Valentine’s Day poems #4

February 8, 2019

Andrei Voznesensky: First Ice

A girl freezes in a telephone booth.
In her draughty overcoat she hides
A face all smeared
In tears and lipstick.

She breathes on her thin palms.
Her fingers are icy. She wears earrings.

She’ll have to go home alone, alone,
Along the icy street.

First ice. It is the first time.
The first ice of telephone phrases.

Frozen tears glitter on her cheeks —
The first ice of human hurt.

The telephone booth dates this poem just a bit, in the days of ghosting and dumping by text…

Pathetic fallacy goes a long way to making this an effective poem: to be told you are not wanted in the depths of winter feels so much harsher than if it were a sunny summer’s day. It’s another translated poem, and I’ve no idea where I first came across it, although I do know of a different translation, which I don’t find as effective as this one. I first found it many years ago when putting together an anthology of love poetry for a GCSE class, in the days when teachers were allowed to do that sort of thing.

Bald statements, all of them, in this poem, almost dispassionately reported: filmic in the way the picture gradually builds up for the reader. And reinforced by the use of the present tense: it unfolds before us, we are there as it happens: we see the hurt.

Images of cold, outside and within: she freezes, in a draughty coat, her fingers icy; the street is icy, too. She weeps, and it’s so cold her tears are frozen tears. Through the bald words shine the feelings: she hides, she must go home alone – note the effect of the repetition.

Relationships end, someone ‘finishes with’ or ‘dumps’ someone: get over it, some may say. But there’s always the shock of the first time this happens, and that is what the poet wants to share with the reader, to have us experience, or re-live. In the fourth stanza, first occurs three times.

Carefully chosen phrases: she wears earrings. Why tell us this, at this particular point? Is it perhaps a slight hint that she has made an effort to look right, prepared herself for going out on a date? The first ice of telephone phrases: the insincerity behind the awkward words used when someone says they no longer want to see you. Telephone phrases is good: there’s the clumsiness of foreign phrasebook language hinted at here.

Feelings come through in that last line, where emotion is verbalised for the first time: human hurt, emphasised through the alliteration, too.

I like the way the poet crams in so much when you slow down enough and think fully through what he’s saying, and I like how cleverly the translator has given us it in English.

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