why i translate Innokenty Annensky

in the blog, i have posted several translations of this wonderful Russian poet, and as i’ve decided to continue making more, i’ll tell a bit of my story connected with these works, and the reasons behind translating them.

Annensky is my favorite classical poet, without a doubt. yet through the years i discovered that hardly anyone knows about him abroad. moreover, he is not much appreciated even in Russia. when i was about 14, my grandma gave me a huge grey book, an anthology of poetry from the Silver Age (end of 19th- beginning of 20th centuries). about five of Annensky’s poems and a short biography were included there. one of them was Amethysts, and it mesmerised me a lot. it was unlike anything i’d read in poetry before, so different from the writings of more famous Russian poets from the Golden Age, such as Pushkin and Lermontov. then i was acquainted with French symbolism, and realized the ways Annensky was inspired by their world vision, by their impressionistic heartscapes and lush imagery. he is often compared to Charles Baudelaire, but in my opinion he’s much closer to Verlaine’s state of melancholy and musicality. to me, no other poets expressed the world’s subtlest things often unseen to the eye, the slight harmony or disharmony of senses, of feelings and emotions as sincerely as Annensky and Verlaine.
at the University, i even compiled my own handwritten book with poems only by Annensky and Verlaine, taking it wherever i went. they blended with each other in such wonder, it was like listening to a beautiful duet of voices accompanied by a verdant symphony.

when i was lucky to be present at some of literary evenings where Annensky’s poetry was recited by various beautiful souls, i came to appreciate the magic of his verses even more. to read it silently in a book and to recite one of his poems are very different things. the deep euphony of the poem, the universe of its inner realms are revealed only during the recital. if all senses are open, it seems that even the air around is colored with the flow of its fluid melody, the ocean of rhythms and rhymes.
when i visited Tsarskoye Selo for the first time, where Annensky worked as a teacher most of his life, i was amazed at how he managed to echo the atmosphere of this amazing place in some of his writings. not the outer realms, but all the ways the unspoken, semi-ethereal chants of its nature sing to the soul of someone vulnerable, of things often unseen but felt, inevitably and timelessly.

as i learned English, i discovered that a lot of Annensky’s poems are not translated to it. it felt weird to me, but there’s no wonder because, as i said, Annensky is not well-known like other poets from the Silver Age, for example Alexander Blok and Anna Akhmatova. he was very unsure and shy of his poetry (though already renowned as the translator of Greek tragedies and European symbolists), and published only one book of his own poems at the age of 49, titled Quiet Songs. it was published under the pseudonym Nik.T-o (translated as ‘Nobody’), and most of the literary world for some time didn’t even know whose book it was. the second book, Cypress Casket, was to be published under his own name, but he died not a long time before its publishing.

to me, the hardest thing during the translation of Annensky’s poems is to keep the musicality of the poem, not only its rhymes and meanings. i’m not a professional poetic translator and my tries are far from perfect, but certainly i’ll keep on trying. if my translations once convey even half of Annensky’s magic, i’d be happy. and even if one person feels the deep beauty of his poetry through these English translations and decides to discover more about Annensky, my work is done.
Lena

image: Tsarskoye Selo in the beginning of September

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