The Stray Dog cabaret in St. Petersburg was the haunt of poets, artists, and musicians. It was a place to meet, drink, read, brawl, celebrate, and stage performances. In the years before the 1917 revolution a more talented collection of genius has seldom been seen in one place. It has since become a symbol of the extraordinary literary ferment of that time. It was then that Alexander Blok composed his apocalyptic sequence "Twelve"; that the futurists Velimir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Mayakovsky exploded language into bold new forms; that the lapidary lyrics of Osip Mandelstam and plangent love poems of Anna Akhmatova saw the light; that the electrifying Marina Tsvetaeva stunned and dazzled everyone. Boris Pasternak was also of this company, putting together his great youthful hymn to nature, My Sister, Life.
It was a transforming moment-not just for Russian but for world poetry—and a short-lived one. Within little more than a decade, revolution and terror were to disperse, silence, and destroy almost all the poets of the Stray Dog cabaret.
Schmidt's strength as a translator is capturing the flavor of this group of poets. The late Paul Schmidt is considered by many to be one of the great translators of the Russian to English being able to capture the flavor. My suspicion is that most of above poets aren't very widely read in the English-speaking world which is a shame. They represent the silver age of Russian poetry. The Stray Dog Cabaret costs less that 14 dollars. A bargain to say the least. If you enjoy poetry I am sure you will cherish this book.
A few short snippet's
Akhmatova writes, "This is the moment they told us would come some day / when there's nobody alive to hear what we say. / The world is no longer the place it used to be. / Be still, don't break my heart. Be silent, poetry." Here is Tsvetaeva: "I'm still alive. That may be soon / a sin." Here is Mandelstam: "All I want to do is / escape the madness here. / To rise into the light / where I can disappear." And here is Akhmatova again: "In the west the familiar light still shines / And the spires of cities glow in the sun. / But here a dark figure is marking the houses / And calling the ravens, and the ravens come." Just to give you another taste, here's the first verse of "To Anna Akhmatova," one of the poems included in the book:
I sent you a rose in a glass of champagne
while the gypsies played as the gypsies do.
Then you turned to the man you were with and said:
"You see his eyes? He's in love with me too."
You too will fall in love with this book if you have the good fortune to find it in your hand....Continua