From the Seashore, by Anna Petrovna Bunina (1806)

Pelican Sunrise, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Pelican Sunrise, by LouFCD @ Flickr

In 1806, a Russian poet by the name of Anna Petrovna Bunina wrote something strange, and dark, and beautiful. She titled it, “С ПРИМОРСКОГО БЕРЕГА”, roughly translated “From the Seashore”. We read a translation by Pamela Perkins (in the Norton Anthology) early in our semester in my World Lit II class, and honestly it took a while to grow on me.

When it came time to begin work on our creative project for the semester, I turned to this piece for my inspiration. Since I’d been working on my photography it seemed natural to blend the two and see what happened.

The photo above is an outtake from that project. (As usual, all images in this post are linked to their respective Flickr page. For desktop-sized versions, click through to Flickr and then click the “All Sizes” button above each photo.)

I’m very tickled. In fact, I’m so tickled that although it’s usually my policy not to put my school work on the blog until after it’s graded and returned to me, I just can’t wait any more. You’re getting this before it’s even due. (This Thursday, for the record.)

The poem in its original Russian, an English translation by me, my photos from the project, and a few more outtakes are below the fold. (If you have religious nudity-related neuroses, no need to tell me about them, just move along. I don’t really care.)

From the Seashore

From the Seashore 3, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 3, by LouFCD @ Flickr

The shining sea
Seamless from the sky,
The quiet waves
Splashed upon the shore,
The gentle swells
Shivered just a little.

The sun is extinguished,
There is no moon,
Scarlet blaze
Glints in the west,
Birds in their nests,
Flocks in their roosts.

Everything suddenly shushed,
Everything in its place.

The room is still,
There is no rustling.
The children are cuddled
Modestly in the corners.

From the Seashore 4, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 4, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Lina touched
The harp strings:
The golden harp
Raised its voice;
Sounds in harmony
Sing with Lina.

Rosy flames
Shine from the fireplace;
The clear bright fire
Skips upon the coals;
The dark-gray smoke
Twists in a column.

The fierce flame
Scorches the soul;
The heart languishes,
Everything is desiccated.
Poison flows
In my veins.

From the Seashore 5, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 5, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Tears ran dry
In cloudy eyes,
Sighs stopped
The breast from heaving,
Speech freezes
On chilled lips!

Sea rise up!
Be a coffin for me!
Golden harp,
Strike like thunder!
Flame overflow,
Incinerate this poor woman!

Anna Petrovna Bunina -1806

(If you speak Russian, feel free to critique my translation – but be gentle, it’s my first time.)


From the Seashore 6, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 6, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Светлое море
С небом слилось,
С тихостью волны
Плещут на брег,
Кроткие зыби
Чуть-чуть дрожат.

Солнце погасло,
Месяца нет,
Заревом алым
Запад блестит,
Птицы на гнездах,
В кущах стада.

Всё вдруг умолкло,
Все по местам.

В комнате тихо,
Шороху нет;
Дети прижались
Скромно в углах.

From the Seashore 7, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 7, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Лина коснулась
Арфы струнам:
Арфа златая
Глас издала;
Звуки согласны
С Линой поют.

Розовым пламем
Светит камин;
Скачет по углям
Ясный огонь;
Дым темно-серый
Вьется столбом.

Пламень лютейший
Душу палит;
Сердце томится,
Высохло всё:
Яд протекает
В жилах моих.

From the Seashore 8, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From the Seashore 8, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Слезы иссякли
В мутных очах,
Вздохи престали
Грудь воздымать,
Речь замирает
В хладных устах!

Море, взволнуйся!
Гробом мне будь!
Арфа златая,
Громом ударь!
Пламень, разлейся,
Бедну сожги!

Анна Петровна Бунина – 1806

I have to say, I’m really glad I did my own translation, for several reasons.

First, I’m going to enter my project in the student art show at school in the Spring. If some big-time art dealer sees it and pays me a bajillion dollars for it, I don’t want to owe the translator any royalties. I’m a stingy bastard that way.

Bunina by Firelight, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Bunina by Firelight, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Second (and more seriously), I learned a few things. Now, as you were reading the poem, you may have asked yourself, “What? Who the Hell is Lina, and why is she playing the harp in the middle of this poem?” We sure did.

By translating the poem word by word using an old book I’ve had laying around for years, Google Translate, and an online Russian-English dictionary by Babylon, I happened to discover that the word Месяца, fairly translated by Perkins as “moon”, is more literally translated as “month”. That led me to ask, “Then what’s the Russian word for ‘moon’?”.

Turns out that the Russian word for “moon” is “Лина”. Transliterating that back to English, I had to grin. “Lina”. Suddenly the Lina=Luna connection fired a neuron or two in my brain, and I couldn’t help but grin for at least two hours. I still have no idea why the moon is touching harp strings in the middle of this poem, but it does make the poem make a little more sense.

