The poems of the legendary Nobel Laureate, in one volume at last
One of the greatest and grandest advocates of the literary vocation, Joseph Brodsky truly lived his life as a poet, and for it earned eighteen months in an Arctic labor camp, expulsion from his native country, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. Such were one man's wages. Here, collected for the first time, are all the poems he published in English, from his earliest collaborations with Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur, Howard Moss, and Anthony Hecht to the moving farewell poems he wrote near the end of his life. With nearly two hundred poems, several of them never before published in book form, this will be the essential volume of Brodsky's work.
|Publisher:||Farrar, Straus and Giroux|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.45(w) x 8.24(h) x 1.39(d)|
About the Author
Joseph Brodsky (1940-96) came to the United States in 1972, an involuntary exile from the Soviet Union. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and served as Poet Laureate of the United States in 1991 and 1992.
Read an Excerpt
Six Years Later
So long had life together been that now
the second of January fell again
on Tuesday, making her astonished brow
lift like a windshield wiper in the rain,
so that her misty sadness cleared, and showed
a cloudless distance waiting up the road.
So long had life together been that once
the snow began to fall, it seemed unending;
that, lest the flakes should make her eyelids wince,
I'd shield them with my hand, and they, pretending
not to believe that cherishing of eyes,
would beat against my palm like butterflies.
So alien had all novelty become
that sleep's entanglements would put to shame
whatever depths the analysts might plumb;
that when my lips blew out the candle flame,
her lips, fluttering from my shoulder, sought
to join my own, without another thought.
So long had life together been that all
that tattered brood of papered roses went,
and a whole birch grove grew upon the wall,
and we had money, by some accident,
and tonguelike on the sea, for thirty days,
the sunset threatened Turkey with its blaze.
So long had life together been without
books, chairs, utensilsonly that ancient bed
that the triangle, before it came about,
had been aperpendicular, the head
of some acquaintance hovering above
two points which had been coalesced by love.
So long had life together been that she
and I, with our joint shadows, had composed
a double door, a door which, even if we
were lost in work or sleep, was always closed:
somehow its halves were split and we went right
through them into the future, into night.
The provinces are celebrating Christmas.
The Governor-general's mansion is bedecked
with mistletoe, torches smoke by the entrance.
In the lanes the people press and lark around.
A merry, idle, dirty, boisterous
throng crowds in the rear of the mansion.
The Governor-general is ill. He lies
on a couch, wrapped in a shawl from Alcazar,
where he once served, and his thoughts turn
on his wife and on his secretary
receiving guests downstairs in the hall.
He is not really jealous. At this moment
it's more important to him to retire
into his shell of illness, dreams, the deferment of
his transfer to the capital. And since
he knows that freedom is not needed
by the crowd at all to make a public holiday
for this same reason he allows
even his wife to be unfaithful. What would
he think of if ennui attacks
did not plague him? If he loved?
A chilly tremor runs through his shoulders,
he chases these alarming thoughts away.
In the hall the merrymaking subsides
but does not end. Muddled with drink,
the leaders of the tribes stare glassily
into a distance now devoid of enemies.
Their teeth, expressive of their rage,
set in a smile that's like a wheel
held fast by brakesand a servant
is loading them with food. In his sleep
a merchant cries out. Snatches of song are heard.
The Governor-general's wife and secretary
slip out into the garden. And on the wall
the imperial eagle, like a bat, stares down,
having gorged on the Governor-general's liver.
And I, a writer who has seen the world,
who has crossed the equator on an ass,
look out of the window at the hills asleep
and think about the identity of our woes:
the Emperor won't see him, I won't be
seen by my son and Cynthia ... And we,
we here shall perish. Arrogance will not raise
our bitter fate to the level of proof
that we are made in the Creator's image.
The grave will render all alike.
So, if only in our lifetime, let us be various!
For what reason should we rush from the mansion,
we cannot judge our homeland. The sword of justice
will stick fast in our personal disgrace:
the heirs, the power, are in stronger hands ...
