Phaedra

By MARINA TSVETAEVA

1. LAMENT

Hippolytus! Hippolytus! It stings!
It sears… my cheeks blaze…
How pitiless the hell, Hippolytus,
Concealed in your name!

It’s like a long slow wave
Slid along a granite seawall.
I’m singed by Hippolytus!
I rave and breathe Hippolytus!

My arms want to ram the dirt!
My teeth want to crush rocks!…
Cry with me, and lie with me!
My molten mind erupts…

It’s like dust from Herculaneum sifted
Through my lips… I fade… go blind…
It’s worse than the rack, Hippolytus!
Sand and ashes are not so dry!

It’s a gadfly in a splashing wound’s
Tears… A gadfly grown savage…
It’s an exhausted mare lashed
To a gallop by red gashes!

Hippolytus! Hippolytus! The reins!
This peplus is like a crypt.
There is an Elysium for jades:
The slaughterhouse!–The gadfly rages!

Hippolytus! Hippolytus! Relent!
It’s like a Harpy’s beak sank
Into my breast, a boiling spring,
And not Hippolytus’s petals!

Hippolytus! Hippolytus! A sip!
Son and stepchild? No, accomplice!
It’s seething lava under my soles–
Not stones!–Complaints from Olympus?

The Olympians?!  Their gaze sleeps!
Can you cross–the gods–yes!
Hippolytus! Hippolytus! Your cloak!
This peplus is like a crypt!

Hippolytus, slake…

2. MISSIVE

To Hippolytus from his Mother–Phaedra—Empress–a message.
To the capricious boy, whose beauty is like golden wax
From mighty Phoebus, and who shuns Phaedra… Therefore,
To Hippolytus from Phaedra: this lamentation of tender lips.

Slake my soul! (It’s impossible, without joining lips,
To slake the soul!)  Impossible, when clasping lips,
Not to clasp Psyche, who flutters at her guest’s lips…
Slake my soul:  therefore, slake my lips.

Hippolytus, I’m spent… an embarrassment–to both sluts and priests!
It isn’t simple shamelessness that wails for you! Only hands and speech
Are simple… The trembling of hands and lips veils
A riddle, whose silence is like a finger laid to lips.

Forgive, you innocent! adolescent! horseman! enemy
Of languor!–This is no whim! No woman’s sudden lust!
She is the seductress! Psyche is the one who desires
To listen to Hippolytus’s murmurs at his very lips.

“Have you no shame?”–Too late! It’s my last plunge, my horses
Have slipped their reins! From a wave’s crest–into dust–
I, too, am a horseman! Therefore, from my bosom’s heights,
From the tragic double hill, I fall into your breast’s abyss.

(Or is it my breast?)–Come, be bolder! Gentler!
More exquisitely than a schoolboy’s stylus carves a wax
Tablet–is your swarthy heart not made of wax?–
Oh may your insatiable Phaedra read with her lips

Hippolytus’s mark…

 

Poems translated from the Russian by Catherine Ciepiela

 

Marina Tsvetaeva (1892-1941) was one of Russian poetry’s most brilliant and tragic figures. She is the author of scores of lyric and narrative poems, plays, and essays, many written in European exile after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Catherine Ciepiela writes about and translates modern Russian poetry. She is the author of The Same Solitude: Boris Pasternak and Marina Tsvetaeva and co-editor of The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems, by translator Paul Schmidt.

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Phaedra

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