In the beginning, the world started spinning – a disk that accreted from void.
Creator’s intentions produced more dimensions, each lest the last be destroyed.
And out of affinity strode masculinity, clutching his logos referral,
But deep in his core lurked a maiden, a whore, a temptress, a mother, a girl.
Then Adam knew Eve… well, he thought that he did… and that was original sin.
But when Cain and Abel were sat at the table, his judgements seemed petty and thin.
Playing the martyr’s a total non-starter when round such routines she runs rings!
What is this insanity? Everything’s vanity! Woman is the measure of all things!
The gods liked to toy with Helen of Troy, whose visage launched thirty contingents.
The judgement of Paris was heard on Solaris, albeit with many infringements.
And Hera sat on Ida with Athena there beside her; when Aphrodite was vindicated she rose.
But the Oath of Tyndareus exonerated Menelaus, thus launching the epoch of heroes.
Well, then Hector fought Achilles and Odysseus in series, but in the end they dragged his corpse around the walls;
With old Agamemnon leading them again on and on till at last his fate befalls
Each, who merits his portion of outrageous fortune, indignities, arrows and slings:
It’s all part of the plan, but he’s only a man – and woman is the measure of all things!
The bee’s knees, Alcibiades, in Plato’s book Protagoras
Was shown to please old Socrates, whose elenctic can still stagger us.
But all those Archimedes greedies looking to lever the Earth
Still need a fulcrum to rest it upon – when all they have is its dearth.
Nobody can know the Heraclitus flow, who never steps into it twice:
Everything slides and nothing abides – and knowledge is never precise.
Man only knows the ebbs and the flows to which his identity clings:
For he’s not the same man and it’s not the same river – and woman is the measure of all things!
Then Aristotle went full-throttle into full-blown academia.
At a nearby clinic, Diogenes the Cynic diagnosed him with schizophrenia.
But Alexander wouldn’t pander to a fear of his own dark shadow;
After breaking his steed, he stood in great need of self-knowledge – a failure, a saddo?
Then, proceeding as taught, he did as he ought, according to Delphian principle:
Dragged the old sybil out by the nipple till she screamed “My son, you’re invincible!
With your banner unfurled, you may conquer the world – it ain’t over till Pythia sings
That life is the school, love is the teacher – and woman is the measure of all things!”
That diamond geezer, Julius Caesar, had a scene with Cleopatra.
In the palace, he unsheathed his phallus, while the eunuch Ganymedes tried to capture
His fleet, but was forced to retreat, while Alexandria, still besieged, burned.
After the Battle of the Nile, he tarried a while, then returned
To Rome, the place he called home, to await his doom in the Senate
At the Ides of March. Thus, we recall the indispensable tenet:
When back to Egypt his mother Caesarion brings,
It all becomes clear, I fear, that woman is the measure of all things.
Jesus Christ had a tryst with Mary Magdalene.
Those who knew this wandering Jew could never quite explain
Just how he was able to turn the table on all hypocritical sinners,
But then, at a loss, he was nailed to a cross: this game of life sure has no winners.
As thunderclouds loomed, he adopted a spread-eagle pose
And, pondering death, exhaled his last breath and arose…
Who’ll square the circle in this murk’ll be the king of kings –
But in the land of the blind, the deaf don’t mind if woman is the measure of all things.
It was easy for Leonardo to bring his masterpiece to fruition;
Harder for Galileo to go square up against the Roman Inquisition.
Truth falls like two cannonballs straight from the top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa
And Michelangelo’s David was wholly created in the shadow of the Mona Lisa.
Logical proof is offensive to truth – who can say how the heliocentre moves?
And the anthropic principle is clearly evincible for he whom the calculus proves
That the puppeteer need never fear when jerking on his strings –
Vitruvian man does what he can… but woman is the measure of all things!
Immanuel Kant had a rant, producing a moral monstrosity.
With his golden rule, he started to drool, forgetting about reciprocity.
In a season of reason, he promised perpetual peace,
Where pleasure in measure to ethics could only increase.
He continued like that, from his conjuror’s hat, a sequence of white rabbits
To produce, and from them to deduce, based on his own clocklike habits,
A constructed reality, lame like an amputee, where eternal springs
Of hope elope with cash for rope, but woman’s not the measure of all things!
Napoleon Bonaparte practised the art of loving his wife, Josephine.
