Selected Poems of Vladislav Khodasevich, translated by Peter Daniels
Selected Poems of Vladislav Khodasevich, translated by Peter Daniels
Bilingual Russian/English; introduction by Prof. Michael Wachtel (Princeton); translator’s preface and notes.
Angel Classics, 2013.
ISBN 978-0-946162-82-6. (190 pages)
UK postage and packing is £2, plus £1 for each additional book.
In America published in hardback by Overlook/Ardis (New York), 2014.
For orders outside the UK, US and Canada please contact me for pricing.
Since 2009 I have been translating poems by Vladislav Khodasevich (1886–1939) from Russian.
The book of these translations has now been published, in the UK by Angel Classics and in America by Overlook/Ardis. I can sell the UK edition; American readers should buy the Overlook edition from a reputable bookseller or click here to purchase from Overlook online.
"Peter Daniels and Angel Books have given us an English Khodasevich worthy of his stature. 'The translations' capture the intelligence, the unerring good taste, and the controlled passion of the originals. They are also commendably close to the primary meaning of the Russian, with its laconically observed social reality tending towards the sordid, but with constant saving glimpses of an angelic realm."
— G.S. Smith (Emeritus Professor of Russian, Oxford), Times Literary Supplement.
"Peter had done something unique - a comprehensive selection in which every translation was good and most were superb. No other Russian poet exists at such a level in such a range in English."
— Donald Rayfield, judge of the Rossica Translation Prize, 2014.
"Khodasevich (1886–1939) emerged during an astonishingly fertile period in Russian poetry, but unlike Akhmatova, Mandelstam, Pasternak, or Tsvetaeva, he has not attracted translators' attention. Nabokov translated three of Khodasevich's poems, and in an obituary he wrote for one of the leading Russian émigré journals, he called Khodasevich the "greatest Russian poet of our time." This remark is repeated in Michael Wachtel's insightful introduction. This volume presents the Russian en face, and includes 12 pages of notes and a second introduction by the translator, Peter Daniels. All this associated material makes it clear that Khodasevich's verse is formal and allusive, constantly referring to the Russian poetic tradition, especially to Pushkin. Given that these strengths cannot be preserved in translation, it is remarkable how a distinct sensibility appears in Daniels' admirable work. Daniels succeeds, mostly, in keeping to a rough approximation of Khodasevich's metrical rigor while preserving a sense of his rhyme schemes. At their best, these welcome translations hint at how magisterial the Russian must sound, and how strange: "the quiet harmony of my hell / has been restored, and all is well."
— Michael Autrey Booklist Online
"Today I finished reading the selected poems of Vladislav Khodasevich, whose work I hardly knew, in these wonderful translations by Peter Daniels. Not only are the poems themselves a revelation (you can see why Nabokov and Brodsky rated him so highly), but this edition is itself exemplary. Daniels' notes are especially impressive, modestly explaining the judicious and complicated decisions he made while rendering the verse into English. More broadly, we're reminded of how radically Modernism was able to transform the arts while remaining deeply rooted in tradition (in this case most solidly embodied in Pushkin)."
— Gregory Woods
For four weeks in November–December 2009, I was able to take up a fellowship at Hawthornden Castle near Edinburgh, through the kindness of Graham Fawcett of the Poetry School, and the Stephen Spender Foundation which asked him to nominate somebody engaged in poetry translation. I wanted to spend my time there reviving my Russian 'A' level (from 1984) and took various anthologies and books about Russian poetry.
I was introduced to Khodasevich by Michael Wachtel's book The Development of Russian Verse: Meter and its Meanings (Cambridge, 1998) and in particular the poem "Daktili", about his father. I have translated it as "The Dactyls", and it has been published by Poetry Review. You can read four other poems and my commentary on them in the May-June 2010 issue of PN Review, and another ten in the Russian/English journal Cardinal Points - seewww.stosvet.net/12/daniels/index2.html.
Michael Wachtel has kindly written an introduction to the book.
Vladislav Khodasevich was born in Russia but with a mixed Polish and Jewish background. He was seven years younger than Blok, and this gave him some distance from the symbolist poetry of Blok, while his non-Russian background gave him a sideways view on Russia. His poems express deep feelings with an ironic outlook, and his style for doing this seems strikingly modernist.
He left Russia in 1922, eventually settling in Paris with his then partner Nina Berberova. The ingrown and largely philistine émigré world was a dead end for writers unless they started working in a language other than Russian, like Nabokov, who considered Khodasevich the best Russian poet of the 20th century. He died of liver cancer just before the war: otherwise he would have inevitably been taken to Auschwitz like his baptised Jewish wife Olga. He was of course ignored in the Soviet Union. In the last twenty years Russians have rediscovered him, and he very much deserves to be known in the West.
This poem, "Not My Mother…", has been published in Cardinal Points, and I must acknowledge excellent advice with it from editors Irina Mashinski and Robert Chandler. It isn't Khodasevich's most perfect poem but says a great deal about how he stood in regard to Russia, and Russian poetry. In an unspoken comparison with Pushkin and his nurse Arina Rodionovna, whose fairy tales contributed to young Aleksandr's poetic education, for Khodasevich and his nurse it was a case of survival against the odds. Russian poets are unembarrassed about poetic vocation, but he has to self consciously claim it like this, with Pushkin over his shoulder, and an awareness that he is not himself Russian but that Elena Kuzina has made this possible.
"Not My Mother…"
Not my mother, but a Tula peasant,
Eléna Kúzina, fed me her breast.
She warmed my swaddling-clothes above the stove,
and with her cross at night my dreams were blessed.
She knew no fairy tales and never sang:
but always kept as treats for me instead
inside her treasured white enamel tin
a peppermint horse or fruity gingerbread.
She never taught me how to say my prayers,
but gave up everything she had for me:
even her own bitter motherhood,
all that was dear to her, unconditionally.
Only the time I tumbled from the window, but
stood up alive (that day for ever mine!),
with half a kopek for the miracle
her candle graced Iberian Mary's shrine.
And you, Russia, "great resounding power":
taking her nipples for my lips to pull,
I suckled the excruciating right
to love you, and to curse at you as well.
My honest, joyful task of making psalms,
in which I serve each moment all day long,
your wonder-making genius teaches me,
and my profession is your magic tongue.
And I may stand before your feeble sons
priding myself at times that I can guard
this language, handed down from age to age,
with a more jealous love for every word…
The years fly by. The future has no use,
the past has burnt itself into my soul.
And yet the secret joy is still alive,
for me there is one refuge from it all:
where with the still imperishable love
even a maggot-eaten heart can keep,
beside the trampled coronation crowd
my nurse, Elena Kuzina, asleep.
© Peter Daniels
Published 2010 in Cardinal Points.
In my translation I sacrificed references to "Vyazemsky gingerbread" (speciality of the town of Vyazma), and Khodynka where a crowd panicked when gifts were distributed to celebrate the coronation of Nicholas II in 1896 with more than a thousand deaths. This was to avoid footnotes, but now I'm giving you the information anyway.