’ (corrected from the original ‘justified’ – explained in Tarkovsky Monument 2) my hyperbole … and if I fail to persuade you … perhaps, you might at the very least, understand where I am coming from (my perspective or paradigm)!

The renowned Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Zanussi attests (see minute 15.55 in the video below) that in that in deathbed conversation, Tarkovsky said to him“If I happen to die, please whenever you talk about me, remind people I want to be remembered as a sinner, as somebody who committed many sins …. “ Andrei Tarkovsky was Christian in his conviction and I believe he was expressing, in this request, his subscription to the doctrine of original sin, which although different in nuance or even opposite in orientation is, in its essence, the same as Islamic fitrah (original purity), Buddhist dhukka  (universal suffering) or Saiva pasam (attachment). In all his work Tarkovsky struggled to express, in historical and psychological terms, this metaphysical understanding of the human condition, this oscillation, or extension, between fall and grace.

In his art, film, the quintessential 20th Century representational medium, becomes both a balm and a sacrament – an interface for healing and a window to salvation. Tarkovsky set this ameliorative and soteriological vehicle into motion in what Ingmar Bergman, has described as “a new language, true to the nature of film, as it captures life as a reflection, life as a dream”.  Tarkovsky is the exemplary post-traditionalist, he is utterly contemporary in his engagement with social history and psychology … and he is timeless in his grasp of the sacred. In his 7 technically and aesthetically masterful works Tarkovsky articulated this timelessness through his art of ‘sculpting in time‘!

(slightly edited, from a post made in JULY 25, 2017)

Image :

Art, Life, Sacrifice

In the documentary on the making of his film ‘Nostalghia’ (1983) titled ‘Voyage in Time’ (1983), Andrei Tarkovsky is asked to give some words of advice to young film directors. He addresses ‘cinema’ as a serious art and so, here, I recall his advice as it might apply to the broader category ‘art.’ The following restatement is fundamental my understanding of the true purpose and nature of art, and to the proper ambition of the artist –

  1. Do not separate your art from the life you live.
  2. It is required to contribute your own self to your art.
  3. Be morally responsible for what you do while making your art.
  4. Art requires sacrifice of your self.
  5. You should belong to your art, your art does not belong to you.