His “ne te laves pas, en trois jours je reviens” ‘s still thought to be somewhat obscene.
He wrote: “I have been endowed with a nature that is proud, but I still place you above me;
In your alluring case, out of gossamer and lace – have you really ceased to love me…?”
Then, in despair, in search of an heir, he wed Marie Louise for her womb,
Who cried: “He’s a bit of a tyrant, but not when alone in his room.
He’s only a temporary emperor, but [sigh] love gives him wings…
Let him conquer the globe, but take off his robe… and woman is the measure of such things!”
Karl Marx made some remarks about dialectical materialism.
For Lenin, well, that was capital, but the ultimate stage is imperialism.
And, despite such brains, some doubt remains concerning what to do about that:
Что делать? Как быть? Куда бежать? Кто виноват?
And while the Mao effect demands respect for a single blooming flower,
Only the totally corrupt could ever dare to interrupt the prerogative of absolute power,
Cutting closer to the bone to get blood out of a stone – the last drop that he wrings…
But it’s all in vain and demonstrably insane – because woman is the measure of all things!
Albert Einstein began to shine, making e equal to m c squared.
Putting theory into practice, his conjugals seem tactless, but I doubt he really cared
That their mothers were sisters and grandfathers brothers – relativity should be kept in the family!
Elsa, like Monroe, was a sapiosexual ho. Giving him brain, albeit somewhat clammily,
Was objectively sexier than a troupe of virgin nuns with anorexia, but I don’t mean to make light
Of his depravity; to equate specific gravity with absolute momentum is quite right.
And now Higgs has chosen the boson, along with quarks and superstrings…
But why is there something rather than nothing? Because woman is the measure of all things!
It’s getting rather hard to be a global village bard amidst all of these overlapping framings,
Trying from the start to perform a minor part within linguistic Wittgensteinian gamings.
And the nebulous assumption that per capita consumption has any kind of bearing on autonomy
Has impuberal misconduct as the gross domestic product of an ailing low attention span economy.
And I don’t like to mention the blank incomprehension that greets attempts to re-enchant the world –
Just put it into storage while you try to pay the mortgage and never pause to think how we’ve been hurled
Into these bum trades, while unicorns and mermaids cleave to deep affairs and shallow flings.
It’s all been said before, just another kind of war… and woman’s still the measure of all things.
Now Assange rots in Belmarsh prison pending extradition with nobody to come and go his bail;
And many a sordid sex scene’s relived by Jeffrey Epstein, who may or may not have killed himself in jail;
And whether Greta Thunberg’s financed by Michael Bloomberg or Soros himself appears beside the point,
While the orgulous accusers of Satanic sex abusers for prurient viewers rarely disappoint.
And the wombs of Muslim wives are being weaponised in an ongoing war against absurdity,
Bequeathing to posterity an heirloom of austerity downloaded from the web of postmodernity.
Now the dog and bone are long since overgrown, just like the one for whom the iPhone rings –
It rings for me to the approximate degree that woman is the measure of all things!
The Trees in the Forest
All living trees have strategies
Some try to spread their canopies
To overarch the other trees,
Deprive them of their light.
Others may be more astute
They try to bore a deeper root
Into the soil, or bear a fruit
In which the birds delight.
You told me that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees
Couldn’t hear the birdsong for the rustling of the leaves
Couldn’t smell the flowers for the price I paid the florist
Can you see the trees for the forest?
But overarching canopies
Can limit what each tree species
Achieves in terms of strategies
To combat storm or drought.
With energies and boundaries,
All trees give rise to harmonies
That maximise for each species
The aptitude to sprout.
You told me that I couldn’t see the forest for the trees
Couldn’t hear the birdsong for the rustling of the leaves
Couldn’t smell the flowers for the price I paid the florist
But can you see the trees for the forest?
Just like sunlight onto leaves,
I don’t quite like to mention –
It’s the giver who receives:
I’m being paid for my attention.
This Particular Entanglement
Since at birth we were not strangled
And by chance became entangled,
All that matters is our energy
To realise possibility.
In general, everything falls:
States have borders, cells have walls;
Confusion reigns; disorder increases;
All must dance to fate’s caprices…
But this is a particular case
For our limited human race;
And, though this quality is rare,
I can be certain that you care
Whether I’m up or down, left or right.
Keep on journeying into the light –
For you have too lovely a soul
To let it fall into a black hole.
