Of course I end up reading much more than what gets reported here on MR.  In my preparation for my Conversation with poetry scholar Elisa New, I ran across this wonderful Anna Akhmatova poem, entitled N.V.N. and translated by Jane Kenyon:

There is a sacred, secret line in loving

which attraction and even passion cannot cross, —

even if lips draw near in awful silence

and love tears at the heart.


Friendship is weak and useless here,

and years of happiness, exalted and full of fire,

because the soul is free and does not know

the slow luxuries of sensual life.


Those who try to come near it are insane

and those who reach it are shaken by grief.

So now you know exactly why

my heart beats no faster under your hand.


We now return to your regularly scheduled programming…


Is it a riddle?

It is a substitute for Ipecac syrup.

Perhaps it’s time to write a book on the intersection of poetry and economics.

See below on the intersection between economics and poetry. Ironically it quotes Ahkmatova, though is more Shakespeare and Pasternak-centred...


Shakin’ yer moneymaker again, I see. Good on you.

I'm surprised that you can translate poems, it seems counter-intuitive. I'd have thought us MR Incels are not really the market for poetry scholar Elisa New.

And half a century later Maya Angelou would write Phenomenal Woman:

Men themselves have wondered
What they see in me.
They try so much
But they can't touch
My inner mystery.

Both poets speak to empowerment of the female. Despite misogyny and slavery, we endure. Violation is part of our muscle memory but we temper our sorrow by embracing the sisterhood. There is a lesson for the opposite sex in there somewhere. Can you find it? For those who believe this is about resentment, you have missed the point.

That's more doggerel than poetry. Primary school stuff.

Actually in primary school it had to rhyme. Instead this is rearranged prose.

Reminds me of this: "They Flee From Me", Thomas Wyatt

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change.

Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise
Twenty times better; but once in special,
In thin array after a pleasant guise,
When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall,
And she me caught in her arms long and small;
Therewithall sweetly did me kiss
And softly said, “Dear heart, how like you this?”

It was no dream: I lay broad waking.
But all is turned thorough my gentleness
Into a strange fashion of forsaking;
And I have leave to go of her goodness,
And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served
I would fain know what she hath deserved.

Seriously good post. With the collapse of print magazines and shrinking newspapers, poetry is disappearing (some might argue this is a good thing; I don't). Perhaps Professor Cowen can start a weekly post of a poem that catches his fancy. I think this would be a good thing.

I think I see a knight
I'm gonna fuck him for a while
And the ocean is gone
But I can see for miles
I can see there's nothing here
I can hear all your sorrows
I think I'm going crazier and healthier
I can see the obvious
That there is nothing here

Today's gospel lesson is on love ("love one another"). Thus, the homily about Agape, Philia, and Eros. Not mentioned are the sectarian Letters of John, which limits brotherly love to like-minded Christians (i.e., those who believe in the same Christology). Our priest said that if people would only follow the message of brotherly love in the New Testament, the tribalism in today's politics would disappear. Really?

In the original Russian, this poem rhymes. A proper translation would do so too. But modern American poets cannot create rhyming verse if their life depended on it.

Yes, Akhmatova's Russian poem rhymes, but the piece is almost a century old and Kenyon's translation must be over a quarter-century old.

Qualities of "proper translations" vary: in his anthology Heritage of Russian Verse, Obolensky settled for plain prose translations--including this piece, untitled in Obolensky's ed., whose content is well reflected in Kenyon's rendering.

Contemporary American poets are not obliged to observe rhyme any more than conventional meters: due to the ubiquity of contemporary recorded music with its fantabulous lyrical content, American poets active today can persist for a while yet with avoiding (or: not accentuating) rhyme as with ignoring conventional meter.

"Rhyming verse" is perhaps not as needful for American poets today as their sheer escape from the prevailing academic captivity of American letters.

I hate it. Don’t just gesture at some unfthomable, inexpressible experience — that’s cheap and lazy. You’re bullshitting, for all I know. You’re the poet—articulate the inarticulable, express the inexpressible.

And eff the ineffable.

For those who do not know Russian, Akhmatova was very talented at prosody and at the choice of specific (but often just a little too recondite) words - sort of like a Russian Yvor Winters. It may be me, but I rarely get the feeling that she is a genuinely gifted poet, in the way her contemporaries like Wallace Stevens and Khodasevich and Sylvia Plath were unmistakably gifted poets, but maybe that is just me. That being said, a couple hundred times in her career she wrote really good lines, like she did with these lines, which in the original echo some thoughts of Pushkin in an eerily compassionate way (I could be wrong, of course).

Anyway, this poem sounds pretty good in English, thank you for posting it.

By the way, contrary to what I have read here and there, most Russian poets translate fairly well into the Northern European languages (all the Germanic and Slavic languages, and yes, all the Romance languages - remember even Italian is spoken in the Alps). If you live somewhere with a lot of snow then probably Russian poetry is easier to translate into your language than you have been told.

If you want to read one of the saddest stories you have ever heard, read about what Akhmatova went through after she turned 30.

The echoes of Pushkin are most obviously from Book Eight of Eugene Onegin, and from the "Snowstorm" from the Tales of Belkin, and from one or two of the lyric poems that young Russian women have a habit of memorizing, and no doubt from a couple other sources that I missed. Pushkin wrote a lot - he wrote works for the Russian publishers of his day at a slightly greater speed than Shakespeare wrote plays for the stage (with respect to works that were publicly available, that is: my guess is that Shakespeare wrote faster than Pushkin, being more gifted , it seems fair to say, even at that empyrean level, with words and the love of language, and nobody can know this but my guess is that Shakespeare was more fun to be around and listen to in person, but that is just a guess) so that even though Shakespeare wrote at a mature level for about a decade and a half more than Pushkin did, the variety of their mature expressed thoughts on multiple subjects, and the extent of their vocabularies in their native languages, and the range of their subject matter is not all that incommensurate.

Whoever you are, thank you.

The isolation of the individual.

If you have not read Dante's Paradisio, quite a bit of it is like that, though I think that fully appreciating Dante, which I would not say that I've ever or may ever do, it requires more in the way of prerequisites.

"Those who try to come near it are insane / and those who reach it are shaken by grief."

Akhmatova's first husband was executed by the Soviets. It helps to know these things.

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