Adrift on this cool September friday, I listen to the traffic, a voice shouting at no one in the street below me. I drink old coffee, wander from room to room a bit like Karen Stone in The Roman Spring … read read read all day long. It’s cozy inside; a breeze visits in fresh figure-eights. I don’t need an excuse to burrow under the chartreuse and powder-blue duvet; and do. Later, I find myself reading and re-reading poems of Vladislav Khodasevich. I’ve gone gently (albeit twitchingly) into the dark night.
Born (1886) in Moscow of an aristocratic Polish-Lithuanian family, Vladislav Khodasevich had Jewish maternal grandparents who converted. In 1919 he moved to Petersburg to work with Maksim Gorky where he published several acclaimed collections of poems. He was admired and sought after. When the great poet Aleksandr Blok died and the poet Anna Akhmatova’s husband Nikolay Gumilyov was executed (1922) for no good reason, he left Russia.
He and his lover, writer Nina Berberova, traveled to Berlin, then the spa at Saarow, then dipped their toes into Prague, Marienbad, Venice, Sorrento, Belfast, finally settling in Paris. In time he wrote fewer and fewer poems, more critical studies and memoirs, while the fame and poetry he’d left behind in the USSR quietly faded and disappeared from the public eye. Soon he was all but forgotten. He died at age fifty-three, not knowing that – in later years – his poetry would be resurrected and celebrated once again in his Motherland.
Out on the balcony again
to warm my shoulders and my arms
But when I sit there, all the sounds in dreams.
At once, I’m filled with lassitude
and float somewhere unknown to me:
but there’s my world, in spreading rings
dispersed like ripples on the sea.
Endearing wonder, carry on!
I join the second circle, where
I listen to the distant steady
knocking of my rocking chair.
[August 1919, Moscow]
[Translated by Peter Daniels – Angel Classics, UK]