The Paradise for Clouds

Vladimir Zakharov

Compiled and edited by S. Muchnick Translated by A. Shafarenko

Vladimir Zakharov. The Paradise for Clouds

This is the first collection of Vladimir Zakharov's poetry to be published in an English translation. The selected works, written over a period of some 40 years, address the predicament of a Renaissance-type intellectual caught up in the modern world and reflect upon the inevitability of death.

All translations in this bilingual book are congruent: that is, they aim to preserve not only the key imagery but also the poetic form of the originals, allowing Anglophone readers to appreciate the works of Vladimir Zakharov on their own terms, complete with the distinctive formal features described in the editor's afterword. A sample translation may give some idea of what is acheved by this approach.

Bibliographic data

The Paradise for Clouds
  • Vladimir Zakharov (author)
  • Slava Muchnick (editor)
  • Alex Shafarenko (translator)
Ancient Purple Translations
Publication date
6 July 2009
Publication place
Godalming, UK
  • ISBN-13: 9780956307507
  • ISBN-10: 0956307507
English, Russian
Physical properties
  • Format: paperback
  • Number of pages: 80
  • Width: 148 mm
  • Height: 210 mm
  • Thickness: 5 mm
  • Weight: 117 g
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Table of contents

  • Preliminary note
  • The Clouds
    • "A God's fool with her pouch on a pathway…"
    • A Russian Folk Tale
    • Theoretical Physicist
    • The Fates
    • Before the Heavens
    • In the Caucasus
    • The Drunk Joiner Lad
    • "I was dispatched in evening light…"
    • "In my home country in another time…"
    • The Other Man
    • "Haphazard, bereft of all neatness…"
    • Terminals of the Future
    • "Herbal crop producing nations…"
    • "When headsman Charles Sansón…"
    • The Pied Piper Revisited
    • "Greetings, my fair Dame…"
    • A Miracle
    • To the Memory of Boris Ryzhy
    • The White Oleanders
    • A Poem about Pure Math
    • Southern Autumn
    • On a Riverboat
    • "I keep remembering what once came to pass…"
  • Endnotes
  • The Dancing Dragon (editor's afterword)
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Information about the author

Vladimir Zakharov is the author of several books of poetry and the winner of two literary prizes; his works regularly appear in prestigious Russian periodicals.

When not writing poetry, he works as a theoretical physicist. In this capacity Zakharov is Regents' Professor at the University of Arizona and a full member of the Russian Academy of Sciences. His scientific awards include the Dirac Medal of the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics. Several equations, theories and effects bear his name. Asteroid 7153 Vladzakharov orbits the Sun every 3.6 years.

Back in 1968 he opposed the invasion of Czechoslovakia at considerable personal risk. When the collapse of the Soviet Union gave him the opportunity to work at top western universities, Zakharov chose to lead – and to help restore to its former standing – the Landau Institute for Theoretical Physics in Russia.

In the words of a fellow scientist, Vladimir Zakharov is "a man in whom the highest intellect meets the greatest passion".

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Excerpts from the editor's afterword

The Russian folklore roots of Zakharov's poetry can almost be overlooked amongst the wealth of inter-cultural references and allusions found in this collection, harking back to Classical, Chinese, Japanese, English and German traditions; to French history; to writings of Shakespeare, Goethe, Longfellow, Nietzsche; to Adam Smith's magnum opus and the Bible. But all these educated embellishments, as well as avoiding the R-word (which occurs only twice in the whole book), are, to a large extent, a smokescreen: it is his native country that Zakharov keeps writing about, and he is at his best when writing about her.

... fluidity is the name of his game. I may personally prefer stricter adherence to tradition in formal verse, but it is impossible to deny the raw beauty of this approach: it feels like a dive into the primeval element of poetry from which the standard forms emerged. But there is more to it than that. ... The author is not nonchalant about form: he confidently commands its whole spectrum. When the form varies within one poem, which happens a lot, these variations are controlled and harmonious. The interplay between meaning and form is a salient feature of Russian poetry, but Zakharov does this in a much more dynamic fashion than any other poet that I am familiar with; this fluid but deliberate treatment of metre and rhyme is a distinctive aspect of his poetic individuality.

[about 'The Drunk Joiner Lad']
There is a quintuple rhyme in the five lines that enumerate what happens as day turns into night: the reader is steadily led to the image from the epigraph which re-emerges to complete this rhyming chain. Such an extended preparation strengthens the eventual revelation but also makes it logical and inevitable: spilling blood is an integral part of the daily routine. Note also the entangled rhymes in the opening lines, where the drunken character staggers down the road. There are two groups of rhyming endings there: мастеровой-собой-головой (left leg?) and ноги-дороге (right leg?), with the sequence of steps being L-L-R-R-L-L-R-L-L. In the translation the corresponding rhymes are lad-head (L) and road-rot-out (R), with the exact sequence being only slightly different from that in the original.

[about 'Terminals of the Future']
Accentual verse feels relatively modern in Russian, so its choice is logical for the subject matter of this piece. The change of the stanzaic shape towards the end, in line with the syntax of that section, offsets the steady feel of the aBaB rhyming pattern and imparts additional dynamism to the poem. The same can be said of the several strategically placed enjambments (all of them reproduced in the translation) and the anaphoric structural element, which cuts across the stanzas: the triplet "I refuse to see…" – "I refuse to ponder…" – "I refuse to know…"

[about "Greetings, my fair Dame…"]
The basic drumbeat here is an anapaest-led logaoedic, its tail structure differing between the even and odd lines. Against that already interesting background, something exotic and almost disturbing is deployed to describe the two fantastic characters. It is the ancient 5+5 folk-verse metre, which is hardly ever seen in contemporary Russian poetry and which, sadly, has no adequate counterpart in English. The two conceptually different metric themes reflect and highlight the two views of the world – rational and mythological – that compete in this poem, with the rational theme eventually getting the upper hand both metrically and semantically. All of that is played out in the space of 12 lines.

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"... so much feeling in so few brief lines." Prof. Chris Jesshope
University of Amsterdam

"Clouds, fog, mist, sunrise and sunset, the expanse of the sky and the dust of the earth, and us in between, always in relation to them all, wandering fragile but defiant, aware of the frailty of the flesh and the immanence, and imminence, of death. ... The 'I' of the poems is most often a voice of age, of tristesse, but never of depression and rarely of despair (although on occasion there is anger – read the passionately angry 'The Pied Piper Revisited'). ... this is nothing short of the lot of humanity explored in ways that allow the poems themselves to interweave and to connect to the wider web of allusions upon which Zakharov draws. ... one is left with a haunting vision of the human condition and the glittering expanse of Russian poetic art, here so beautifully rendered." Dr J. P. Lowe

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