And what could you do? (А вы могли бы?) Vladimir Mayakovsky

Vladimir_Mayakovsky_1924

Now for a challenge… This was written in 1913, when Mayakovsky was nineteen, and already forging the path of futurism. Does it mean anything? I’m tempted to think he’s taking the piss out of artistic pretension, but it’s anyone’s guess, really. I may be wrong to translate “скулы” as “prows” – it usually means “cheekbones”. But it can mean a section of the bow of a ship, so it seemed to fit with “ocean”. But it’s a dangerous game to suppose Mayakovsky meant anything. Here’s a recording of the poet reading the poem.

A chart of living daubed I, quickly,
the paint from jam jar did I splatter;
I fingered plate of aspic, sickly
with curving prows through ocean water.
In scale of pickled herringed letter –
a proclamation from new lips.
And you
a nocturne could
you master
on flute contrived from gutter’s strips?

:::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Я сразу смазал карту будня,
плеснувши краску из стакана;
я показал на блюде студня
косые скулы океана.
На чешуе жестяной рыбы
прочел я зовы новых губ.
А вы
ноктюрн сыграть
могли бы
на флейте водосточных труб?

Translation by Rupert Moreton

6 thoughts on “And what could you do? (А вы могли бы?) Vladimir Mayakovsky

  1. I’m a bit torn as to whether косые is better translated as “curving” or “crooked”. Usually it means the latter, but that somewhat jars with prows.

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