After years of searching, last week I finally got my hands on a copy of The Tender Muse, a collection of verse by Russian poetesses compiled by Rimma Kazakova. I still remember stumbling upon this book and being struck by this poem by Maria Petrovikh as an impressionable eighteen year old in the library and sharing the last two lines with a friend sitting near me, who immediately copied it into her notebook. Then we read it together once again and sighed, and wept over the narrator’s devotion to her loved one like any other sentimental teenager in the nineties might have done.

pexels-photo-316889[1]I had hoped to relive that innocent romantic idealism by re-reading The Tender Muse but find that I am sadly unable to connect to the poem as before. I believe that this stems partly from having studied creative writing professionally; I can imagine what Professor Jane would have to say about the style and tone of this piece, having listened to her dissect several poems in class, and I can imagine the reactions of my avant-garde poet friends and classmates. But mostly the poem feels strange because with the years cynicism has crept in coupled with the effects of living in present times where such ideals of romantic love would be laughed at, or tossed aside without a second glance.

As an eighteen year old, I had deeply empathised with the narrator of this poem. Now I want to ask her why can’t she let just him go and hang himself if he cannot be bothered to give her a few minutes of his time? Or perhaps, I think, maybe she is lucky to have found a man worthy of such devotion and I envy my eighteen year old self who understood the poet better than I do today.

Assign me a meeting-
now and not presently.
Assign me a meeting-
this twentieth century.
I hardly breathe here without your love.
Remember me, phone, make just some little move!
Assign me a meeting-
in that southern city
Where winds were beating
through hills without pity.
Where the sea came sweeping
with waves rainbow-lighted,
Where my heart was not weeping
from love unrequited.
Our first secret meeting! Do you still remember,
When through the old suburbs we wandered together,
Mid tight little houses,
the narrow streets packing,
Where people replied in a non-Russian accent?
The landscape was truly so wretched and grevious,
Remember, though, on the town refuse-heap even
Old kettles and bottles
like diamonds were gleaming,
As though they of something more lovely were dreaming,
The pathway climbed higher, above the abyss…
And do you recall ‘neath blue heaven that kiss?…
I cannot remember what date
it might be
But since then you’ve become light and air for me.
Let the years roll back to their former habits,
Let’s meet in the Lane of the Pomegranates…
Assign me a meeting-
we two on this earth.
Let me feel what the warmth of your heart is worth.
To meet one another-
let’s go then, my dear,
While still we can see,
While still we can hear,
While still we can breathe,
And I, through my weeping.
Entreat you, beseech you-
assign me a meeting.
Assign me a meeting-
though brief in duration-
In forlorn autumn storn
on some boisterous station-
I hardly can breathe,
I appeal for salvation…
At least when my last hour before me lies,
Assign me a meeting with those blue eyes.

Maria Petrovikh
From The Tender Muse, Rimma Kazakova