How good that vessels are not sailing!
How good that the sea is freezing!
How good that the birds in the clouds
are too frail for such cumbrous frames!
For that, nobody is to blame.
But perhaps our weights will be
proportionate exactly to their voices.
Therefore, let them fly to our homeland.
Therefore, let them yell out to us.
My country ... foreign gentlemen,
visiting Cynthia, are leaning
over the crib like latter-day magi.
The infant slumbers. A star glimmers
like a coal under a cold font.
And the visitors, not touching his head,
replace the halo by an aureole of lies,
and the Virgin Birth by gossip,
by the passing over of the father in silence ...
The mansion empties. The lights on each floor die.
First one, then another. Finally, the last.
And only two windows in the whole palace
are alight: mine, where, with my back to the torchlight,
I watch the moon's disk glide
over the sparsely growing trees, and see
Cynthia, the snow; the Governor-general's, where
he struggles silently all night with his illness
and keeps the fire lit, to see his enemy.
The enemy withdraws. The faint light of day
barely breaking in the world's East,
creeps through the window, straining
to see what is happening within,
and, coming across the remnants of the feast,
falters. But continues on its way.
Autumn in Norenskaia
We return from the field. The wind
clangs buckets upturned,
unbraids the willow fringe,
whistles through boulder piles.
The horses, inflated casks
of ribs trapped between shafts,
snap at the rusted harrows
with gnashing profiles.
A gust combs frostbitten sorrel,
bloats kerchiefs and shawls, searches
up the skirts of old hags, scrolls them
tight up as cabbageheads.
Eyes lowered, hacking out phlegm,
the women scissor their way home,
like cutting along a dull hem,
lurch toward their wooden beds.
Between folds flash the thighs of scissors,
wet eyes blur with the vision
of crabbed little imps that dance on
the farm women's pupils as a shower flings
the semblance of faces against a bare
pane. The furrows fan out in braids
under the harrow. The wind breaks
a chain of crows into shrieking links.
These visions are the final sign
of an inner life that seizes on
any specter to which it feels kin
till the specter scares off for good
at the church bell of a creaking axle,
at the metal rattle of the world as it
lies reversed in a rut of water,
at a starling soaring into cloud.
The sky lowers. The shouldered rake
sees the damp roofs first, staked
out against the ridge of a dark
hill that's just a mound far off.
Three versts still to cover. Rain
lords it over this beaten plain,
and to the crusted boots cling brown
stubborn clods of the native earth.
A second Christmas by the shore
of Pontus, which remains unfrozen.
The Star of Kings above the sharp horizon
of harbor walls. And I can't say for sure
that I can't live without you. As
this paper proves, I do exist: I'm living
enough to gulp my beer, to soil the leaves, and
trample the grass.
Retreating south before winter's assault,
I sit in that café from which we two were
exploded soundlessly into the future
according to the unrelenting law
that happiness can't last. My finger tries
your face on poor man's marble. In the distance,
brocaded nymphs leap through their jerky dances,
flaunting their thighs.
Just what, you godsif this dilating blot,
glimpsed through a murky window, symbolizes
your selves nowwere you trying to advise us?
The future has arrived and it is not
unbearable. Things fall, the fiddler goes,
the music ebbs, and deepening creases
spread over the sea's surface and men's faces.
But no wind blows.
Someday the slowly rising breakers but,
alas, not we, will sweep across this railing,
crest overhead, crush helpless screams, and roll in
to find the spot where you drank wine, took catnaps,
spreading to the sun your wet
thin blouseto batter benches, splinter boardwalks,
and build for future molluscs
a silted bed.
Homage to Yalta
The story to be told below is truthful.
Unfortunately, nowadays it's not
just lies alone but simple truth as well
that needs compelling argument and sound
corroboration. Isn't that a sign
of our arrival in a wholly new
but doleful world? In fact, a proven truth,
to be precise, is not a truth at all
it's just the sum of proofs. But now
what's said is "I agree," not "I believe."
