Duke of Wellington? Hmmm…

Last week, when I went to London, I visited Apsley House,  also known as Number One, London. It is the London townhouse of the Dukes of Wellington and, although it is now a museum, the 8th Duke still uses some of it as a residence.

Apsley_House

 

Of, course it is dedicated to the life of the first Duke, the one who defeated Napoleon, and is full of treasures and mementos, as well as enormous amount of art, which was collected by the Duke.

Two things were especially interesting for me.

One is on a serious note: I haven’t realized just HOW famous and celebrated the Duke of Wellington was. Literally, the whole Europe bowed to him and loved him for the freedom he bestowed on it by beating Napoleon.

The second one is on the humorous side and I encountered it when I went out from the museum to the Hyde Park. There, just opposite Apsley House, stood a monument. From afar it looks just like one of many other statures.

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But when I came nearer I found out that it is actually Wellington’s! Seriously!

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Now, compare:

Wellington

Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington

and this

 

wellington statue

What was it – flattery?

I found it incredibly funny – depicting a XIX century Georgian man (albeit a great one) as a Greek warrior!

 

 

That’s why I love Rochester… Especially in spring

My neighboring city of Rochester (Kent, England 🙂 ), which I can see in all it’s glory from my bedroom window, is over 2000 years old.

It is bustling with life, holds many festivals (most notable 2 Dickens Festivals and the Sweeps (Morris dancing). I love going there from time to time, to stroll along  it’s streets at leisure, admiring it’s hundreds’ years old stone buildings and every time finding a little treasure I have missed last time. 

Rochester is especially lovely in spring, I think, when it’s grey stone ancient buildings are accentuated by bright blossom of every colour and size, from tiny yellow flower at the bottom of the castle wall to these magnificent cherry trees.

Near the Cathedral

Near the Cathedral

Rochester2

Rochester1

Rochester, I love you! 

Ballet + Poetry + Art = ?

I adore ballet. Not that I am an expert – far from it! – but when I watch it it touches something in my heart… the combination of wonderful music, beautiful dancing and admiration for the great talent of the dancers and their enormously hard work – all this makes ballet an enchanted spectacle for me.

I have written about my love for poetry already, but then it doesn’t need any explanation anyway.

Now, I lam a sucker for old photos! Honestly, I can spend hours looking at them. What were these people (who are long since dead) thinking at that particular moment of taking that photo? Were they happy, sad, preoccupied, carefree? What was going on in their lives? Old photos are irresistible!

And now – what if we combine all three? 

Look:

And there… ethereal… resplendent,

Poised to the magic bow attendant, 

A throng of nymphs her guardian band, 

 Istomina* takes up her stand. 

One foot upon the ground she places,

 And then the other slowly twirls, 

  And now she leaps! And now she whirls!

Like down from Eol’s lips she races; 

Then spins and twists and stops to beat 

Her rapid, dazzling, dancing feet. 

The greatest russian poet Alexander Pushkin dedicated this little abstract from a poem to a great XIX century ballerina Evdokia Istomina whom he admired.

But recently I stumbled upon some photographs of Tamara Karsavina, one of the greatest Russian ballerinas 

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kar 3

kar 4

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As soon as I saw these photos I thought about Pushkin’s poem!

It was said about her: “Karsavina is like the dancing flame,  in the light and shadows of which the warm bliss lives … her dancing  is like gentle tones and drawings of  an ethereal pastel”

I think it is the case when the “ballet + poetry + art (of photography)” = magic.

Marina Tsvetaeva – one of the greatest Russian poets

I love poetry. Often at night just before falling asleep I inwardly recite my favourite poems  and the last poem I can’t stop thinking about led me to writing this post about  a great Russian poet MARINA TSVETAEVA.

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She was a remarkable woman with a strange and tragic life.

Her life started fairly well. Perhaps it makes what happened to her later in life all the more dreadful…

Marina Tsvetaeva was born in 1892 in Moscow. Her father was a professor of Fine Art at the University of Moscow (he later founded the Alexander III Museum (known from 1937 as the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts). So, she and her siblings grew up in a cultured atmosphere and could enjoy literature, music and art from the early age.

Marina spent a lot of her life abroad. When she was 14, her mother got ill and the family went to Switzerland. There, away from the rigid constraints of a bourgeois Muscovite life, Tsvetaeva was able for the first time to run free, climb cliffs, and vent her imagination in childhood games. There Marina was sent to school and, because her family traveled a lot, she learned  the Italian, French, and German languages. She gave up the strict musical studies that her mother had imposed and turned to poetry. 

1913

Aged 16, Marina studied literary history at the Sorbonne. During this time, a major revolutionary change was occurring within Russian poetry: the bloom of the Symbolist Movement, and this movement was to colour most of her later work. Her first book of poetry was published when she was 18 and was very well received and appraised by the leading Russian poets.

1915

Marina in 1915

 

In the house of one of them (Maximilian Voloshin) Marina met her future husband, also a poet, Sergei Efron.

