Marina Tsvetsaeva (1892-1941) I read Meeting in an English translation by Ilya Shambat who prepared it for the 110th anniversary of her birth in 2002.
Evening dimmed, like ourselves charmed
With this first warmth of the spring.
Stirring alive, Arbat was alarmed;
With sympathetic tenderness, the kind
Gale touched us with a tired wing.
In our souls, raised on a fairy tale,
Sorrow quietly cried for past things.
He came – so unexpected! So hurriedly –
He who helped in all things before.
And far off in a line unconsolably
The streetlamps’ radiant dots
Burned though light darkness some more…
All around flowers we bought;
We bought a bouquet.. What for?
Quietly withered away unseen garden
In the sky violet-red.
How to be saved from late trouble?
All returned. For a moment? For long?
We speechlessly looked at sun going to bed,
And Gogol nodded, thoughtful, from
The pedestal like a brother, sad.
These words, to my ears, describe the sentiment of early communist Russia. Like elsewhere in this series, I am not interested in studying the circumstances, that has been done before and one can find a lot of meritable studies on the Internet. All I want is chat about poems, say how the words work on me, an average mind living in 2017. So here I see the word Arbat, the famous Moscovian tourist street I visited once, and I have scens in my head from Master and Margarita. The first stanza expresses this weird mixture of warmth, sympathetic tenderness and alarm, sorrow.
The past: Life under the Romanovs (the fairy tale) and the lifestyle that has gone lost in the new society where everybody is afraid of betrayal. The meeting seems to be between people doing something illicit. He who helped in all things before came hurriedly. I see a man in an overcoat, a critic of the system, stealthily approaching in the light of those streetlamps lighting the darknes. I see the group buying a bouquet of flowers and I’m just as puzzled as I should be: What for?
But the unseen garden in the sky has withered away, darkness spreads. “All returned”: every night everything seems to return to the way it was when the sun goes to bed. Yes, trouble is coming, one of these nights all won’t be returned. One of these nights friends will disappear. Gogol knows, nodding from the pedestal ‘like a brother’. Gogol might have foreseen his own death from severe depression. An internal enemy had forced him to burn some of his manuscripts, while the generation of Tsetsaeva is threatened by the outer enemy of the state – but they understand each other.