The Ratcatcher: A Lyrical Satire

The Ratcatcher: A Lyrical Satire

by Marina Tsvetaeva, Antony Wood
     
 

The Ratcatcher, Marina Tsvetaeva's masterpiece, is a satirical version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend in the form of a complex narrative poem that bears all the marks of Tsvetaeva's poetic style. Written in 1926, it was not available in Russia until 1965, and has hitherto been virtually unknown in English.
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Overview

The Ratcatcher, Marina Tsvetaeva's masterpiece, is a satirical version of the Pied Piper of Hamelin legend in the form of a complex narrative poem that bears all the marks of Tsvetaeva's poetic style. Written in 1926, it was not available in Russia until 1965, and has hitherto been virtually unknown in English.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780810118164
Publisher:
Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
09/28/2000
Series:
European Poetry Classics Series
Edition description:
1
Pages:
123
Product dimensions:
5.38(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.60(d)

Related Subjects

Read an Excerpt




Chapter One


Canto 1 Hamlin Town


Very old the town of Hamlin.
Meek in speech and strict in act.
Staunch in big as well as small things.
Splendid little town in fact.

When the Comet was predicted
Hamlin slept throughout the night.
Stoutly built, so clean and perfect:
Touchingly, it's rather like

(I wouldn't touch him with a barge-pole!)
Him — the mayor, the Burgomaster.

Tailoring isn't expensive in Hamlin:
There's only one manner of dressing.
Living isn't expensive in Hamlin,
And everyone dies with a blessing.

Tenpence a carcase; a jugful of cream —
Five; and cheeses, mostly,
Go for a penny. Just one, it would seem,
Of Hamlin's wares is costly:

Sin.

Inquire
Of some old sire:
`Dear means rare.'

No pretty girls letting down their hair,
No one in debt, and thirst

Never means more than a mug of beer.
Take gold or blood from your purse

If it's sin you're purchasing. Those who've slept
Five decades — fifty years!—
Together upon one bed (the dears)
Carry on sleeping. 'Sweat,

Decay: we've shared it.' Grass or mattress —
What's the difference?

(Lord preserve me from sleeping even
Five years on one bed — I'd as soon
Hire myself out as a petdog'sgroom!)
Well, their souls are in Heaven.

A thought, an epiphany:
What if
They haven't any?

Hands — to squeeze sixpences out of pence,
Feet — just in case of a debtor.
But why have a soul? In what possible sense
Would a soul be anything better

Than futile things like a clarinet,
Or hammock, or basket of mignonette?

There isn't a single (write this down)
Clarinet in Hamlin.
There isn't a single soul to be found
There — but what bodies, upstanding

Solid ones! A concrete post
Is worth any amount of ghost.

They'll put on airs- then, gorgeous flowers,
To the ground! George, bow down!
`We, the burghers of Hamlin Town ...' —
That has a proud sound!

Schoolboys, remember the ancient saw:
`Set eyes on Hamlin — and live no more!'

Juri and Rührei and rühr uns nicht
An
(which means: don't touch us!) —
What a mélange. And their eyes so fixed
Downward? Not shame so much as

Thrift: keep looking and all of a sudden
You'll find a trouser button!

Pause for a rest here, reader. 'Lies,
Author, you're pulling wool over our eyes!
In this Eldorado, whose
Buttons would ever come loose?'

Beggars': — tramps all filthy and sodden,
Bringing diseases into the bedroom —

Vagrants': calamities thick and fast,
Life as a free ride!
No native beggars in Hamlin — just
One in the past, who died.

His skinny corpse was interred some way
Off from where paunchier corpses lay:

Thus did the Pastor in masterly manner
Decree — for not all deserve a hosanna.
The fat will never forgive the thin
One rag or trouser button. The thing

(He said) we have got to realise
Is that buttons should not be trivialised.

(A Short Diversion about the Button)

Button: holder up of the pattern
Of orderly living. Sober: buttoned.
Button! Shame of the primal Adam!
Death to underwear fashion and freedom.

Buttons to burghers: as tufts to Bulbas,
Or as the bellybutton to Buddha.

Into the mud — if you drop a button —
Go law and order. So, profligate,
Don't lose your button! It's all we've got
To redeem the error of ancient Adam,

This figgish thing. For the leaf of yore
('Mensch, wo bist du ...?') was nothing more

Than the prototype ('Bin nackt: I'm bared,
Nothing on, that's why I'm scared') —
The very embryo and germ
Of a button: a button's platonic form!

This is the Button — (hear,
Naked stomach!) idea:

It tells who belong to Satan's horde
And who are the sheep of the Lord:
For God's children's buttons are all done up,
While those of the goat are not.

If you're akin to an angel, man,
Button up as tight as you can
.

