The Bard is not dead! | Жив поэт! is a song cycle composed by Thomas Beavitt around English translations of eight poems written by the Russian poet Mikhail Yuryevitch Lermontov. Intended to be performed by a male singer either to a simple guitar or piano accompaniment or with full orchestra and choir, The Bard is not dead! | Жив поэт! can be performed in either the translated English version or the original Russian texts.
The demo version presented here, recorded in 2019 and 2020 by Andrey Bokovikov, is performed in Russian by Thomas Beavitt and features the voices of Ekaterina Ashrafzyanova, Rusha Grebenschikova and Ekaterina Maltseva.
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.
The first single from the forthcoming concept album ‘Heraclitus Flow’, Vitruvian Woman presents an ironic and irreverent romp through three millennia of western cultural and philosophical history. Starting with the Hebrew myth of creation and original sin, it cheekily guides the listener’s imagination through Greek Homeric prehistory and the Athenian golden age, pausing to note the importance of the presocratic philosophers Heraclitus (“no man steps in the same river twice”) and Protagoras (“man is the measure of all things”), through the Roman empire and Christian nativity, via the Renaissance and so-called “Enlightenment” to the modern era. Taking into account such culturally-significant figures as Napoleon, Einstein and Julian Assange, it nevertheless places each in a context fundamentally conditioned by feminine subjectivity. In the last two verses, the author appears (“it’s getting rather hard to be a global village bard”) to give his own personal account of the postmodern condition.
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 can 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!
©Lyrics written and performed by Thomas Riffmatch to a backing track composed by Nikita Nikitin with backing vocals by Tri Muzy and guest spots feat. Primavera and Katya Ashravzyanova, recorded and produced in Ekaterinburg by Andrey Bokovikov.
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!