What troubles people in the atom age is
much less than things themselvesthe way they are
constructed. Like a child who clobbers dolly,
then wails on finding the debris inside,
we tend to take what lies in back of this
or that event as nothing less than that
event itself. To which there is a kind
of fascination, inasmuch as things
like motives, attitudes, environment,
et ceteraall this is life. And life
we have been trained to treat as if it were
the object of our logical deductions.
And sometimes all it seems we have to do
is interweave themmotives, attitudes,
environment, and problemsand events
will then take place; a crime, let's say. But no.
It's just an ordinary day out there.
It's drizzling, cars go rushing by. Inside,
a standard-model telephone (a clump
of cathodes, junctions, terminals, resistors)
is resolutely speechless. No event,
alas, takes place. On second thought, thank God.
The matter here described occurred in Yalta.
Of course, I'll make an effort to comply with
the view of truth I mentioned earlier
that is to say, I plan to disembowel
that dolly. But I hope you will forgive
me, gentle reader, if I here and there
append to truth an element of Art,
which, in the last analysis, lies at
the heart of all events (though, to be sure,
a writer's art is not the Art of life,
it only forms a likeness).
of witnesses will follow in the order
in which it was obtained. Herein lies an
example of how truth depends on art,
and not of art's dependence on the truth.
"He telephoned that evening and he said
he wasn't coming. He and I beforehand,
on Tuesday, had agreed that he'd drop by
my place on Saturday. Yes, yes, on Tuesday.
I'd called him and invited him to come.
`On Saturday' is when he said he'd see me.
The purpose? Simply that for quite a while
we'd hoped to sit and analyze together
a problem of Chigorin's. That was all.
Our meeting was to have no other `purpose,'
to use your word. Unless, of course, you choose
to say that wishing to take pleasure in a
congenial person's company amounts to
a purpose. Still, you probably know better ...
As luck would have it, though, he phoned that evening
and said he'd not be coming. What a shame
it was! I really would have liked to see him.
Distraught? Was that the word you used? Oh, no.
He sounded just the same as usual. But
of course, a telephone's a telephone;
although, you know, when you can't see a person
you focus on his voice a bit more sharply.
He didn't sound distraught ... But then, the way
he phrased his words was always somewhat odd.
His speech consisted, on the whole, of pauses
that always made you feel uneasy, since
we ordinarily interpret silence
to mean a person's mind is busy working.
And his, in fact, was nothing but pure silence.
You'd soon begin to get a feeling of
your own dependence on this quietness,
and that would irritate a lot of people.
Oh, no, I knew it had resulted from
his shell shock. Yes, of that I'm very certain.
How else would you explain the fact ... What's that?
That's right, he didn't sound at all distraught. But
of course, that's only judging by his voice.
There is one thing I'll say in any case:
that Saturday and earlier, on Tuesday,
he sounded just the same as usual. So
if something really happened to him then,
it wasn't Saturday, because he called!
That simply doesn't fit distraught behavior!
Take me: when I'm distraught, for instance ... What?
The tenor of our conversation? Gladly.
The moment that I heard the telephone I
was there to pick it up. `Good evening, it
is I; I owe you an apology. For,
as things turn out, I simply won't be able
to come today.' Oh, really? That's a shame.
On Wednesday, maybe? Should I call you up?
Offended? Why, for heaven's sake, of course not!
Until next Wednesday, then? `Good night,' he answered.
That's right, it was at eight or thereabout.
When I hung up I cleared away the dishes
and took the board out. Last time, his advice
had been to try the Queen E-8 maneuver.
An odd and somewhat muddled move it was.
Nonsensical, almost. And not at all in
the spirit of Chigorin. Odd it was,
and senseless. Didn't change a thing, and therefore
it nullified the meaning of the problem.
In any game what matters are results:
a win, a loss, or even if a draw
but nonetheless an outcome. His move, though
it seemed as if it put the pieces in
some doubt about their very own existence.
