Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Poetry of Galaktion Tabidze in Translation: “You’re Going Away”

This poem, from 1956, is from Galaktion’s “late” or “classical” period. The imagery is simple, the voice is direct, and as the poem progresses, an entire story begins to unfold about the relationship between the speaker, and the addressee.

A great part of Galaktion’s strength lies in his ability to produce evocative, surprising, and intense images and settings out of relatively general descriptions and words. By allowing a word like “torment” in the first line to go unexplained, he gives it both a great amount of weight, and also allows it to hold a multitude of possible meanings, so that the poem may become personal to whomever is reading it.

The risk in a poem like this is a certain flattening out of the images — if descriptions are too general, then they lose all weight. If they do not seem real, they have no real meaning. Galaktion invests his poems with strong music, which invest each word with memorable importance, and so his poems’ images become resonant, even personal — and are allowed to do so, by virtue of the ambiguous imagery


You’re going away… and reaping your torment,
like hay from a seaside recently shorn.
Whoever said you’ve lived your last moments?
No: today is the day you were born.

You’re going away… but no one is angry,
either on earth or in paradise.
Whoever said that you were unlucky?
No: today is the day you were blessed.

You’re going away… may your journey be sweet.
Tales of your other dwellings are fiction.
Whoever said that you slept on the street?
No. You are sheltered now: you have protection.

You’re going… and many long for such fortune.
For anywhere else, fortune doesn’t exist.
Now you are finally up in the heavens—
now you reside as Eternity’s guest.

...first published in Georgia Today

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