Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion in translation: Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

I love this poem for its sweet imagery, and for its gentle, happy nature. Though many of Tabidze’s poems are dark dirges, accurately reflecting the time they were written, poems like this show that he was no less talented when it came to subjects of lightness, and joy.

Some believe that only darkness, despair, and anger are worthy subjects for a poem, but look at the subtlety of this work — how the mood Tabidze creates is not one of simplistic ecstasy, or overpowering joy, but a complicated sense of pleasantness tinged with an understanding that the feeling involves a forgetting of one’s troubles — not necessarily their actual disappearance.

It begins in the middle of a pleasant walk — late in the evening, almost dawn — to the edges of the city. Immediately the narrator discovers a place. It reminds him of an incident as resonant as it is strange. The reader is given only a few images to hang onto: sisters, roses, some kind words. Are these potential lovers? Fans of the poet? Friends of a friend? Guests? It’s not clear. Neither is it particularly important — the sweetness of the words and the memory of the flowers become more significant because their setting cannot be located.

“da gavida ivlisi” — and in this fashion July passes. This is how he remembers spending that summer, being complimented by ladies, and laden with flowers. What a life! And yet, in the middle of this incident, there is one word — “shpotiani:” anxious — a reminder, like a distant bell, that all is not sweet words and summer days. Again, what makes Tbilisi anxious cannot be located. But its very presence tinges the rest of the poem’s sweetness with a pinch of salt. It is an acknowledgement that all is not perfect. And ironically, it is this acknowledgement that makes the roses and sweet words that much more poignant, fragile, beautiful.

All of this is tied together with a sweet little song of remembrance. If you read the original over and over, you can even hear the melody…


Your Cottage Where the Woods Begin

And now before my eyes I find
your cottage, where the woods begin,
And this night like a river, winds
into an azure opening.

Sisters proferring with roses
whisper such sweet haunting words:
“You’re such a noble,” one proposes.
“You are a poet,” the next avers.

And in this fashion July passes,
every second, every hour,
City of Tbilisi: anxious
kingdom of the troubadour.

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