You and I defy such gravity
And don’t think it depravity
To store some salt on dry shelves.
Then, should we find ourselves
At opposite ends of the universe,
It’s a blessing, not a curse,
To have no significant interactions
With sundry invested factions,
Being entangled in this world
Into which we’ve both been hurled.
And, although there may be others –
As with fathers, sons and brothers,
Mothers, sisters, daughters –
I can feel you in my waters…
Though never stepping twice,
The feeling’s quite precise
And absolutely real;
This sensation that I feel;
From your equal and opposite spin,
I know exactly the state you’re in.
This particular entanglement
Can convert our angular
Momentum into linear,
Our paths becoming skinnier;
With you, I’m eternally at home
Somewhere in the glome.
And this spooky action at a distance
Can combine with the insistence
That you’re mine and I’m yours;
That, together, in what nature abhors,
We’ll pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps
Until the inevitable wave-function collapse.
You shall make this year holy,
Proclaim pandemic liberty;
All must bow down and worship me!
Who can disagree?
Each vagabond and refugee
Returning to his family
To occupy his property
And ponder jubilee.
Slaves and prisoners set free,
All debts erased from memory,
Each grace-and-favour tenancy
Disposed without a fee.
From each, to his ability,
Who populates this colony;
The trend repeated globally –
This lovely jubilee.
But, lacking the propensity
To live in close community,
The working class and bourgeoisie
Could not but disagree.
All coming under scrutiny,
We’re drowning in hypocrisy,
Increasing in intensity,
In spite of jubilee.
Then leaders, ruling by decree,
Who were not able to foresee
The scope of herd immunity,
Provide a guarantee.
To nationalise each company
And gild the jubilee.
But everyone turned out to be,
As usual, much too cowardly
To reach potentiality
And turn the master key.
Norms of herd morality
Applying, all too humanly,
The principle of me, me, me…
And that’s no jubilee!
Breakthroughs in technology
And crowd-control psychology
With eyeball-tracking constantly
To see what we can see.
The subsequent economy
Is based on the commodity
Of focused attentivity
In aid of jubilee.
Not quantity, but quality –
The strains of sacred melody
Combine in perfect harmony
To form the base of “we”.
But imprecative blasphemy
From Gomorrah and Sodomy
Rang out in animosity
To taint the jubilee.
Further than the eye can see,
With yields increasing constantly,
Despair: to be or not to be –
I’m counting: one, two, three…
But there’s no sense of urgency;
We live in modest luxury
To face the bare contingency
Of holy jubilee.
Those born in the last century
Are buried in the cemetery
Or ashes from the crematory
Scattered out at sea.
Assures the lasting legacy
Of long-conjoined humanity
In lovely jubilee.
The hurdles are formidable;
Solutions aren’t affordable;
Conflict unavoidable –
Nothing is dependable.
The fact that we’re expendable
Still strikes me as incredible –
To lunar gods we’re edible
And action seems impossible.
We are not delusional!
Our actions are provisional –
Based on the empirical,
But verging on the lyrical.
Brains may be material,
But minds can be ethereal
And no one is intentional
Whose motives are conventional.
This Rubicon is crossable!
Our love song is translatable;
Emotions are transferable…
Our history is tragical
But passion fruit is magical
If feelings are reciprocal –
Though God may be satirical…
Our love is not respectable
But you are so delectable!
And I’m somewhat susceptible
To see you as collectable…
Since secrets aren’t perceptible,
Let alone deductible,
And hearts not indestructible –
Just tell me what’s acceptable!
I hope we don’t get comfortable;
We can be TOO compatible –
And we are so excitable!
Hearts are more hospitable
When nothing is immutable:
Mine is not inscrutable,
Its proofs not irrefutable.
Our actions are regrettable
And lives are less than portable;
That isn’t unpredictable.
And, though paths inadvisable
And thoroughly unsuitable
At times may seem intractable,
I’m adaptable – to you.
How I miss my happiness! I walk beside the precipice,
Wearing my world weariness with holiness and queasiness:
Uneasiness, unsteadiness and painful solitariness;
Creativeness, destructiveness and ever-present drunkenness.
I look to see my happiness out strolling with my cleverness –
Clinging to his arm, my former carelessness and coziness –
His cockiness contrasting with my emptiness and helplessness:
His sturdiness – my recklessness; his righteousness – my foolishness.