I sat up with the board till late at night.
Perhaps the game may someday actually
be played like that. As far as I'm concerned,
however ... Sorry, what was that you asked: does
the name mean anything to me? It does.
Five years ago the two of us broke up.
Yes, that's correct: we weren't ever married.
Was he aware of it? Most likely not.
It surely wasn't something she'd have told him.
What's that? This photograph? I'd make a point
of putting it away before he came here.
Oh, no! You needn't be apologetic.
The question is quite natural, and I ...
How was it that I knew about the murder?
I got a call from her that very night.
Now there's a voice that really was distraught!"
Table of Contents
|A Part of Speech||1|
|Six Years Later||3|
|Autumn in Norenskaia||8|
|"A second Christmas by the shore"||10|
|Homage to Yalta||12|
|A Song to No Music||29|
|The End of a Beautiful Era||38|
|I Sit by the Window||46|
|December 24, 1971||53|
|To a Tyrant||55|
|The Funeral of Bobo||56|
|Letters to a Roman Friend||58|
|Odysseus to Telemachus||64|
|"An autumn evening in the modest square"||65|
|In the Lake District||71|
|"The classical ballet, let's say, is beauty's keep"||83|
|On the Death of Zhukov||85|
|The Thames at Chelsea||98|
|A Part of Speech||101|
|Lullaby of Cape Cod||116|
|December in Florence||130|
|Letters from the Ming Dynasty||143|
|The Rustle of Acacias||145|
|Elegy: For Robert Lowell||147|
|Gorbunov and Gorchakov||163|
|May 24, 1980||211|
|To a Friend: In Memoriam||212|
|A Polar Explorer||214|
|Twenty Sonnets to Mary Queen of Scots||226|
|The Berlin Wall Tune||236|
|The Fifth Anniversary||241|
|Polonaise: A Variation||245|
|The New Jules Verne||247|
|Lines on the Winter Campaign, 1980||254|
|Cafe Trieste: San Francisco||257|
|The Hawk's Cry in Autumn||259|
|A Martial Law Carol||271|
|The Bust of Tiberius||282|
|Eclogue IV: Winter||289|
|Eclogue V: Summer||295|
|Venetian Stanzas I||303|
|Venetian Stanzas II||306|
|Variation in V||311|
|Letter to an Archaeologist||312|
|Elegy: "About a year has passed."||319|
|At Carel Willink's Exhibition||333|
|"Slave, Come to My Service!"||336|
|A Footnote to Weather Forecasts||349|
|Star of the Nativity||351|
|In Memory of My Father: Australia||360|
|Epitaph for a Centaur||369|
|North of Delphi||371|
|Postcard from Lisbon||384|
|Fin de Siecle||387|
|Porta San Pancrazio||393|
|View from the Hill||395|
|Homage to Girolamo Marcello||397|
|Elegy: "Sweetheart, losing your looks, go to live in a village"||399|
|Anti-Shenandoah: Two Skits and a Chorus||401|
|Daedalus in Sicily||404|
|Portrait of Tragedy||414|
|Song of Welcome||420|
|Elegy: "Whether you fished me bravely out of the Pacific"||423|
|Homage to Chekhov||428|
|Ischia in October||430|
|In Front of Casa Marcello||435|
|Ode to Concrete||442|
|At the City Dump in Nantucket||443|
|At a Lecture||449|
|In Memory of Clifford Brown||450|
|To My Daughter||452|
|View with a Flood||456|
|Uncollected Poems and Translations||459|
|History of the Twentieth Century: A Roadshow||467|
|Lines for the Winter Recess||488|
|To the President-elect||492|
|Once More by the Potomac||494|
|Cabbage and Carrot||495|
|At the Helmet and Sword||496|
|"I will win you away from every earth, from every sky"||497|
|"Seeing off the beloved ones, I"||498|
|End and Beginning||502|
|Index of titles and first lines||533|