Sunday, March 19, 2017

At the Top of My Voice



Vladimir Mayakovsky 1930

At the Top of My Voice
First Prelude to the Poem


SourceThe bedbug and Selected poetry, translated by Max Hayward and George Reavey. Meridian Books, New York, 1960;
Transcribed: by Mitch Abidor.

My most respected
                            comrades of posterity!
Rummaging among
                             these days’
                                             petrified crap,
exploring the twilight of our times,
you,
      possibly,
                    will inquire about me too.
And, possibly, your scholars
                                           will declare,
with their erudition overwhelming
                                                     a swarm of problems;
once there lived
                        a certain champion of boiled water,
and inveterate enemy of raw water.
Professor,
             take off your bicycle glasses!
I myself will expound
                                 those times
                                                   and myself.
I, a latrine cleaner
                          and water carrier,
by the revolution
                         mobilized and drafted,
went off to the front
                              from the aristocratic gardens
of poetry -
               the capricious wench
She planted a delicious garden,
the daughter,
                 cottage,
                           pond
                                  and meadow.
Myself a garden I did plant,
myself with water sprinkled it.
some pour their verse from water cans;
others spit water
                        from their mouth -
the curly Macks,
                       the clever jacks -
but what the hell’s it all about!
There’s no damming al this up -
beneath the walls they mandoline:
“Tara-tina, tara-tine,
tw-a-n-g...”
It’s no great honor, then,
                                      for my monuments
to rise from such roses
above the public squares,
                                      where consumption coughs,
where whores, hooligans and syphilis
                                                          walk.
Agitprop
             sticks
                     in my teeth too,
and I’d rather
                   compose
                               romances for you -
more profit in it
                        and more charm.
But I
       subdued
                   myself,
                            setting my heel
on the throat
                 of my own song.
Listen,
       comrades of posterity,
to the agitator
                   the rabble-rouser.
Stifling
         the torrents of poetry,
I’ll skip
         the volumes of lyrics;
as one alive,
                I’ll address the living.
I’ll join you
                 in the far communist future,
I who am
           no Esenin super-hero.
My verse will reach you
                                    across the peaks of ages,
over the heads
                    of governments and poets.
My verse
           will reach you
not as an arrow
                      in a cupid-lyred chase,
not as worn penny
Reaches a numismatist,
not as the light of dead stars reaches you.
My verse
            by labor
                       will break the mountain chain of years,
and will present itself
                                ponderous,
                                               crude,
                                                      tangible,
as an aqueduct,
                     by slaves of Rome
constructed,
                enters into our days.
When in mounds of books,
                                       where verse lies buried,
you discover by chance the iron filings of lines,
touch them
               with respect,
                                 as you would
some antique
                  yet awesome weapon.
It’s no habit of mine
                             to caress
                                         the ear
                                                  with words;
a maiden’s ear
                     curly-ringed
will not crimson
                       when flicked by smut.
In parade deploying
                             the armies of my pages,
I shall inspect
                    the regiments in line.
Heavy as lead,
                   my verses at attention stand,
ready for death
                     and for immortal fame.
The poems are rigid,
                              pressing muzzle
to muzzle their gaping
                                 pointed titles.
The favorite
                of all the armed forces
the cavalry of witticisms
                                     ready
to launch a wild hallooing charge,
reins its chargers still,
                               raising
the pointed lances of the rhymes.
and all
         these troops armed to the teeth,
which have flashed by
                                 victoriously for twenty years,
all these,
           to their very last page,
I present to you,
                       the planet’s proletarian.
The enemy
              of the massed working class
is my enemy too
                        inveterate and of long standing.
Years of trial
                   and days of hunger
                                                ordered us
to march
           under the red flag.
We opened
               each volume
                                 of Marx
as we would open
                          the shutters
                                           in our own house;
but we did not have to read
                                         to make up our minds
which side to join,
                          which side to fight on.
Our dialectics
                   were not learned
                                            from Hegel.
In the roar of battle
                            it erupted into verse,
when,
       under fire,
                     the bourgeois decamped
as once we ourselves
                               had fled
                                           from them.
Let fame
            trudge
                    after genius
like an inconsolable widow
                                        to a funeral march -
die then, my verse,
                          die like a common soldier,
like our men
                 who nameless died attacking!
I don’t care a spit
                         for tons of bronze;
I don’t care a spit
                          for slimy marble.
We’re men of  kind,
                            we’ll come to terms about our fame;
let our
        common monument be
socialism
             built
                   in battle.
Men of posterity
                        examine the flotsam of dictionaries:
out of Lethe
                will bob up
                                the debris of such words
as “prostitution,”
                      “tuberculosis,”
                                        “blockade.”
For you,
         who are now
                           healthy and agile,
the poet
          with the rough tongue
                                           of his posters,
has licked away consumptives’ spittle.
With the tail of my years behind me,
                                                        I begin to resemble
those monsters,
                     excavated dinosaurs.
Comrade life,
                   let us
                          march faster,
march
        faster through what’s left
                                               of the five-year plan.
My verse
            has brought me
                                  no rubles to spare:
no craftsmen have made
                                   mahogany chairs for my house.
In all conscience,
                         I need nothing
except
        a freshly laundered shirt.
When I appear
                     before the CCC
                                            of the coming
                                            bright years,
by way of my Bolshevik party card,
                                                      I’ll raise
above the heads
                      of a gang of self-seeking
                                                           poets and rogues,
all the hundred volumes
                                   of my
                                           communist-committed books.

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