My happiness is otherness; her sacredness with suddenness
And callousness deprived me of my steadfastness and usefulness:
My tenderness, responsiveness, now banished to the wilderness;
My youthfulness and truthfulness increasing in their weightlessness.
In frankness, she’s slap-happiness, possessiveness and crappiness,
Just hopefulness in harness hauling heinous arbitrariness.
Her fastness and assertiveness in time become vindictiveness;
Her gracefulness – my loneliness; her beingness – my nothingness!
The Law of Noncontradiction
Although people say I’m a bit of a one, to tango or foxtrot takes two.
Still, having the same sense at the same time, both of us cannot be true.
For a state to willingly give up its sovereignty, that would be gross dereliction:
On behalf of the crown, I therefore lay down the law of noncontradiction.
For every system that’s sufficiently expressive, there’s a provable – or not – proposition:
If I’m right, then you’re wrong – that’s the dialectic that structures our personal mission.
But all analytic statements are somewhat tautologous: is it a fact or a fiction?
I don’t care what you say if you don’t disobey my law of noncontradiction.
In violating each other’s identities thus, we find ourselves in a situation.
We run to extremes, excluding the middle, to obviate equivocation.
We aim to be justified, strive to always proceed from a moral conviction:
Though blissful, such ignorance is no defence against the law of noncontradiction.
If ‘fire’ and ‘not fire’ are thought to be equal, the thinker’s subjected to burning.
Since feasting and fasting are one and the same, the student through hunger is learning.
We’re all of a surety lacking security, all of us facing eviction,
But on my high horse, I still have to enforce the law of noncontradiction.
Like the self-amputation of a broad-snouted caiman undergoing a caudal autotomy,
Or the diachronic change in a epileptic’s brain following a frontal lobotomy,
Dividing into two antagonistic parts results in a vasoconstriction:
Permission dispensed to go up against the law of noncontradiction.
We are and are not what is now or to come, in a constant and fixed state of flux:
Though the road up and down are one and the same, both entail the giving of fucks.
Our action consists in the mills and the grists to work up the requisite friction
To provide an explanation of each and every violation of the law of noncontradiction.
The one that is and ever must be is a truth that is always immutable;
The other that’s not – and must always not be – is a path that is wholly inscrutable;
For you cannot know what is not, or is so, to refute my despondent prediction:
All that’s desired must be paid for as required by the law of noncontradiction.
Respect things that are in the sense that they are, preserving the ship and the treasure.
Show all proper deference when making reference to that of which man is the measure.
Take on this handyman to feed the biters, all due to his excellent diction:
The collection of rent is ninety percent of the law of noncontradiction.
It’s both mutually exclusive and jointly exhaustive, now that I’m giving the flag salute,
But everything must be absolutely relativised in order to relate to the absolute.
Elenctic negation results in stagnation, all due to a chronic addiction
To think yourself better than the spirit or letter of the law of noncontradiction.
Restricting reaction in the same part or relation, a utopian state is thus frozen;
At the same time, on the contrary, somehow, must always an action be chosen.
To be fixed like a hero on the frieze of the Parthenon’s to suffer a grievous affliction:
Till the day that I die, I’ll never comply with the law of noncontradiction.
I want you as much, even more than myself,
All due to magnetic attraction. On the Arctic Shelf,
My moral compass gets confused in your toroidal field,
In which a motive power is revealed!
You are my lodestone, divulging my true north;
Though dipolarity ensures, in setting forth,
Increasing with distance, reduction in plasma:
Reflexive patterning of anomalous phantasma!
You and I are poles apart, yet grafted at the hip;
With your declination, I have been known to flip!
Then, with reversal of polarity, compulsion.
In wanting what we cannot have, allure becomes repulsion!
This closed, repeating loop back makes my soul annoyed,
Like the ghost of Michael Faraday haunting Sigmund Freud,
Or how a dipole moment begets external fields
In which some new attraction is concealed!
In this magnetic moment, powered by bosons,
Positron resonance generates photons,
Producing either heat or light, whose redux
Help us find a happy medium in a constant state of flux!
I will survive
I will survive. The words make up the phrase
Sung by Gloria Gaynor to a tearful crowd of gays
In sad self-isolation. I’ll call a spade a spade.
The barman’s calling time on this identity parade…
I feel the longing of the lone long-distance lover,
Though, when it comes to sentiment, I keep it undercover.
