Friday, August 10, 2012

The Washington Museum of Russian Poetry and Music

I'll be a doctor for others, and a poet for myself.
~ Dr. Zhivago

This month, I visited The Washington Museum of Russian Poetry and Music, which is currently housed in composer/performer/author Dr. Uli Zislin's home. Dr. Zislin is devoted to sharing Russian culture and he would dearly love to find another space for his museum -- one that people can visit more easily, without making an appointment! If anyone reads this who is also dedicated to sharing Russian culture and would like to help Dr. Zislin relocate the museum, email me or Dr. Z.

I thought I'd share works by poets spotlighted in the museum:

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) is famous for writing the novel Doctor Zhivago, for which he won a Nobel (although the book was banned in the USSR). He wrote poetry as well:

February. Get ink, shed tears.
Write of it, sob your heart out, sing,
While torrential slush that roars
Burns in the blackness of the spring.
Go hire a buggy. For six grivnas,
Race through the noise of bells and wheels
To where the ink and all you grieving
Are muffled when the rain shower falls.
To where, like pears burnt black as charcoal,
A myriad rooks, plucked from the trees,
Fall down into the puddles, hurl
Dry sadness deep into the eyes.
Below, the wet black earth shows through,
With sudden cries the wind is pitted,
The more haphazard, the more true
The poetry that sobs its heart out.


The Muse
By Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
Translated by Eric Gillan

When late at night I wait for her arrival,
It seems my life is hanging by a thread.
I offer youth, my freedom, glory,
To my adored guest with flute in hand.
And here she comes. She throws back her cloak
And pours a steady gaze on me.
I ask, "Did you dictate to Dante
The pages of "Inferno?" She answers, "Yes. I did."


The Giraffe
by Nikolai Gumilev, (1886-1921)
Translated by Katharine Gilbert

Today, I see, your gaze is particularly forlorn,
And your hands particularly thin, embracing your knees.
Listen: far away, far away, on Lake Chad,
A refined giraffe is roaming.
His proportions are harmonious and his legs are long,
And a bewitching pattern adorns his skin;
Nothing dares compare with it, save the moon,
Fragmented and flowing on the liquid of broad lakes.
He juts out like the many-colored sails of ships,
And his gait is floating, like joyous birdflight.
I know this earth has seen many wonders
When at sunset he hides in a marble grotto.
I know the happy stories of secret lands,
About the dark maiden, about the passion of the young chief,
But you have breathed in the heavy mists for too long -
You will believe in nothing, except rain.
And how I would tell you about tropical orchards,
About elegant palms, about the scent of extraordinary grasses…
You're crying? Listen… far away, on Lake Chad,
A refined giraffe is roaming.


To Byron
by Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941)
Translated by Ilya Shambat

I think about the morning of your glory,
About the morning of your days too, when
Like a demon you from sleep had stirred
And were a god for men.
I think of when your eyebrows came together
Over the burning torches of your eyes,
Of how the ancient blood's eternal lava
Rushed through your arteries.
I think of fingers - very long - inside
The wavy hair, about all
Eyes that did thirst for you in alleys
And in the dining-halls.
About the hearts too, which - you were too young then -
You did not have the time to read, too soon,
About the times, when solely in your honor
Arose and down went the moon.
I think about a hall in semi-darkness,
About the velvet, into lace inclined,
About the poems we would have told each other,
You - yours, I - mine.
I also think about the remaining
From your lips and your eyes handful of dust.
About all eyes, that are now in the graveyard
About them and us.


What shall I do with this body they gave me
by Osip Mandelstam (1891-1938)

What shall I do with this body they gave me,
so much my own, so intimate with me?

For being alive, for the joy of calm breath,
tell me, who should I bless?

I am the flower, and the gardener as well,
and am not solitary, in earth’s cell.

My living warmth, exhaled, you can see,
on the clear glass of eternity.

A pattern set down,
until now, unknown.

Breath evaporates without trace,
but form no one can deface.


Another poem by Pasternak: Winter Night

Violet is this week's Poetry Friday host.


GatheringBooks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
GatheringBooks said...

Oh Tabatha, what a lovely thing Dr. Zislin is trying to do. I should have visited his museum while we were in Washington DC! The place looks like a lovely collection of so many luscious things.

This post also reminded me of how much I fell in love with Boris Pasternak's Dr. Zhivago during my university years. The notion of having a poet for a doctor appealed to me so. Lovely and familiar authors here, but a few I don't know as well. Anna Akhmatova is always a favorite. My absolute favorite though is To Byron by Marina Tsvetaeva. Beautiful. :)

Katya said...

Thank you for sharing those. I have a couple of those poems memorized (in Russian).

There is such a strong culture of poetry in Russia. I'd love to visit his museum if I'm ever in DC.

Growing up I was lucky enough to get to go to Russian cultural events in NY. I even heard Joseph Brodsky read his poetry several times and I have an autographed book by him.

Liz Steinglass said...

I absolutely love the first one. I'm going to bookmark it and read it again, many times, over many days so it can really sink it.

Irene Latham said...

Thank you so much for this, Tabatha! I love all the poems here-- it inspires me to learn more about Russian culture. I didn't know Pasternak was also a poet -- that pleases me very much. And of these others, I'm really loving the giraffe poem.

Linda B said...

How can I choose from these Tabatha-all so dauntingly beautiful. It's a great story that your friend is trying to share through his museum. I love The Muse, and like Irene, The Giraffe. I read Dr. Zhivago when I was younger and have read some of Pasternak's poems but so long ago. Thank you for sharing and reminding.

Mary Lee said...

You live the most fascinating life!

jama said...

How did you hear of the museum? I hope he finds a place to house all these treasures soon.

Meanwhile, thank you for sharing these beautiful poems. I think I knew Pasternak wrote poetry, but all the others are new to me. There's such a richness and a different sensibility. Love expanding my horizons this way. :)

Violet N. said...

Such a rich collection. Thank you, Tabatha!

I love "The Muse." We want to write something but no inspiration and "It seems my life is hanging by a thread"

Don't we all know the feeling!

Ruth said...

What a wonderful collection! Every one is new to me!

laurasalas said...

That Pasternak poem is gorgeous. All liquid and emotion and sounds. It really pulled me in--thanks for sharing!

Doraine said...

What a fascinating post,
Tabatha. I'm also fascinated by how you found this place. Thanks for sharing.

Diane Mayr said...

I too, like "The Muse"--it seems that she favors us all if we're to believe this poet!