Paul Schmidt (1934-1999), translator, poet, actor, librettist, playwright, and essayist, was born in Brooklyn, the oldest of seven children. He received a degree from Colgate University in Russian studies in 1955 and, after a year of graduate work at Harvard, he moved to Paris, where he studied mime with Marcel Marceau and acting with Jacques Charon of the Comédie Française. Drafted in 1958, he served in the US Army Intelligence and on his release resumed his Russian studies; his doctoral thesis on “the stylized theater of V.E. Mejerxol’d” was published as Meyerhold at Work. For eleven years, Schmidt was a professor of Slavic languages at the University of Texas at Austin, where he won the Bromberg Award for Teaching Excellence. His Arthur Rimbaud: Complete Works was published in 1975, and translations of Russian poets, notably Marina Tsvetaeva, followed. A commission from the Dia Foundation supported his translations of Velimir Khlebnikov (four volumes published between 1985 and 1997), allowing him to leave academia and move to New York City. Working with the Yale Repertory Theatre, the American Repertory Theatre, the Guthrie, and other companies, he translated Euripides, Chekhov, Brecht, Genet, Gogol, Marivaux, and Mayakovsky, and wrote three plays of his own, winning the Helen Hayes and Kesselring awards for best play for Black Sea Follies. Providing text and often performing, he collaborated with the Wooster Group and with the avant-garde directors Robert Wilson, JoAnne Akalaitis, David Schweitzer, and Peter Sellars. He also acted in film and television, and in the 1970s devised “The Lost Art of Melodeclamation,” a program of nineteenth-century works for voice and orchestra, which he toured and performed with the pianist Yvar Mikhashoff, who transposed the works for keyboard. The Plays of Anton Chekhov, Schmidt’s translation of twelve of Chekhov’s plays, was published in 1997. From 1993 until the end of his life, he taught translation and dramaturgy at the Yale School of Drama.

IN THE REVIEW

Poem

Autumn that year was a rabbit affair and no eye could distinguish the shivering season from the shaking beast. Shifty, all yellow, autumn-dweller color. Dead leaves in the stubble and the hayrake and the horse mane everywhere, and even the eye blinks …

Part of a Letter, to Young Codignola

Dear boy—of course let’s meet again, but expect nothing. Oh, there are always possibilities, a new delusion, a new vow: vows are easily made to narcissistic obligation. And that hurts. I’m the same at forty as I was at seventeen. Frustrated forty, frustrated seventeen— …

The Bells of Orvieto

Sign of single dominion, of absolute    poverty—then why so hesitant, so blurred a sound on Sunday morning?    You touch this standing train with life, and the wet white station of this town    closed in old silences. It’s refreshing. Solitary houses, streets, squares, palaces, …

A Chronicle of Death in Russia

Translator’s Note: Esenin, Mayakovsky, Tsvetaeva. Three Russian poets, three suicides. The poems that follow are by them, about them, and written by one to another; we may read them as the chronicle of a fatality. The poem by Bella Akhmadulina, who lives and writes in the Soviet Union today, attempts …

Three Poems by Arthur Rimbaud

ETERNITY It is discovered. What? Eternity. In the whirling light Of sun become sea. O my sentinel soul, Let us always desire The nothing of night And the day on fire. From the voice of the World And the …