The Fire in my Breast, by LouFCD @ Flickr

The Fire in my Breast, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Third, I discovered that while I certainly haven’t the relevant expertise to question Perkins’ translation, I got a slightly different feel from the poem than she did, most especially in the final line. Where she translated the final line as “Warm this poor woman!”, I got the distinct impression that the word сожги means not just “warm”, but “burn”, or even “burn down”. Perkins’ translation seems to make a complete 180 in that stanza because of that word, while I think mine makes more sense. The speaker has been talking about dying (of a broken heart, perhaps?) for some time, and I got no indication at all that Bunina changed course in the final stanza. I’m sticking to my guns on this one.

The project has taken several weeks to put together, and it’s been tough every step of the way. I put a lot of work into it, but I couldn’t have done it without my very good friend and Art major, Kaitlyn. She scared up victims models (her sister posed as Lina with her (the sister’s) children), loaned me her living room for a studio, calmed me down when my original model for the nudes got sick and had to cancel the shoot (twice), introduced me to the Art instructor who pointed us to a better/less expensive art supply place, calmed me down when I repeatedly went into panic mode… Kaitlyn dear, I owe you big time.

The Death of Bunina I, by LouFCD @ Flickr

The Death of Bunina I, by LouFCD @ Flickr

I also have to give a big thank you to my model for the speaker in the poem. She was absolutely wonderful, and came through for me on 12 hours notice, really de-stressing my life. She spent several hours lying on the floor nude while I worked the camera and re-set, re-shot, re-focused, changed my mind, posed her like a Barbie doll, and generally stumbled my way through my very first studio shoot. (Not to mention my first nudes-who-are-not-my-wife!) And as you can of course see, she’s a very beautiful woman to boot. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for everything, not least of which is permission to post these photos.

One last thing, a frustrating little tale about living in the Bible Belt. There were three separate photo shoots for this project. The first was at the beach, for the “sunset” (it’s really a sunrise, but don’t tell anyone), the second with Lina and the children a week or so later, and a few weeks later came the shoot for the speaker (a fellow Coastal student who can identify herself if she wants to). I had the first two shoots printed at one time. My printer is currently on strike, so I went to the first place that came to mind to get them printed. It happened to be Walmart. Stick your flash drive in the machine, order what you want, no muss, no fuss.

The Death of Bunina II, by LouFCD @ Flickr

The Death of Bunina II, by LouFCD @ Flickr

This past Thursday I went back to Walmart to have the last two shots for the project printed (From the Seashore 7 and 8). As I was inserting my flash drive, I overheard the photo department woman telling her newlywed customers that they could not have their honeymoon photos that had just finished printing. The reason? In some of the photos, the bride was apparently wearing a “nighty that was too see-through” and that this constituted (gasp!) nudity. Hence, she would not give them their photos. That’s just fucking nuts.

I pulled my drive back out of the machine, and headed down the street to Walgreen’s whose photo department has grown-ups in charge. I was delighted to discover that Walgreen’s has a regular price that is half that of Walmart, and doubly delighted to find that photo printing happened to be Buy-One-Get-One this past week. I paid a quarter of what I would have paid at Walmart, and the prints are on better quality paper anyway. Stephanie, the very friendly and helpful woman at Walgreen’s was taken aback by the story, but on reflection she realized she shouldn’t have been. I wound up having to have the first bunch of prints redone to match, but in the end it was worth it.

Moral of the Story:

Fuck Walmart and their religious nudity-related neuroses. Go to Walgreen’s and deal with grown-ups, even if you don’t have any nipples in your photos.

By the Fire, by LouFCD @ Flickr

By the Fire, by LouFCD @ Flickr

From whence came the art:

In order, those images are titled:

  1. Pelican Sunrise
  2. From the Seashore 3
  3. From the Seashore 4
  4. From the Seashore 5
  5. From the Seashore 6
  6. From the Seashore 7
  7. From the Seashore 8
  8. Bunina by Firelight
  9. The Fire in my Breast
  10. The Death of Bunina I
  11. The Death of Bunina II
  12. By the Fire
  13. Portrait by the Fire

All photos © 2009 Photography by Louis Shackleton, except Pelican Sunrise, which I have licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike license.

Portrait by the Fire, by LouFCD @ Flickr

Portrait by the Fire, by LouFCD @ Flickr

9 Responses to “From the Seashore, by Anna Petrovna Bunina (1806)”

  1. khan Says:

    It’s good to know Walgreens has adults in charge.

  2. Bob O'H Says:

    I really like that poem (must be the translation). I read it as the harp being her husband. Maybe that’s just me, though.

  3. Rystefn Says:

    I’m curious to read the poem in the original, but my Russian is, sadly, more or less nonexistent. In my imagination, it’s beautiful, but that may have something to do with the translation and the photos, in which case, I guess that means you’ve done well. I mean, the pictures are quite good regardless, but there’s more to this project than painting pretty pictures with the camera.

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