My life matters… at least, to me… but why?
Who wills survives to will again… but who am I?
At breakneck speed, my form depends on vigorous mutation,
Cytoplasmic inheritance blown on constant replication,
At rates of reproduction, where the fastest is the slowest,
I infect my hosts, but only whose resistance is the lowest;
I’ll get my protein coat, I’m leaving, all these sad farewells…
I cannot live in freedom, spend my time locked up in cells,
Parasitically depend on that of which I’m most desirous:
I’m a virus.
Constructed by colonials to prove their reign of terror,
Bounded by my neighbour, whom I’m doomed to always mirror –
Encroachment, conquest, slavery, revolt, extermination –
Reluctant to assimilate, I combat integration
In these rivers of blood, in which no man steps twice,
I want to play, but don’t want to play nice –
You’ll dominate, I’ll be your bitch, just tell me to my face…
I am a race.
In my urge to penetrate into the secret of the other
I’ll impregnate my sister, lift my hand against my brother –
He, whose sacrifice was pleasing to the Lord,
I’ll end his torment with my perfect sword –
And, wandering the earth, condemned to arbitrary freedom,
I’ll invent bizarre machines to ease my suppurating tedium;
Inhabiting the world since time began…
I am a man.
Receptive, all-embracing, I anticipate deflowering
That my idiot compassion spawn a Mother all-devouring,
Or an icy queen, whose reign entails a thousand years of winter:
I’m Karaba the sorceress, whose spine conceals a splinter,
To be plucked by Kirikou, who ungirds my underbodice,
To bloom into a beautiful and open-hearted goddess;
Embodying in truth exactly half of what is human…
I am a woman.
All history is murderous, for dead men tell no tales.
As a player on this stage, my life expectancy entails
That, in waging war or trade, I give no quarter:
I’ll be pensioned in the form of bricks and mortar;
And, like all such men rewarded for their violence,
I’ll endeavour that my victims rest in silence.
In terms of slave religion, yes, a sinner…
But I’m a winner.
I am the spark of grace that sets the universe ablaze,
Scintillating everywhere until the end of days;
The suffering and pain amongst the human population
Are but food for me; my drink – their rank humiliation.
The older that I get, the more I’m saving up my semen,
Storing vital energy for battling these demons;
While I’m waiting for the angels to arrive,
I will survive.
Rhyming Thomas & the Faery Queen
‘Twas at the breaking of the day
All in a longing as I lay
Her palfrey was a dapple grey,
Her fair hair o’er her head it hung
Her hands they were as white as snow
I lay there to behold that sight
Thomas gladly up he rose
Then answered back that lady bright:
“If thou be held most high in praise
“Ah lady, should’st thou pity me
Down then lit that lady bright
Thomas leapt up with a shout
Then Thomas cried: “Alack! Alas!
But she said: “Thomas, don’t displease,
“Take now your leave of sun and moon,
She led him down at Eildon Hill
They came then to an orchard fair
Thomas reached out with his hand –
She said: “Now Thomas, take not fright
“See ye now yon simple way
“And see ye now yon desolate way
“In faith, True Thomas, there I dwell
“My lord waits in a mighty hall
Said Thomas: “Lady, what delight!
“Indeed, and had it not been so,
Into that hall they boldly went
There was feasting, merry games,
He heard and saw more in that place
“You must make haste your ways to wend
She took him out at Eildon hill
Томас Рифмач и Королева эльфов
На листьях капельки росы
Раскинув руки я лежал,
Сверкает жемчугом седло,
Завороженный я смотрел,
И даже гончих быстрый бег
Своей догадкой потрясён,
Томас быстро побежал,
– Томас, ты не угадал,
– Уж если королева ты,
– О, Королева, я клянусь,
По телу пробежала дрожь,
Томас крикнул от испуга –
Томас крикнул: – Боже мой!
– Ну что ты, Томас, перестань,
Прощайся с солнцем и луной,
За ней от Элдонских холмов
Они вошли в прекрасный сад:
Томас руку протянул,
Она сказала: – Прислонись
– Есть в жизни всем известный путь
Проклятье вечное ждёт тех,
Там, Честный Томас, я живу.
Мой Лорд, в кругу своих солдат,
Сказал он: – Леди, я так рад!