Phantoms — aren't they? — looming by night,
Pouring out from Bedlams;
Beggars and rhymesters and genius-types,
Miscellaneous Schumanns,

Convicts ... There isn't the slightest doubt:
Better without your head than without

Your button. Sansculottes! Barefoots!
From Pugachov up to — Saint-Just?
For if a button's a trifle
What, gentlemen, is vital?
A button means for the State what a pound
Sterling means for the belly, firm ground

For the tree. When it's gone, you're exposed, it's
Mutiny! Looting! Murder!
Be very glad, then, mother,
If your babe has a button nose, it's

Proof of his goodness.
(Whereas my Russky
Is clearly hooknosed.

He's one of us, see.)

* * *

A stop to this buttonesque nonsense, Muse!
Enough bobtailed truths!
Buttons won't save us from revolution:
They'll all tear loose!

If you're kin to a demon—
Bard, undo them!

* * *

(Here the Ode to the Button ends and the narrative is
resumed.)

Rows of vegetables,
the morals
Laudable, the cellars
Full —

For Hamlin Town is
Heavenly Town, it's

God's delight,
Brisk and bright,
Town of those who're
In the right ...

Buttons to burghers: as tufts to Bulbas,
Or as the bellybutton to Buddha.

Into the mud — if you drop a button —
Go law and order. So, profligate,
Don't lose your button! It's all we've got
To redeem the error of ancient Adam,

This figgish thing. For the leaf of yore
('Mensch, mo bist du ...?') was nothing more

Than the prototype ('Bin nackt: I'm bared,
Nothing on, that's why I'm scared') —
The very embryo and germ
Of a button: a button's platonic form!

This is the Button- (hear,
Naked stomach!) idea:

It tells who belong to Satan's horde
And who are the sheep of the Lord:
For God's children's buttons are all done up,
While those of the goat are not.

If you're akin to an angel, man,
Button up as tight as you can.

Phantoms — aren't they? — looming by night,
Pouring out from Bedlams;
Beggars and rhymesters and genius-types,
Miscellaneous Schumanns,

Convicts ... There isn't the slightest doubt:
Better without your head than without

Your button. Sansculottes! Barefoots!
From Pugachov up to — Saint-Just?
For if a button's a trifle
What, gentlemen, is vital?
A button means for the State what a pound
Sterling means for the belly, firm ground

For the tree. When it's gone, you're exposed, it's
Mutiny! Looting! Murder!
Be very glad, then, mother,
If your babe has a button nose, it's

Proof of his goodness.
(Whereas my Russky
Is clearly hooknosed.

He's one of us, see.)

* * *

A stop to this buttonesque nonsense, Muse!
Enough bobtailed truths!
Buttons won't save us from revolution:
They'll all tear loose!

If you're kin to a demon —
Bard, undo them!

* * *

(Here the Ode to the Button ends and the narrative is
resumed.)

Rows of vegetables,
the morals
Laudable, the cellars
Full —

For Hamlin Town is
Heavenly Town, it's

God's delight,
Brisk and bright,
Town of those who're
In the right ...

For it's Heaven-Town,
    it's Haven-Town,
      it's Very-well-behaving-Town,
It's Buy-in-advance-and-take-care-Town,
    it's Everyone's-getting-his-share-Town.

No-guessing-Town:
Everything's clear.
Habit-Town, a blessing
Just to be there

In Heaven-Town,
That level town,

Loathed by the devil,
God's fond
Back-of-beyond ...

A capital town for the Mayers and the Schmidts,
With everyone bowing to the powerful and rich.

Paradise.
Sweet as spice.
Not one person
Dreams of arson.
Abel-Town.
Such a stable town.

So you who're neither
Cold nor hot,
It's Go-there-Town
For you tepid lot —

To Ermine-Town
(No-vermine-Town),
Goodnight-Town,
Sleep-tight-Town.

First watch!
First watch!
End of the day — fasten the latch!
Is the cat let in? Is the dog let out?
First call on the night round.

Masters, unharness your serving-men!
Leisure, shake out your pipe's last spark!
Leave the lathe, working-men!
`Morgen ist auch ein Tag'.

Ten to ten!
Ten to ten!
Plug up your ears with cotton-wool!
Pile up your text-books ready for school!
If you intend to thrive,
Set the alarm for five.

Salesman, put away that chalk,
Housewife, put away that sock,
Turn back the sheet, it's dark:
`Morgen ist auch ein Tag.'

Ten o'clock!
Ten o'clock!
Not a whisper more!
Is the bolt drawn through? Is the key in the door?
Third call — as before.

Close the Bible, Father, come!
Tie, good wife, your bonnet on!
Husband, your nightcap onto your head!
`Morgen ist auch ein ...'
      Hark!
All Hamlin's gone to bed.

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What People are saying about this

Boris Pasternak
If I had not read The Ratcatcher, I should have been more at ease . . . with my path of compromise. . . . No praise is high enough for the miracle that it is.
— (Boris Pasternak to Marina Tsvetaeva, June 1926 )
D S. Mirsky
Not merely . . . a verbal structure astounding in its richness and shapeliness, but also a serious 'political' (in the widest sense) and ethical satire.

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