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« Hello Johnny! from Don Juan Canto I, CXXIII [by Lord Byron] | Main | WEDNESDAYS WITH DENISE: July 19, 2023 »

July 19, 2023


from Mayakovsky's How Verses are Made:
In about 1913, when I was returning from Saratov to Moscow, so as to prove my devotion to a certain female companion, I told her that I was 'not a man, but a cloud in trousers'. When I'd said it, I immediately thought it could be used in a poem; but what if it should at once circulate in conversation and be squandered to no avail? Terribly worried, I put leading questions to the girl for half an hour, and calmed down only when I was quite sure that my words were going in one ear and out the other.
Two years later I needed 'a cloud in trousers' for the title of a long poem.
For two days I pondered words to describe the tenderness a lonely man feels for his only love.
How will he cherish and love her?
On the third night I went to bed with a headache, and hadn't thought up anything. During the night the formulation came:
Your body
I shall cherish and love
As a soldier Crippled by war Useless
Belonging to no one Cherishes his one leg.
I leapt out of bed half-awake. By the dim light of a burnt-down match I wrote on a cigarette packet 'his one leg' and went to sleep. In the morning I puzzled for about two hours over that 'his one leg' written on my cigarette packet; I wondered how it had got there.

Great translation. The poem is still so full of life.

Thanks for quoting Mayakovsky on the orign of the title, Alan. Just great! And thank you, Terence.

Mayakovsky's masterpiece, so incredibly modern and exciting. Pulsating translation! Thank you, David. And thank you, Alan, for the valuable story about the poem's writing.

By the way, George Balanchine (with his own infatuations) liked to refer to himself as "a cloud in trousers."

O.K., I super love this. From this moment on, it's my favorite love poem -- I mean, the guy's in earnest! Or, so I'd thought -- I'd read that the object of his affection never did warm up to him. He just wasn't her type. Poor Mayakovsky. But the account in the post above suggests it was more of an exercise. What to believe? Uncertain, especially considering that some poets lie, or so Plato maintained. And went around complaining about it...

An essential new translation! Brings to mind Frank O'Hara's poem "Mayakovsky," with these lines that I copied into a notebook decades ago:

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Words! be
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,

and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which at best is only a talent
for poetry.

Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embrace a cloud,
but when I soared
it rained.

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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