Die lieflike ruïnes van Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky

Wanneer dit kom by die kwessie van ontheemding en hoe dít ‘n totale digkuns kan voed, is Joseph Brodsky (1940 – 1996) sekerlik een van die vernaamste voorbeelde. Synde gebore in Rusland, uitgewekene en Amerikaanse burger, dog begrawe in Venesië, was dié Nobelpryswenner ‘n wêreldburger in die ekstreme en hiervan getuig sy uitgebreide oeuvre eweneens; iets wat pertinent aan die bod gebring word in Lev Loseff se biografie Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Biography, wat onlangs verskyn het. (Loseff is ‘n digter in eie reg en was ook ‘n jarelange vriend van Brodsky.)

Nietemin, ‘n interessante vertelling sentreer rondom die feit dat dit so lank geneem het vir die poësieliefhebbers in die Weste om Brodsky as groot digter te erken, terwyl hy in Rusland van sy eerste verse af reeds as ‘n genie beskou is en dit deur niemand minder as Anna Akhmatova nie. Volgens Loseff was dit vry algemeen vir jong digters om “pelgrimstogte” met blomme, geskenkies en gedigte na Akhmatova te onderneem; so ook vir Brodsky. Ek haal aan: “When he was 21 years old, for instance, he was introduced to Anna Akhmatova, the tragic heroine of 20th-century Russian poetry. […] Such “pilgrimages” to Akhmatova were common for young writers, who would arrive “bearing flowers and notebooks full of poetry.” Unsurprisingly, the encounter made a deep impression on Brodsky: “I suddenly realized-you know, somehow the veil suddenly lifts-just who or rather just what I was dealing with.” What is more surprising is that Akhmatova, then 72 years old, immediately accepted Brodsky as an equal: ‘Iosif, you and I know every rhyme in the Russian language,’ she told him. In 1965, after reading a poem of Brodsky’s, she wrote in her diary: ‘Either I know nothing at all or this is genius.’

Volgens Loseff is dié (aanvanklike) miskenning in die Weste daaraan toe te skryf dat Russies besonder moeilik na Engels vertaal; daarom dat Brodsky later sy eie vertalings behartig het: “Yet few English readers have been really satisfied with Brodsky’s own translations. His desire to make them is understandable-by turning himself into an American poet, after a fashion, he was saved from the obscurity and resentment that is the usual lot of the literary émigré. But he never became a master of English, in the way that, say, Vladimir Nabokov did. Indeed, Brodsky in English remains, all too often, wrenched, unidiomatic, and unmusical. The genius of the Russian poet can be intuited-you can sense it in Brodsky’s intellectual range, bold metaphors, and rhetorical flow-but not really experienced.” En dan haal hy die Amerikaanse digter, Robert Hass aan wat glo gesê het om Brodsky se gedigte te lees is “like wandering through the ruins of a noble building.”

Ten slotte ietsie oor Brodsky se Joodsheid, waaroor hy die volgende te sê gehad het: “I’m a Jew. One hundred percent. You can’t be more Jewish than I am.” Maar, soos Loseff dit stel, was dié verwantskap nie bepalend tot Brodsky se digterskap nie: “His essential identity, as he created it in his poems and essays, was universalist and cosmopolitan. Its key ingredients were the Russian language, European art and literature, and classical history: […] He seems to belong to the noble tradition of Jewish writers who, emancipated or severed from Jewishness, became universal humanists.”

En so is Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Biography‘n besonderse oorsig van ‘n besonderse digterskap, inderdaad. Op die Joodse webtuiste Tablet Magazine kan ‘n resensie oor dié biografie gelees word. Maar, waarskynlik meer insiggewend, is die Paris Review-onderhoud wat Sven Birkets in Desember 1979 met Brodsky gevoer het.

Vir jou leesplesier volg Brodsky se gedig “May 24, 1980” onder aan vanoggend se Nuuswekker.


Gister is die beloofde essay deur Jan Deloof toe geplaas. Sy relaas van die korrespondensie met Peter Blum en poging tot vertaling van “Oor monnemente gepraat” vind ek besonder informatief en ja, ook vermaaklik. Van Desmond Painter sowel as Eben Venter is nuwe blogs geplaas. Desmond skryf oor die Brasiliaanse digter Manuel Bandeira, terwyl Eben dit weer het oor ‘n Rus wat met alle mag ‘n karakter in sy volgende roman wil wees. By Wisselkaarten het Edwin Fagel die tweede stukkie vermaaklikheid geplaas oor Poëzie-Inspekteur Jansen, die man van PIK, of te wel: Poëzie Insepctie Kadaster.

