In My Giant City


This Tsvetaeva poem is very popular, and several English translations exist. Some of these translations do a great job communicating the literal, while others do not. But none of them seem to keep alive Tsvetaeva’s rhythm. This poem is about a dream, and its rhythm is a rocking, slow lullaby. So I undertook this translation with an emphasis on creating a dreamlike effect—both with the choice of vocabulary and with the m-dashes deliberately copied from the Russian (and which most translations omit)

В Огромном Городе Моем

Марина Цветаева

В огромном городе моем -- ночь.

Из дома сонного иду -- прочь.

И люди думают: жена, дочь, --

А я запомнила одно: ночь.

Июльский ветер мне метет -- путь,

И где-то музыка в окне -- чуть.

Ах, нынче ветру до зари -- дуть

Сквозь стенки тонкие груди -- в грудь.

Есть черный тополь, и в окне -- свет,

И звон на башне, и в руке -- цвет,

И шаг вот этот -- никому -- вслед,

И тень вот эта, а меня -- нет.

Огни -- как нити золотых бус,

Ночного листика во рту -- вкус.

Освободите от дневных уз,

Друзья, поймите, что я вам -- снюсь.

In My Giant City

Marina Tsvetaeva

In my giant city, it’s—night.

From my sleepy home I take—flight.

And the people, they think “Daughter,” “Wife,”—

But all I remember’s one thing: night.

Summer winds sweep my pathway—out,

From some far window music plays—soft.

Till the dawn I'll let the breezes—waft

Penetrate into my thin chest’s—walls.

There’s a plane tree, in a window—glow,

Bells are ringing, what a color—show,[1]

Step by step I go in noone’s—tow,

There’s a shadow, but am I there? No.

Streetlights stretch like strings of golden—beads,

Mouth full of the taste of nighttime—leaves.

From my daytime cares I must be—freed,

Friends, please know that I am just your—dream.

[1] This part was tricky going: The line literally reads “Ringing in the tower, in my hand a flower.” It’s a nice rhyme in English all by itself, but it just kills the rhythm of the rest of the poem. But interestingly, Tsvetaeva here uses the abbreviated form of the word “Tsvetok” (“Flower”)—simply “Tsvet” (this is also what gives the poetess her surname). But Tsvet also means “color!” So I seized on this opportunity to put in the word “color show.” I feel that this decision adds to the dreamlike effect of the piece, which is precisely what I was trying to convey.