Brodsky by Hirsch


Give me another life, and I'll be singing...

JOSEPH BRODSKY (1940-1996) wrote a poignant poem for his fortieth birthday-May 24, 1980-that has stayed with me ever since I first encountered it as the lead piece in his book To Urania (1988). The poem is a revealing self-portrait, a summing up and coming to terms, an idiosyncratic credo by a Russian poet who liked to refer to himself as a Calvinist, which he characterized as "a man keeping strict accounts with himself, with his conscience and consciousness." A Calvinist, according to Brodsky's quirky, self-styled definition, "is someone who is constantly declaring Judgment Day against himself- as if in the absence of (or impatient for) the Almighty." By this reckoning, Dostoevsky also counted as a Calvinist, and so did Marina Tsvetaeva, one of Brodsky's favorite poets, whom he once called "the falsetto of time" and "Job in a skirt."
Brodsky translated his birthday poem himself, hence its driving music and compulsive wordplay. I can still close my eyes and hear him reading it aloud in that special hypnotizing chant, a sort of rabbinical keening, a soaring singsong, that was very much his own. "This isn't a man," Nadezhda Mandelstam once exclaimed, "it's a wind orchestra!" The aphoristic form, a capsule autobiography accelerating at lyric speed, seems especially well suited to Brodsky's particular temperament, to his keen intelligence and ironic wit, to his determined, almost classical stoicism in the face of a grief that threatened to swamp him.
Brodsky's summary poem was written from the far side of exile. He may have had little actual choice in the matter, but he nonetheless felt an enormous undertow of guilt for abandoning his native country.
(Brodsky went into involuntary exile in 1972, following a conviction for social parasitism, and never returned to Russia.) "Munched the bread of exile: it's stale and warty," he declares, thus referring back to a proud poem that his mentor, Anna Akhmatova, penned in 1922: "But I pity the exile's lot," she pronounced, "wormwood infects your foreign bread." Brodsky never viewed himself as a victim-he was allergic to self-pity-but he did eat the harsh bread of exile, which only increased his special solidarity with grief. He was an intimate of loss who knew what he had sacrificed.
Yet, like his great precursors Akhmatova, Mandelstam, and Tsvetaeva, Brodsky also had an Orphic gift for turning sorrow into high song. He transformed his ordeals in life into triumphs in poetry.
His cosmopolitan spirit dwells in his work. Above all, I hear the into nations of his unmistakable voice and feel that the poet has outsungdeath.
MAY 24, 1980
I have braved, for want of wild beasts, steel cages,
carved my term and nickname on bunks and rafters,
lived by the sea, flashed aces in an oasis,
dined with the-devil-knows-whom, in tails, on truffles,
From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world, the earthly
width. Twice have drowned, thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.
Quit the country that bore and nursed me.
Those who forgot me would make a city.
I have waded the steppes that saw yelling Huns in saddles,
worn the clothes nowadays back in fashion in every quarter,
planted rye, tarred the roofs' of pigsties and stables,
guzzled everything save dry water.
I've admitted the sentries' third eye into my wet and foul
dreams. Munched the bread of exile: it's stale and warty.
Granted my lungs all sounds except the howl;
switched to a whisper. Now I am forty.
What should I say about life? That it's long and abhors transparence.
Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelette, though, makes me vomit.
Yet until brown clay has been crammed down my larynx,
only gratitude will be gushing from it.



Cho tớ 1 đời khác, và tớ sẽ hát

Joseph Brodsky (1940-1996) làm 1 bài thơ nhức nhối, cho lần sinh nhật bốn bó của ông, và nó cứ ở với tôi, kể từ lần đầu đọc nó, trong cuốn thơ Gửi Urania (1988) của ông. Một “chân dung tự họa, tóm tắt, và “thôi thế thì thôi, cũng đành như thế” với đời mình - a summing up and coming to terms -  hay, 1 bản cương lĩnh khí chất – an idiosyncratic credo - của một nhà thơ Nga, thích nói về mình như là 1 Calvinist, “một người rất ư nghiêm ngặt với chính mình, với lương tâm, với ý thức của mình. Một Calvnist, như Brodsky định nghĩa theo kiểu diễu cợt, tự biên tự diễn của ông, là “1 kẻ coi bất cứ ngày nào cũng là Ngày Phán Xét, đối với chính mình – như thể Chúa lúc nào thì cũng vắng mặt, hay, lúc nào thì anh ta cũng bực bội, hết còn kiên nhẫn đối với Người. (1)


  Trong “Trò chuyện với Brodsky”, của Solomon Volkov, có 1 chương dành cho Marina Tsvetaeva.
Brodsky coi Tsvetaeva là “nhà thơ thứ nhất của thế kỷ 20”, nhà thơ của thời trẻ tuổi của ông, và thơ của bà, có tính Calvinistic, và ông giải thích, Calvinism thì cũng đơn giản thôi: đó là 1 người bám chặt vào chính mình, với ý thức và lương tâm của mình. Theo nghĩa này, thì Dos là 1 Calvinist. Nói ngắn gọn, Calvinist là 1 kẻ lúc nào cũng phán Ngày Tận Thế, chống lại anh ta.


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