Sergei Efron

Sergei Efron

They fell in love and got married. She was 19, he was 18.

marina and segei

 

Tsvetaeva and her husband spent summers in the Crimea until the revolution, and had two daughters: Ariadna and Irina. I do so believe that they were happy together at that time, because all this was about to change…

When the WW I started, in 1914, Efron volunteered for the front.  In 1917 the Russian revolution erupted. Marina was a close witness of it and rejected it straight away. On trains, she came into contact with ordinary Russian people and was shocked by the mood of anger and violence. After the 1917 Revolution, Efron joined the White Army (in opposition to the Revolution) and Marina returned to Moscow hoping to be reunited with her husband. She was trapped in Moscow for five years, where there was a terrible famine.

God, I can’t even imagine, what she had to endure!

tsvetaeva-photo-1

Starvation and worry were to erode her looks. With no immediate family to turn to, she had no way to support herself or her daughters. In 1919, she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Ariadna became ill, and Marina took her away, but Irina died there of starvation… Her child’s death caused Tsvetaeva great grief and regret. In one letter, she wrote, “God punished me”..

In 1922, Marina and her survived daughter left the Soviet Union and were reunited with Efron in Berlin. For years and years in emigration Marina and her family lived in  poverty trying hard to earn their living…  But she was a poet! I think poets are especially vulnerable and sensitive, so it had to be additionally hard for Marina not only in the material sense but emotionally too… During this time her son Georgy was born.

marina and g=her beloved son Georgy

Marina and her beloved son Georgy

They were still together (just) with her husband but getting further and further apart, though they would say that they loved each other till the rest of his days.

In 1925, the family settled in Paris, where they would live for the next 14 years. Marina did not feel at all at home in Paris’s  ex-bourgeois circle of Russian émigré writers. Although she had written passionately pro-“White” poems during the Revolution, her fellow émigrés thought that she was insufficiently anti-Soviet, and that her criticism of the Soviet régime was altogether too hazy. She was increasingly unhappy. Poor Marina! She couldn’t find peace and/or happiness and she resented her exiled state deeply.

Marina_Tsvetaeva

Meanwhile, Sergei Efron was developing Soviet sympathies and was homesick for the Soviet Union. Eventually, he began working for the NKVD (the forerunner of the KGB). Perhaps, he was trying to score some points in order to persuade the Soviet Government to forget his “White Army” years and convince them of his new loyalty? Who knows… Their daughter shared his views, and increasingly turned against her mother. In 1937, she returned to the Soviet Union. Later that year, Efron too had to return to USSR. Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

WWII made Europe as unsafe and hostile as USSR. Marina wanted to be with her family and in 1939, she and her son returned to Moscow. It was to be the biggest mistake in her life.

In Stalin’s USSR, anyone who had lived abroad was a suspect, as was anyone who had been among the intelligentsia before the Revolution. Marina’s sister had been arrested before Marina’s return; although Anastasia survived the Stalin years, the sisters never saw each other again. Tsvetaeva found that all doors had closed to her. She got bits of work translating poetry, but otherwise the established Soviet writers refused to help her, and chose to ignore her situation,  fearful for their life and position.

Efron and their daughter were arrested for espionage. You know what? The daughter’s fiance was actually the KGB agent who had been assigned to spy on the family. How cynical was that?!  Efron was shot in 1941; the daughter served over eight years in prison. 

Now we are coming to the most tragic times…

marina

In 1941, Marina and her son were evacuated to a small provincial town about 1000 km away from Moscow.  She had no work and no means to feed her son and herself. She actually  applied to the Soviet of Literature Fund asking for a job at the  canteen!

On 31 August 1941 Marina hanged herself. She was 48 years old…

 She left a note for her son: “Forgive me, but to go on would be worse. I am gravely ill, this is not me anymore. I love you passionately. Do understand that I could not live anymore. Tell Papa and Alya, if you ever see them, that I loved them to the last moment and explain to them that I found myself in a trap.”

There have always been rumours that Tsvetaeva’s death was not suicide. On the day of her death she was home alone and it is alleged that NKVD agents came to her house and forced her to commit suicide. But it was never proved. And what does it matter? Life and suffering of one of the greatest Russian poets came to an end.

Marina was buried in the local cemetery, but the exact location of her grave remains unknown. No trace is left of her on this earth.

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Сenotaph to Marina Tsvetaeva in the place where she would be buried.

Now the poem I started my story with. Marina’s poetry is so diverse and she wrote both rhymed and blank verse poems and this particular one is of the latter kind. It was written in 1916

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I would like to live with you

In a small town,

Where there is eternal twilight

And everlasting toll of bells.

And in a small wooden hotel –

Delicate tinkling

Of the old clock – like tiny drops of time.

And sometimes in the evening from some mansard –

A sound of flute

And the flutist’s silhouette in the window.

And perhaps you wouldn’t even love me…

In the middle of the room – a huge tiled stove,

On each tile – a picture:

A rose – a heart – a ship.

And in the only window –

Snow, snow, snow.

You would be lying – how I love you:

Lazy, aloof, carefree.

From time to time a sharp crack of a match.

You cigarette  burns and goes out,

And for a very long time

A short grey column of ash trembles on its end.

You are too lazy to even shake it off –

And the whole cigarette flies into the fire.

 

PS: Sorry for unprofessional translation