Ten slotte is daar in hul onderskeie verskamers nuwe gedigte deur Piet van Rooyen en Joan Hambidge om te geniet.

Nuuswekker hervat weer Maandag.

Mooi bly.



May 24, 1980


I have braved, for want of wild beasts, steel cages,
carved my term and nickname on bunks and rafters,
lived by the sea, flashed aces in an oasis,
dined with the-devil-knows-whom, in tails, on truffles.
From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world, the earthly
width. Twice have drowned, thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.
Quit the country the bore and nursed me.
Those who forgot me would make a city.
I have waded the steppes that saw yelling Huns in saddles,
worn the clothes nowadays back in fashion in every quarter,
planted rye, tarred the roofs of pigsties and stables,
guzzled everything save dry water.
I’ve admitted the sentries’ third eye into my wet and foul
dreams. Munched the bread of exile; it’s stale and warty.
Granted my lungs all sounds except the howl;
switched to a whisper. Now I am forty.
What should I say about my life? That it’s long and abhors transparence.
Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelet, though, makes me vomit.
Yet until brown clay has been rammed down my larynx,
only gratitude will be gushing from it.


© Joseph Brodsky



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Een Kommentaar op “Die lieflike ruïnes van Joseph Brodsky”

  1. Marlise :

    Van Russiese digters gepraat: ‘n Besondere en lywige antologie van Russiese vrouedigters spesifiek (sedert 1980) wat ek geweldig geniet het om te lees (en nog steeds natuurlik!) is An Anthology of contemporary Russian women poets, edited by Valentina Polukhina and Daniel Weissbort.(2005) Dit maak eenvoudig ‘n totale ander Russiese landskap vir die leser oop & ek dink hierdie vertalings is uitstekend in soverre ek kon agterkom – die gevoel wat ek kry met die lees daarvan is dat dit oorspronklike Engelse verse is. Een van die vertalers is onder meer die bekende skrywer en digter, Elaine Feinstein.
    Hier ‘n gedeelte uit ‘n resensie op die internet:
    “This project has been painstakingly researched and passionately compiled, with the work of over 800 writers having been considered. The editors give space to a huge arc of work and although concentration is focused on those who are referred to as the ‘middle generation’, the writers who have lived through social and political change, there is also representation from both the earlier and more recent poets.

    The inclusion of dissidents, such as Bella Akhmadulina, is worthy of comment. In the opening poem, ‘In the Bodkin Hospital’, Akhmadulina describes the hopelessness of contemplating the scientific mysteries of her brain.

    this crown of flesh, this mystery of juncture
    lives close beside, but sealed off from my life:
    like sharing a vestibule, perhaps, with some shy scholar,
    who greets you as you pass, but with dropped eyes.

    She conjures up a sense of detachment and yet a feeling also of a close relationship to that from which she is detached. This extended contradiction cleverly bears witness to the poet’s dilemma while also alluding to her understanding of the nature of Russian citizenship at the time.

    Writers in the collection born after 1970 are those who have received least attention outside Russia, yet they are also some of the most vibrant. Olga Zondberg’s work is both invigorating and full of hope:

    There are people, writers,
    who have written everything down,
    noughts and crosses
    instead of digital facsimiles

    As well as exploring the breadth of writing from pre- and post-Soviet Russia, we are also made aware of writers from outside those locales traditionally associated with Russian poetry, namely Moscow and Petersburg. From Siberia to Vladivostok, including writers born in Russia as well as those who have moved to Russia, and also those now living as far away as Israel, America and throughout Western Europe, no area is left unexamined.

    As with any collection of such magnitude, it is ridiculous not to note that some possible authors have been left behind. Indeed, in the introduction we are informed of those who rejected their invitations to appear. Others whose work was considered inappropriate for translation were also not included.

    In spite of this, the words ‘authority’ and ‘seminal’ certainly spring to mind when I regard the collection. The editors even include ‘an indispensable biography of primary resources’ for those who want to read further in terms of related literary theory and feminist criticism. I would recommend this publication to anyone who is looking for a rich and varied treat, alongside those who want to delve specifically into this previously overlooked area of literature, though I would warn that the scale of the project means that this is not a book for readers who are faint-hearted. “

    (Bron: Kate North, The North, issue 37, 8th December 2005)