INSCRIPTIONS ON WATERCOLORS
translated from Russian by Alex Cigale
Click on the inscription numbers to view watercolors.
In ochre twilight the foothills’ lilac.
The wind whistling in autumn’s silks.
The evening star is warming up
Above turquoise shallows of bay.
Footpaths climbing the hillsides
Toward greenish-rose vistas.
As an ethereal and smokey veil
The evening blanket rolls down.
Above the violet-damp distances
Cloudscapes aglimmer like snows.
Above waves of earth the waves of the sea.
Azure distances humming with mountain villages.
The darkening peaks of hillsides
And the mammae of white clouds
On the background of a marble sky.
The green air of day and the shore’s ochre.
Mirrorlike surface of lunar silence.
And the waves of mountains, and the bay’s mirror,
And the silence of the sky in the unquiet earth.
And the morning freshness breathing
Above the green darkness of fields.
And earth, and sky, and the baysides
diminishing in the yellow silence.
The sandy roads descending
Among oak groves to the sea.
Malachite green recesses
In the night’s blue tunic.
Lake dimming framed by mounds
Like a dim and damp pearl.
Light tunnel in the depths of an alley–
The tongue of a piercing blue fire.
Like a pink pearl the day
Lies framed by the sleepy bay.
Like soured milk — the ripples
Of the mother-of-pearl clouds.
Rock suffused with the distant air,
Gray and bluish….
Stones of ancient towns
Fired by rays of sun.
Moonrise above the bayside.
Maximilian Voloshin (1877-1932,) Symbolist poet, translator of French poetry and prose,world-class watercolorist, was a central literary figure of the Russian Silver Age. Following the revolution, his place of self-exile on the Crimea became a house of refuge for numerous poets, of both red, white, and green convictions, from Khlebnikov to Mandelstam to Tsvetaeva. Voloshin was the perpetrator of one of the most famous literary hoaxes and fought a duel with the poet Nikolay Gumilev over this so-called de Gabriak affair. His work is still largely unknown to English readers: his English biography, by Barbara Walker (Indiana University Press, 2005), appeared only recently; his only book of English translations, by Constantine Rusanov (Amherst University Press, 2001), remains largely unavailable. The present work is nearly unique in crossing genre. The numbering of these watercolor inscriptions/poems follows that of the canonical Selected Poems in Two Volumes (Filippov B., Struve G., eds. Paris: YMCA-Press, 1982). Scholarship on these texts has only just began and I have not attempted to reconstruct a one-to-one equivalence with the paintings but rather offer a sampling of the best work available online. A brief Russian biography listing work titles, an indication of how inscriptions were for Voloshin its own literary genre, can be found here, and the Russian originals here.
Alex Cigale’s poems have appeared in Colorado, Green Mountains, North American, Tampa, and The Literary Reviews. His translations from the Russian can be found in Ancora Imparo, Asymptote, Big Bridge, Brooklyn Rail InTranslation, Cimarron Review, Drunken Boat, Literary Imagination, Modern Poetry in Translation, PEN America, The Manhattan, St. Ann’s, and Washington Square Reviews, and in previous issues of Eleven Eleven. He is currently Assistant Professor at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.