Cottage with Ghosts

Elena Guro

Elena Guro was the most prominent female artist in the Russian Futurist movement of the early 20th century, yet for decades Russian critics have overlooked her work as an aberration in a predominantly ‘masculine’ literary movement.

While Guro’s work is undeniably different from her fellow Futurists, her poetry nonetheless adds depth to the Futurist concept of the liberation of the word, extending it to the sphere of meaning construction. She points out that the current construction of meaning demands a humanitarian and moral price. Modernity privileges the strong over the weak, the visible over the invisible, the man-made over the natural. Guro locates the potential for subversion in the subjective gaze of the dreamer, the scatterbrain, the mentally ill, the feminine, and the natural.

Through translation, I assert that Guro’s singularity in Russian Futurism testifies to the complexity of the movement’s agenda. She proves that the ideals of radical social and artistic upheaval can be applied beyond the scope of masculinity. In translating her oeuvre into English, I hope to render this fascinating poet more accessible to an international audience, to help her reclaim her rightful place alongside her literary peers.

Shelby Wardlaw

When we came to the cottage, crept inside her deserted façade, she began to whisper to us that the house was filled with someone, possessed. Someone's sadness bent a wing above the cottage, and unpleasant were the broken window panes of the attic…

When we entered the last room, shadows were still present. Empty armchairs stood along the walls, and the faded tablecloth was empty and dusty. An invisible soul had been waiting here for news, too long in dull time, and a heaviness lay on everything.

We moved to the upper balcony. Young and bright it slid down off the railing and disappeared. And a birch stepped forward slightly and, getting carried away like a hymn, opened a meeting along a tree-lined walk, of wreaths and processions and youthful exultations!

So it was in the past.

On the mountain, by the path's bend among the cheerful heather he passed --- the young Genius. Then they answered from everywhere, from the windows and the string of balconies.

But for a long time now, no one had passed by. The overgrown area, the string was broken and on the path something was abandoned, and there was nowhere to take it. And the years passed over the pleasure of our meeting and there appeared above everything in the empty sky only signs of "Keep Out."

When we looked back, leaving, higher than the balconies and roof flew the lean tops of the sickly pines, somewhere high above everything, waving in the empty white sky. In this canopy, the secret ghost outlasted the severe storms. It reminded us of someone's tight lips, when the wild granite beneath the house was remembered.

And aside in the circular rotunda, they feasted still, around the pushed-apart benches. There was the sound of youthful humming and buzzing at the table, and the arches of the pavilion echoed with toasts to someone's health and long-gone laughter.

The base of the pavilion was choked with high nettles.

She rustled when we walked through them and spun.


Когда мы подходили к ней, сквозь её заброшенный вид повеяло нам, что она кем-то полна. Чья-то грусть над нею склонила крыло, и неприятны были разбитые стёкла чердака… Когда в последнюю комнату вошли, там ещё присутствовали тени. Пустые кресла стояли по стенам, и пусто и пыльно было выцветшее сукно стола. Невидимая душа ждала здесь вестей слишком длинное глухое время, и была тяжесть на всём. Вышли на верхний балкон. Молодой и светлый соскользнул с перил и растаял. И берёза слегка выступила вперёд и, унесённая, словно гимн, открыла аллею встречи, венца и шествия и юного торжества! Так было прежде.

На гору изгибом дорожки меж весёлого вереска проходил он – юный Гений. Тогда отвечали отовсюду из окон и балконов струны. Но давно уже никто не шёл. Заросшей площадкой была оборвана струна, и в дорожке что-то запустело, и некуда было ей вести. И над радостью встреч прошли года, и стоял над всем в пустом небе запрещающий Знак. Когда мы оглянулись, уходя, выше балкона и крыш летела сухощавой вершиной чахлая сосна, где-то высоко над всем качалась в пустом белом небе. В этом был тайный призрак суровых протекших бурь. Чьи-то сжатые губы чудились нам, когда вспоминался дикий гранит внизу дома. А в стороне, в круглой ротонде, пировали ещё раздвинутые скамьи. Послышался юный застольный гул, и арки павильона звучали заздравным смехом. Внизу павильон заглох высокой крапивой. Она зашуршала, когда обходили кругом.

Elena Guro was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia in 1877 and died in Finland in 1913. She is widely considered one of the most prominent artists of the Russian Futurist movement of the early twentieth century.

Shelby Wardlaw is a writer, teacher, and translator from Austin, Texas. She holds an M.A. in Comparative Literature from the University of Colorado, Boulder and an M.F.A. in Fiction from Columbia University. Her fiction and Russian poetry translations have appeared in Drafthorse Literary Journal, Interim, Northwest Review, and are forthcoming in Fiction Southeast and Hunger Mountain. In the spring of 2020, she won Honorable Mention in the Pigeon Pages Fiction Contest. She is currently writing a novel.