the poem as fantasia

The poem as an occasion of the extraordinary, of imagining, of intenser time.


Marina Tsvetaeva wrote this about Alexander Alexandrovich Blok:

Your name is a—bird in my hand,
a piece of ice on my tongue.
The lips’ quick opening.
Your name—four letters.
A ball caught in flight,
a silver bell in my mouth.

A stone thrown into a silent lake
is—the sound of your name.
The light click of hooves at night
—your name.
Your name at my temple
—sharp click of a cocked gun.

Your name—impossible—
kiss on my eyes,
the chill of closed eyelids.
Your name—a kiss of snow.
Blue gulp of icy spring water.
With your name—sleep deepens.

April 15, 1916

from “Poems for Blok”
translated by Ilya Kaminsky and Jean Valentine


Why did she write such a thing in such a way? I’ll not interrogate personal motivation. I’ll restrict my curiosity to that phrase “in such a way.”

Her poem is not a poem concerned with the ordinary world. There are masters like Milosz and Zagajewski who write deeply, strangely, and beautifully of the actual world — of what it can add up to in moments of art and surprise. But the poem above is of a different texture than the given. Metaphysics swarms each line, mystery inhabits each figure of speech. This poem is made of — therefore leans toward — the fantastical. It’s not reportage or impression; it’s spiritual fantasia and primitive magic. It’s the perfect example of why human beings are such unusual creatures inside time and space. Or how they can become unusual creatures when consciousness transforms that time and space into farther-flung dimensions during artistic trance.

Even reading such a poem can make us briefly peculiar.

Tsvetaeva didn’t write boring poems. She knew instinctively that existence is too bizarre and art too spiritual for poems not woven of the incredible. Her poem is one of the most aesthetically radical things I’ve encountered. The audacity of such language! Just look at how it overpowers the mundane.



Marina Tsvetaeva (1892 – 1941)


From Blok’s own poem “Flaming Signs of the Mystery” comes this:

Flaming signs of the mystery grow
On the wall, that is solid and grim,
And the tulips of purple and gold
All the night hang o’er me in my dream.

translated by Yevgeny Bonver


Russians back then were fantastic. They opened reality and art up to large and symbolic possibilities of spirit. Poetry nowadays is not like that, alas. I think the older ways of looking at things and making poems were larger, deeper, more significant.


The Faithless Shadows

The faithless shadows of day are running
And high and clear is the call of bells,
Steps of the church are blazed as with the lightning,
Their stones are alive and wait for your light steps.

You’ll here pass and touch the chilly stone,
That’s dressed in awful sanity of span,
And let the flower of spring be thrown
Here, in this dark, before the eyes of a saint.

The rose shadows in misty darkness grow,
And high and clear is the call of bells,
The darkness lays on steps, such old and low —
I’m set in light — I wait for dear steps.

translated by Yevgeny Bonver


Another Blok poem. Reading this, one can believe in old folk tales and lost magic. How the so-called real world is actually a constant generator of symbols. The surfaces of being we take for granted are implicit with ghosts, dreams, and desires of the fantastical. They wait, sometimes emerge through language.


Alexander Alexandrovich Blok 1880 - 1921

Alexander Alexandrovich Blok (1880 – 1921)





Posted by Tim Buck



4 thoughts on “the poem as fantasia

  1. Blok (a poem by Antonin Ladinsky)

    As the sun stood over Rome–
    A cold and rosy sphere,
    So to barbaric chills and winters
    Steam has gone to meet breathing,
    Separated from a marble mouth.
    In this way a Roman ship perished.
    So, to a perishing world the Poet
    Said farewell, yawning indifferently.
    We have hazily compared a woman
    To a rose. During the plague
    At a hot banquet, the glassy
    Goblets clinked winter.
    In the birch forests–radiance
    And angelic silence,
    But laboring over the coffin, sobbing,
    Stood Natalia, his earthly wife.
    Blok lived among us. Out in the chill,
    Bonfires crackled on the corners,
    And crystal tears slowly congealed
    On winter’s beautiful eyes.
    Blok lived among us. And, sighing,
    A man collapsed into a snow-drift
    And fell, and fell from heaven
    Onto the Russian huts, the sifting snow.

    Так солнце стояло над Римом –
    Холодный и розовый шар,
    Так варварским стужам и зимам
    Навстречу дыхания пар
    Из мраморных уст отделялся.
    Так римский корабль погибал.
    Так с гибнущим миром прощался
    Поэт, равнодушно зевал.
    Мы женщину с розой туманно
    Сравнили. Во время чумы
    На жаркой пирушке стеклянно
    Звенели бокалы зимы.
    В березовых рощах – сиянье
    И ангельская тишина,
    Но билась над гробом в рыданьях
    Наталья, земная жена.
    Жил Блок среди нас. На морозе
    Трещали костры на углах,
    И стыли хрустальные слезы
    На зимних прекрасных глазах.
    Жил Блок среди нас. И вздыхая,
    Валился в сугроб человек,
    И падал, и падал из рая
    На русские домики снег.


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