– Меня б он проклял навсегда,
Они уверенно вошли
Веселье, танцы, пир горой,
Он столько повидал всего,
– Семь лет назад, но как вчера,
И вновь на Элдонском холме
Modern English version adapted from four Middle English manuscripts by Thomas Beavitt ©2014. Russian verse translation by Michael Feigin ©2015
На смерть Байрона (1824)
О чем средь ужасов войны
Чему на шатком троне рад
Рыдая, вкруг его кипит
Царица гордая морей!
Из океана своего
Исчезнут порты в тьме времен,
Британец дряхлый поздних лет
Он всё под солнцем разгадал,
Когда он кончил юный век
On the death of Byron (1824)
Amidst war’s horrors, what, alas,
To which, though perched on shaky throne,
Lamenting, all around him boils
Oh, proud czarina of the waves!
Out of the timeless ocean,
As harbours lapse in depths of time
A weary British wanderer
And ponder all beneath the sun,
While youthful peers their fortunes seek,
On the death of Byron by Kondraty Ryleyev. Translated by Thomas Beavitt ©2020
This translation was sponsored by Bella Evloeva
«Герой», Александр Пушкин
Что есть истина?
Да, слава в прихотях вольна.
Все он, все он — пришлец сей бранный,
Когда ж твой ум он поражает
Нет, не у счастия на лоне
Мечты поэта —
Да будет проклят правды свет,
Hero by Alexander Pushkin
What is the truth?
Fame’s lustre is as fancy free
To him of all – that scornful stranger,
So, when your mind thus blithely reckons
It’s not amongst his bosom kindred;
A poet’s cant –
We think the truth is what we know
Hero by Alexander Pushkin. Translated by Thomas Beavitt ©2020
This translation was sponsored by Bella Evloeva
A ten minute snapshot of global history, politics and philosophy, it’s an ambitious and sprawling piece confidently presented by Beavitt and his collaborators.
I imagine Tommy with a wry smile on his face as he performs his impressive, wordy tour of the historic hot-spots with what sounds distinctly like his tongue in his cheek.
This spoken word odyssey is brightly backed by inventive, engaging beats from regular collaborator Nikita Nikitin and the whole piece hangs together as a coherent whole.
While it might take a while for it to be regarded as a feminist meisterwerk, it’s surely a provocative call to re-assess the merits of patriarchy.
Sand animation by Moscow artist Ekaterina Sheffer illustrating a contemporary English version of Lermontov’s poem 1831-go IYUNYA 11 DNYA. The poem, translated and recited by global village bard and Ekaterinburg resident Thomas Beavitt, is accompanied by original music specially composed and recorded by young Urals musicians Andrey Bokovikov and Nikita Nikitin.
Written at the age of seventeen, 1831-go IYUNYA 11 DNYA is one of Lermontov’s most metaphysical lyrical works. According to G.E. Gorlanov, the poem “stands out against the rest of Lermontov’s work in terms of its philosophical significance”, with some stanzas having “programmatic applicability for creativity per se”. In its concentration of the young poet’s worldview, the poem paints a vivid picture of the inner life of an individual set against the grandeur of the Caucasian mountains and Eurasian steppe.
The poem is remarkable for its early concentration of the poet’s prophetic powers. In it, he quite accurately depicts his own violent death in a duel nine years later at the age of 26. Even more remarkably, in also predicting his own literary afterlife, Lermontov explicitly relates to us, his contemporary 21st century audience – like the boy in the second last stanza, “drawn here, he knows not why, to sit a while and meditate alone, pondering my fate upon this stone”.
Beavitt’s translation was originally commissioned for Maxim Privezentsev’s documentary film “The Scottish Wind of Lermontov”. Intrigued by the rhythmic possibilities of the text, as well as its prophetic and philosophical content, the translator then worked with two talented young musicians from Ekaterinburg’s Conservatoire to produce a soundtrack to accompany its recital. The result is a lush, almost symphonic accompaniment to the spoken word performance, which refers to diverse influences including classical music and contemporary rap at the same time as opening a rich musical space that closely corresponds to the poem’s content.
The project was given its visual dimension by the celebrated sand artist Ekaterina Sheffer, who uses the expressive medium to capture many striking images drawn from Lermontov’s life and work. Sheffer, who has ancestral connections with the Lermontov family, is strongly associated with the famous poet’s work, having presented her sand art creations on Lermontovian themes in Beijing last year, as well as at a special Lermontov festival in Pyatigorsk this year, which was attended by Chinese and Scottish delegations.
