Reading: Past One O’Clock by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was one of the important futurist Sovjet poets. He was a versatile writer, with work ranging from stage plays, poetry, travel books, propaganda… He committed suicide in 1930. I heard his name, but when I saw his photograph I wanted to read his poetry, too. This short poem was written in 1930 (it was actually included in his suicide note):

Past one o’clock
Past one o’clock. You must have gone to bed.
The Milky Way streams silver through the night.
I’m in no hurry; with lightning telegrams
I have no cause to wake or trouble you.
And, as they say, the incident is closed.
Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind.
Now you and I are quits. Why bother then
To balance mutual sorrows, pains, and hurts.
Behold what quiet settles on the world.
Night wraps the sky in tribute from the stars.
In hours like these, one rises to address
The ages, history, and all creation.

The ordinary lament of a lover, pondering existence after a break-up? I smiled at the line “Love’s boat has smashed against the daily grind”, which sounds so perfectely American (the original is “любовная лодка разбилась о быт”). The couple didn’t work out, and he call it quits. Quits and quiet is a nice pair in English: No reason for calculations, for reckoning, for closing the account of sorrow and pains.

Instead, night wareps the sky in tribute from the stars, or “awards the sky with constellations” as in this alternative translation.  Ночь обложила небо звездной данью. Vladimir wants to rise to address the ages, history and all creation, like a good revolutionary. Or did he feel betrayed by the biggest love of his life: communism? His poetry is advance and subtle enought to be disliked by that other Georgian, Stalin, who had been General Secretary of the Party since 1922 and exiled Trotski the year before. There has indeed been controversy surrounding his death, but it was likely a combination of character and heartbreak from his romance with Veronika Polonskaya.

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