June 30, 2015

Arseny Tarkovsky

Arseny Tarkovsky [USSR / Russia]


Born on June 25, 1907 in the Ukranian city of Elisavetgrad (now Kirovoohrad) to a bank clerk, Aleksander, who was also a revolutionary and amateur actor. In 1921 he and several friends published an acrostic poem about Lenin, and the group was arrested and sent to Nikolayev for execution. Only Tarkovsky escaped.

     In 1923 Tarkovsky moved to Mosscow, where he would live for much of the rest of his life, where he worked as a newspaper journalist for the railroad workers, Gudok. There he established an editorial section dedicated to verse. 
     From 1925-1929 the young poet studied at a Moscow university, a student for some time of the playwright Ivan Karpenko-Kary. By the late 1930s he had become a noted scholar and translator of several languages, including Turkmen, Georgian, Armenian, and Arabic, publishing poetry by Abu'l-Ala-Al-Ma'arri, Nizami, Magtymguly, Kemine, Sayat-Nova, Vazha-Pshavela, Adam Mickiewicz, Mollanepes, and Grigol Orbeliani.
     During the Second World War, Tarkovsky served as a war correspondent for the Soviet Army publication Battle Alarm. Seriously wounded in the War, Tarkovsky developed gangrene in his leg and had to undergo six different amputations. He received the Order the Red Star for valor.
     Living through that experience, the poet came to write some of his most well-known poems. His first book was scheduled to be published in 1946 but with the attack of Anddrei Zhdanov against major Soviet writers such as Anna Akhmatova and Mikhail Zoshcenko, the book was abandoned. Indeed, although known as one of the most important poets of the period, Tarkovsky was unable to publish a collection until Before Snow in 1962, when Tarkovsky  was 55. That book and the rise of his son, the filmmaker Andrei, brought him international acclaim.
      Yet among his peers Tarkovsky had developed a remarkable reputation. As Akhmatova described him in a later interview, “he was the one ‘real poet’ in the Soviet Union. And as the critic Yuri Kublanovsky wrote in his introduction to the complete works of Tarkovsky in Russian:

                Tarkovsky managed to keep his creative mind un-
                damaged and free. What I mean, of course, is not
                just freedom from propaganda, but also the principal
                freedom, inner freedom, the one defined by Blok was
                the secret freedom of humanity. Somehow he never
                succumbed to the temptation of pleasing—not only
                the criminal authorities, but also to a more subtle
                temptation of pleasing the reading public—of tuning,
                half-consciously, while writing, to their demands.

Many poets and critics have seen Tarkovsky’s work as a continuation of translators Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev have described as Mandelstam’s “poetic and cultural surgery.”
     Tarkovsky died on May 27, 1989 in Moscow.


Перед снегом (Before snow) (1962); Земле земное (To Earth Its Own) (1966); Вестник  (Messenger) (1969); Стихотворения (Poems) (1974);Зимний день (Winter Day) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1980); Избранное (Selected works) (1982); Стихи разных лет (Poems of different years) (Moscow: Izd-vo “Sovremennik,” 1983) [compilation of early verse]; От юности до старости (From Youth to Old Age) (Moscow: Sovetskii pisatel, 1987); Благословенный Свет (The Blessed Light) (1993 -posthumously)


Richard McKane (trans.) Poems (Emscotet Lawn, Warwick, England: Grnville Press, 1992); Virginia Rounding (trans.) Life, Life: Selected Poems (Crescent Moon Press, 2007); Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev (trans.) I Burned at the Feast: Selected Poems of Arseny Tarkovsky (Cleveland, Ohio: Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2015) 

For a poem, “On a Bank,” published in English in The New York Review of Books, click below:

For another selection of poems in English, go here:

For the poem, “First Dates,” also appearing in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film The Mirror, go here:


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