Vera Pavlova’s Poem, ‘Shattered’

Slavic Voices: An Evening of Poetry and Music with Sylva Fischerova, Dzvinia Orlowsky, and Vera Pavlova (the latter is pictured here). At BU Center for the Study of Europe. Wednesday, October 15, 2014.

As it happens, when I’m feeling, well, like I do, I go searching for poetry. And as it also happens, I haven’t talked about a poem in the entire month of October! Particularly given the macabre nature of October (if you so manifest it as such; some like to think of it as pumpkin spice and fall leaves, which I also appreciate, mind you), that’s a shame.

Something I’m increasingly interested in is looking at art from those artists beyond America. There is a whole world of art out there that isn’t American or, for that matter, even in the English language. It would be a shame to not engage with it. Translations can be tricky, and I’m not sophisticated in that world enough to know who are great translators and how all of that works. That said, I stumbled (pun intended, as you’ll see) onto a very short poem from the Russian poet Vera Pavlova.

Pavlova is still an active poet, as she’s only 57, and has been featured in The New Yorker. I quite like all four poems featured there, all of which are also brief poems. But the poem I stumbled across is called, Shattered, and was translated by Michael R. Burch.

I shattered your heart;
now I limp through the shards
barefoot.

It feels serendipitous that I would stumble upon (I know, I’m riding the pun into the ground) this poem after having just seen the “return” of Bruce Willis in Die Hard (that is, a two-minute battery commercial), wherein his character, John McClane, famously walked barefoot through broken glass in the first classic film. That scene is iconic and memorable for a reason, and it grabbed me in this very short poem precisely because it is such a striking image: limping through shards of glass barefoot. Ouch. And the fact that “barefoot” exists on its own line helps to add to the potency of the image.

This is an 11-word, three-line poem, and there’s a lot to unpack here.

For starters, the nefarious nature of this poem also strikes me: “I” shattered your heart, and now I’m going to walk through the shards barefoot, and not walk, as it turns out, but limp.

Why is she limping? Did the acting of shattering their heart cause her suffering, too, so that’s manifest in a limp? Why is she even going back through the shards? Does she feel guilty for having shattered the heart, so feels like she has to limp through the shards as repentance? To pick up the broken pieces?

I will admit, my first reading was the more nefarious interpretation: She so hated this person, that not only did she break their heart, but even at great pain to herself, limped along the shards to further shatter this person.

Love is suffering, but I’m not sure which direction the suffering is happening here or who love’s suffering is imposing most upon here, the one who shattered or the one was shattered?

This is one of those poems I’m honestly not sure which way to interpret it and I have more questions than I do answers or definitive interpretations, as I sometimes like to try for. Regardless, I appreciate art that can grab me with so few words. That image of limping barefoot across shards of a past lover’s broken heart will stick with me for a long time to come.

What do you think this very short poem means?

5 thoughts

  1. It’s great to look at literature from people of other countries and languages! I see what you mean that this poem, as short as it is, can have many meanings and implications.

    To me, it seems to mean that the speaker shattered the other person’s heart but is the one suffering from this experience. The “now” is interesting because one would immediately presume that the one with the shattered heart will be the one suffering, but instead, right after “now,” comes the “I.” Almost as if the speaker is even surprised that she is the one hurting as she limps through the shards. Great poem and questions. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Brett, we have something in common because I, too, go around scouring the Internet for poetry. In fact, that’s how I discovered the poetry of Vera Pavlova in the first place. The translation you cited is my favorite.

        There are some wonderful poets most readers today have never encountered. You might like this page I put together with my translations of poets from around the globe like Ko Un, Charles D’Orleans and Miklós Radnóti.

        http://www.thehypertexts.com/Best%20Poetry%20Translations.htm

        Liked by 1 person

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