Art Beck. Three Poems.
"Odysseus and the Sirens" Anciernt Greek vase. British Museum.
Art Beck. Three Poems.

From The Insistent Island*


He slept with her because, as Hermes warned, it
was too dangerous not to. And then, again and
again for a year, because she was a slow, warm

dark tide in a golden August sea. They
went from “Your face looks like a god’s
when you come” to “It’s your flawed humanity

I love”, to “You’re flawed”. Every bit as much
as summer, winter has its reasons. He left
when it was too dangerous not to.


Он спал с ней, ибо научил Гермес, что
отказываться было б пагубно. И вновь, и
снова весь год тонул в ее приливе тёплом

и медленном златого моря августа. От
“Твое лицо божественно, когда ты
кончаешь” прошли они до “Слабость человека

люблю в тебе” и до “Ты слаб”. Свои резоны
есть у зимы, как и у лета. Он ушел,
когда остаться было б пагубно.

* * *

The Sirens

What surprised him – so helpless and expectant –
was that the sound was something else than sound.
A sense of sunlight in the ear, a fragrance
that could only be heard and then a wing
and the utter joy of flight. As much beyond music
as harmony transcends speech. A heartleap
into a resonance so god-like he suddenly
knew what it was the gods worshipped.
And all this from the tonsils of three
wretched crones who sang as mindlessly as
spiders weave. Hunger is treacherous.


Дивился он — встревожен, беззащитен —
тому, что звук не звук был, а иное что-то.
Будто в ухе луч солнца, благоуханье,
лишь слуху доступное, окрыленность и
восторг полета. Выше музыки настолько,
насколько выше речи музыка. В сердце
такое божественное эхо зазвенело,
что вдруг он понял, что́ самим богам — святыня.
И все это — из миндалин трех жалких
старух, поющих так бездумно, как паук
плетет тенета. Голод — вещь коварная.

* * *


She said she wanted Odysseus for a husband.
Her father was willing to arrange a marriage.
But really, it was something more primal, more

hazardous to that peaceable realm. All
that year, puzzled, amnesiac moods
kept invading her. “Where was I before

I was here? How did I get here?”
This puny island at the edge of boring nowhere.
An ambitionless people, so unfond of conflict

and weapons, that they purposely
settled in a spot no one really cared about.
Petty traders, bribers of their enemies: the women

wove, the men – danced! Not a hero or poet among
them. “Was this why I was born?”

Every night, their little banquet. Her jowled, kinglet
daddy, his simple minded cow of a queen. Chewing
their stupid food, munching like stolid mules.

When the thirteen year old darling chasing her
errant ball almost crashed into the brine covered
castaway, all sinew and hunger, standing there

like some glittering Achilles in the morning sun,
and he asked – “Are you human or divine, young lady?” –
he was the sudden answer to her own brooding question:

“Who am I, who are these people? What did they do
with my real mother, my real father?


Сказала, что хочет в мужья Одиссея.
Отец и рад был устроить женитьбу.
Но дело-то было глубже, опасней

для безмятежного этого мира. Весь
тот год захлестывали ее волны
смятенья, беспамятства. “Где была я,

до того, как попала сюда? Как попала?”
Жалкий островок на краю пустого места.
Негордый народец, воевать не склонный

и бряцать оружьем до того, что нарочно
поселились в месте, никому не нужном.
Торговать по мелочи, врагов умасливать: жены

ткут, мужья — пляшут! Ни героя, ни поэта
средь них. “Не затем ли и рождена я?”

Ежевечерний пирок их. Папаша, скуластый
царек, и простушка-царица, корова. Жуют
свою глупую жвачку, как мулы безмозглые.

Когда за мячом укатившимся тринадцатилетняя
девчонка едва не влетела в просоленного,
изголодавшегося, жилы да кости, изгоя,

сиявшего неким Ахиллом в лучах рассвета,
спросил он: “Ты богиня иль смертная, дева?” —
ответом внезапным к вопросу, что так ее мучил:

“Кто я? Кто эти люди? Что они сделали
с настоящим отцом моим, с матерью настоящей?”



* The Insistent Island is a hybrid work, neither essay nor translation, but a poetic response to the myriad incarnations of The Odyssey; particularly Samuel Butler’s prose translation as lodged in Beck’s memory via a 1980s audiobook rendition. The poems were written over some thirty years, finding their synergy unplanned and unexpected.

Translated into Russian by Dmitri Manin

About the Author:

Art Beck
Art Beck
San Francisco, USA
Art Beck’s most recent book, Etudes: A Rilke Recital was a finalist in the 2021 Northern California Book Awards for Poetry Translation. His Angel Rain: Selected Poems 1977- 2020 is forthcoming from Shanti Arts Publishing.  His Opera Omnia or, a Duet for Sitar and Trombone — versions of the sixth-century CE North African Roman poet Luxorius, published by Otis Books — won the 2013 Northern California Book Award for translated poetry. Mea Roma, a 130-some poem “meditative sampling” of Martial’s epigrams was published by Shearsman Books in 2018. The Insistent Island, an Odyssey-themed original poetry chapbook, was published by Paul Vangelisti’s Magra Books in 2019. From 2009 through 2012, he was a twice yearly contributor to Rattle with a series of essays on translating poetry under the byline The Impertinent Duet.

About the Translator:

Dmitri Manin
Dmitri Manin
California, USA

Dmitry Manin is a physicist, programmer, and translator of poetry. His translations from English and French into Russian have appeared in several book collections. His latest work is a complete translation of Ted Hughes’ “Crow” (Jaromír Hladík Press, 2020) and Allen Ginsberg’s “The Howl, Kaddish and Other Poems” (Podpisnie Izdaniya, 2021). Dmitri’s Russian-to-English translations have been published in journals (Cardinal Points, Delos, The Café Review, Metamorphoses etc) and in Maria Stepanova’s “The Voice Over” (CUP, 2021). In 2017 his translation of a poem by Stepanova won the Compass Award competition.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email
Art Beck Арт Бек
by Gari Light

These English poems by Gari have the same energy and elegance as his Russian poems, and they are enriched by his multilayered, polyphonic use of the English language to express thoughts and feelings with sophistication and humor.

by Marina Tsvetaeva. Translated by Nina Kossman.

This new edition by Shearsman Press (UK) contains translations of Marina Tsvetaeva’s narrative poems (поэмы). They can be seen as markers of various stages in her poetic development, ranging from the early, folk-accented On a Red Steed to the lyrical-confessional Poem of the Mountain and Poem of the End to the more metaphysical later poems, An Attempt at a RoomPoem of the Mountain, a beautiful requiem for Rainer Maria Rilke, New Year’s Greetings, and Poem of the Air, a stirring celebration of Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight and the quest for the soul’s freedom. These translations were first published by Ardis in 1998 and reprinted by Overlook in 2004 and 2009. The current edtion was published by Shearsman Press (UK) in 2021.




Play Video
Poetry Reading in Honor of Brodsky’s 81st Birthday
Length: 1:35:40
Play Video
The Café Review Poetry Reading in Russian and in English
Length: 2:16:23