I should be doing anything but posting this right now . . . but I so love this Yevtushenko.
‘Prayer before the Poem’ is the first poem featured in the collection, The Bratsk Station and other poems, as translated by T. Tupikina-Glaessner, G. Dutton and I. Mezhakoff-Koriakin. It reads as a homage to Yevtushenko’s (cultural) ancestors in many ways. What I find striking, however, is the burden or weight of self-expectation – self-expectations drawn from that he admires and respects most in these culturally significant others.
If it were a Yolŋu poem I’d suggest it falls under the topic or genre of märr yindi-thirri – poetry about the means by which people draw ‘power, strength and vitality’ from the collective, ancestral self. Incidentally, it is this ‘collective, ancestral’ aspect – as the source and point of reference – that sets the Yolŋu concept of märr (power, strength, vitality) apart from that of ‘ganydjarr’ (power, strength, speed), which is not grounded nor anchored in this way. I diverge. The poem – it is beautiful:
Prayer before the Poem
A poet in Russia is more than a poet.
There the fate of being born a poet
falls only on those stirred by the pride
who have no comfort, and no peace.
There the poet is his century’s image,
and the visionary symbol of the future.
Without shyness, the poet summing up
the total, all that has happened before him . . .
Can I do this? I am not a very cultured man . . .
My hoarded prophecies contain no promises . . .
But the spirit of Russian is soaring over me
and boldly challenges me at least to try.
And falling quietly to my knees,
prepared for death and victory,
I humbly ask for help, from you
great Russian poets . . .
Give me, Pushkin, your harmony,
your speech, free and unchained,
your captivating fate –
as if in jest, to call down fire with words.
Give me, Lermontov, your bitter gaze,
the venom of your contempt,
and of your soul secluded as a cell
where hidden in the silence of your harshness
breathes sister-like the lamp of human kindness.
Give me, Nekrasove, while soothing my exuberance,
the agonies of your lashed muse –
at main entrances, at railways,
and in the open spaces of forests and fields,
Give me your inelegant strength.
Give me the old Assembly-bell,
so that I can go, hauling all of Russia
like the barge-men heaving on the tow-rope.
O give me, Blok, your clouds of prophecy,
and your two slanting wings,
so that, hiding the eternal riddle,
music shall flow through all my body.
Give me, Pasternak, your disoriented days,
the confusion of branches,
scents’ fusion, shadows,
with the torment of this century,
so that the world like a garden murmuring
shall blossom and ripen,
so that, for centuries, your candle
shall burn in me . . .
Yessenin, give me for good luck your tenderness
to birch-trees and meadows, to beasts and to people,
and to all others on the earth
that you and I love so defencelessly.
Give me, Mayakovsky,
your deep bass,
your grim refusal of appeasement for the scum,
so that even I
hacking my way through time
may tell of it