Wednesday, September 19, 2007

American English and Russian

The Russian poet, Vladimir Mayakovsky visited the USA in the 1920s …

“But just consider my situation. A poet’s been invited. They’ve been told he’s a genius. A genius – that’s even better than being well known. I arrive and right off say “Gif me pliz am tee”.

They serve me. I wait a bit and then , “Gife me pliz …”.

They serve me again.

And I keep it up, varying the intonations and the phrasing. “Gife me de sam tee, sam tee de gif me”. I say my say.

The evening proceeds.

Bespectful old fellows listen reverentially. “There’s a Russian for you. Doesn’t waste words. He’s a thinker … Tolstoy … The North”.

But the ladies move away when they hear for the hundredth time that same request for tea, even though it’s enunciated in a pleasant bass voice. And the gentlemen distribute themselves in the corners of the room laughing at my expense.

So I shout to Burliuk: “You translate this to them. Tell them that if they knew Russian, I could, without even dirtying my shirtfront, nail them with my tongue to the cross of their own suspenders, that I could roast this whole collection of insects on the sharp turnspit of my tongue”.

And the honest Burliuk translates. “My eminent friend Vladimir Vladimirovich wants another cup of tea”

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