Tuesday, March 27, 2007

You’re Thirteen: The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in TranslationYou’re Thirteen

This is one of Tabidze’s earliest poems — it was published in 1919, in his first book, Crâne Aux Fleurs Artistique. Possibly written in 1915 — when Tabidze was only twenty-two — it looks at the infatiuation of a very young girl, from the point of view of a much older man. Little evidence exists to suggest that the poem is autobiographical — in fact, Tabidze rarely wrote directly of his own life, preferring instead to adopt voices and personae, playing with various points of view.

Interestingly, the only detail the poem’s narrator gives concerning his love interest (and the poem’s addressee) is that she’s thirteen. This is used as a launching-point for a meditation on the shame of corruption, the cruelty of ageing, and finally, the beauty that only comes when a thing is fragile and fleeting… quite a lot to pack into twelve lines. Note also the deliberate uncomplicatedness of the original — often only four, or even three words per line, the poem itself becomes what it embodies: fragile, fleeting, simple and beautiful.

You’re Thirteen

You’re thirteen and you’ve ensnared
a graying lover’s evil dreams.
Line up thirteen bullets here:
I’ll take my own life thirteen times.

Another thirteen years go by,
soon you’ll come to twenty-six.
The tallest iris gets the scythe:
time and poem mourn their necks.

How hastily youth slips away—
remorseless wishes of the lion.
And everything glows tenderly
when Autumn sunlight’s pouring in.

First published in Georgia Today

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