"Postcard from Lisbon", de Joseph Brodsky





The TLS, de 22-10-2019


OCTOBER 22, 2019


Poem of the Week: ‘Postcard from Lisbon’

‘Monuments to events that never took place: to bloody / but never waged wars’ – Joseph Brodsky

It is easy to think of Joseph Brodsky (1940–1996) as a poet defined by exile from the Soviet Union, but, in some ways, he lived in exile even before he left.  After his father was removed from the Navy for being Jewish, Brodsky abandoned school in favour of unusual work, including stints as a coroner’s assistant and as part of a geology research team travelling to Central Asia. He attracted the interest of, and then thrived under the close mentorship of the Russian Silver Age poet Anna Akhmatova. Throughout his twenties, however, his vocation as a writer brought him into conflict with the Soviet authorities, leading to his imprisonment in a labour camp. He was “strongly advised” to emigrate in 1972 and he never returned. After moving to the US, Brodsky’s poems were translated into multiple languages, including several times into English – something that he grew to dislike as his control over English, or at least his idiosyncratic “New York English”, increased. He considered these translations too smooth and too rhythmical, wanting his poems in English to reflect the ruggedness of the originals.

“Postcard from Lisbon” (published in the TLS in 1991, translated by Brodsky himself), fulfils this wish with its half-rhymed and intermittently rhythmical lines, which are themselves like the “Monuments to events that never took place” that Brodsky describes in the poem. He suggests that even imagined episodes of history, such as “the discovery / of Infarctica”, or that ideals – “happiness”, “the hand which never fondled money” – can still have real consequences: “never waged wars” can still be “bloody”. Events and images, like the words of the poem’s single unbroken sentence, all build up, waiting to burst the dam, until eventually dreams are able to impose “their chaos / on matter, by dint of the population”.




 Postcard from Lisbon


Monuments to events that never took place: to bloody
but never waged wars; to ardent phrases
swallowed once one’s arrested; to a naked body
fused with conifer, and whose face is
like St Sebastian’s; to aviators
who soared on winged pianos to a cloudy duel;
to the inventor of engines that foiled invaders
using discarded memories as fuel;
to the wives of seafarers bent over one-eyed omelettes;
to voluptuous Justice awaiting suitors
and to carnal Republica; to the comets
that missed this place in their hot pursuit of
infinity – whose features are echoed very
frequently by local vistas (alas, more photo-
genic than habitable); to the discovery
of Infarctica – an unknown quarter
of the afterworld; to the red-tiled seaside
village which dodged the cubist talent
for almost a century; to the suicide
– for unrequited love – of the Tyrant;
to the earthquake greeted by far too many
(say the annals) with cries of “A bargain!”;
to the hand which never fondled money,
not to mention a reproductive organ;
to the green leaf-choirs’ bias against their callous
soloists getting the last ovation;
to happiness; and to dreams which imposed their chaos
on matter, by dint of the population. 



Translated from Russian by the author 


Открытка из Лиссабона

Монументы событиям, никогда не имевшим места:

Несостоявшимся кровопролитным войнам.

Фразам, проглоченным в миг ареста.

Помеси голого тела с хвойным

деревом, давшей Сан-Себастьяна.

Авиаторам, воспарявшим к тучам

посредством крылатого фортепьяно.

Создателю двигателя с горючим

из отходов воспоминаний. Женам

мореплавателей – над блюдом

с одинокой яичницей. Обнаженным

Конституциям. Полногрудым

Независимостям. Кометам,

пролетевшим мимо земли (в погоне

за бесконечностью, чьим приметам

соответствуют эти ландшафты, но не

полностью). Временному соитью

в бороде арестанта идеи власти

и растительности. Открытью

Инфарктики – неизвестной части

того света. Ветреному кубисту

кровель, внемлющему сопрано

телеграфных линий. Самоубийству

от безответной любви Тирана.

Землетрясенью – подчеркивает современник, -

народом встреченному с восторгом.

Руке, никогда не сжимавшей денег,

тем более – детородный орган.

Сумме зеленых листьев, вправе

заранее презирать их разность.

Счастью. Снам, навязавшим яви

за счет населенья свою бессвязность.