Sunday, May 4, 2008

blue like lace underwear

Mikhail Epstein encourages us to experience things very differently from how the monolingual, monological Aristotle must observe the thing. Aristotle couldn’t stand things that were speakeristic: neither poets (whose words were in flux) and translation (which included the barbarian tongue) nor females (either mortals or the goddesses).

Epstein says:

Joseph Brodsky's poem “To Urania” contains the line, “Odinochestvo est' chelovek v kvardrate”--literally: Loneliness is a man squared.Brodsky's own translation of this line into English reads, Loneliness cubes a man at random.It would be irrelevant to ask which of these expressions is more adequate to Brodsky's poetic thought. They together represent the scope of its metaphoric meaning. A stereo effect is produced, not by Russian or English lines as such but by their figurative relationship. The English cubeamplifies and strengthens the meanings of the Russian square, as a lonely man self-reflects and self-multiplies, growing multidimensional as a compensation for his losses. English “cube” and Russian “square” both serve as metaphors for loneliness, but in addition they are metaphors to each other and thus build up the next level of figurative relationship between languages. Thus bilingualism makes this poem a work of special verbal art that can be called stereopoetry, which has more metaphorical layers in it than monopoetry.

Stereo effects may be intended by an author or produced in the reading experience . . .

одиночэство эст' чэловэк в квардратэ
Odinochestvo est' chelovek v kvardrate
Loneliness is a man squared
Loneliness cubes a man at random

You can find the poem in Russian in Brodsky’s уранииа, which he translates into English in To Urania. ( offers an ebook of some of Brodsky’s poems in English, including this one, which is found on other sites as well).

What of Ουρανία, read in English, is “blue like lace underwear”?

To Urania

Everything has its limit, including sorrow.
A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
a leaf. One may rattle the keys, gurgle down a swallow.
Loneliness cubes a man at random.
A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
And what is space anyway if not the
body's absence at every given
point? That's why Urania's older sister Clio!
in daylight or with the soot-rich lantern,
you see the globe's pate free of any bio,
you see she hides nothing, unlike the latter.
There they are, blueberry-laden forests,
rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon
or the towns in whose soggy phone books
you are starring no longer; father eastward surge on
brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing
in tall sedge; the cheeckbones get yellower
as they turn numerous. And still farther east, steam
dreadnoughts or cruisers,
and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.


MotherPie said...

The pic of the bluebonnets is the best part of the post ;)

J. K. Gayle said...

Urania graces even Texas. Thanks for noticing, Motherpie!