The film is also accompanied by Russian subtitles of the original poem.
A few months ago at the “Sail of Destiny” festival in Pyatigorsk, Thomas Beavitt gave this impromptu performance of Lermontov’s Смерть поэта (The Bard is Dead!), which was composed on the occasion of the death of Lermontov’s idol Pushkin in a duel.
The poem is important not only as a contemporaneous record of the strength of popular feeling at this pivotal moment in Russian literary history, but also in the sense that it prefigured Lermontov’s own senseless death, also in a duel, at the hands of his former comrade Martynov on 27th July 1841.
The extreme controversy generated by Смерть поэта would result in Lermontov’s immediate elevation to literary prominence and his banishment to the Caucasus following the personal intervention of Tsar Nicholas I and interrogation by Count Alexander Benckendorff, the head of secret police.
Lermontov’s death several years later in Pyatigorsk can be seen as a direct result of this controversy and banishment. Nicholas is said, on hearing the news, to have remarked: “The dog has died a dog’s death!” – although his attitude may have softened, since he later added: “The one who could have taken Pushkin’s place is dead.”
The musical version of the poem, performed here on the 178th anniversary of Lermontov’s death close to the place where he slept his last night, is Beavitt’s own composition. It was the first time he performed it in public in the original Russian entirely from memory. Audience members include a Scottish delegation (Lermontov had Scottish ancestors) and several contemporary members of the Lermontov bloodline.
Video shot and edited by Dmitry Perednya
Beavitt’s English translation of the poem is as follows:
The Bard is Dead!
The bard is dead! – conscience of our age –
Felled by lies and foul canard,
Lead-choked chest that bursts with rage
And lifts, at last, the proud regard
Of one whose soul could not consent
To yield to mean indignity,
Who railed against this world and went
Alone to face eternity!
Eternity! Spare your crocodile tears…
Your empty praise – a surplus choir,
A token of your petty fears:
The order came from much, much higher!
Was it not you who cruelly mocked
The music from his golden lyre,
For entertainment, did concoct
A little, sly, tormenting fire?
Well? Enjoy the show… he burned
Until he could no longer stand beneath
But puttered out, expunged, and earned
His wilted laurel wreath.
His vicious killer, unbelieving,
Dealt the blow, gave not an inch:
Empty heart beat, cool and even;
Gun-hand did not flinch.
Occidental, quelle surprise!
Bequeathed to us by will of fate,
His wealth and rank to cultivate,
Like hundreds of such refugees.
The native customs of our land
Dismissed in terms derogatory;
Ridiculed our national glory;
Misconstrued this blood-soaked story;
And with that he raised his hand!…
And so he was slain and his body taken,
Like the nightingale, whose dulcet songs awaken
The envy and resentment of the deaf.
Exalted them till all tunes were forsaken,
Dumfounded, as was he, by the callous hand of death.
Why, from calm obscurity and artless geniality,
Did he step into the light, the glaring, harsh reality,
To sate a heart of free and ardent passion?
Why did he ever give his hand to rogues and fake princesses?
Why did he never countermand the false words and caresses?
He, who, from an early age, discerned life’s meagre ration…
And so, replacing with a crown of thorns, his wreath,
Intertwined with laurel, they thus contrived – and how! –
Clandestine needles sticking in beneath
That pricked his glorious brow,
Embittering his final hours with stress
And the subtle whispering of cretins…
And so he died – with vain thoughts of redress,
The intimate annoyance of mislaid expectations.
The mellifluous tones of our tragic nation
No more to be pealed
As, taking up his cramped accommodation,
The singer’s lips were sealed.
And you, O arrogant descendants
In whom are amplified the faults of your ancestors,
With slavish heels that trample on the fragments
Isn’t it a jolly game for their malign successors!
A greedy crowd with drooling, gaping maw,
Vapid executioners of freedom, wit and glory!
Cowards, taking refuge in the law,
For you, is truth and justice just a story?
But there is a sacred court, O intimates of vice!
There is an awful trial: there He sits and waits;
There’ll be no church bells chiming to entice;
Thoughts and deeds already known behind those final gates…
Then in vain will you recall the time before the flood,
With hearts already hard:
For you will never wash away the blood,
The righteous blood of the bard!