3

In the poem Belarusian I by Valzyhna Mort, extracted from her book Factory of Tears, the poet appears to be bemoaning the lack of freedom in her country. Some parts are clear enough, even if hyperbolic, but the second stanza is opaque to me:

we grew up in a country where
first your door is stroked with chalk
then at dark a chariot arrives
and no one sees you anymore
but riding in those cars were neither
armed men nor
a wanderer with a scythe
this is how love loved to visit us
and snatch us veiled

What does it mean that "your door is stroked with chalk"? Does this refer to a Belarusian tradition or practice? First I thought the "chariot" manned by secret police who come to take people away or kill them, but the poem goes on to say that "armed men" and (presumably) Death were not riding in those cars. What does "love lov[ing] to visit us" have to do with anything, and why does it "snatch us veiled"?

2
  • What this makes me think is that ‘chariot’ may be an imperfect translation of something more akin to a cart and be a reference to collection of the dead in times of plague, being paralleled with being ‘vanished’ for political reasons.
    – Spagirl
    Oct 4 at 10:04
  • "Stroking the door with chalk" reminds me of the tradition in certain Christian churches of "chalking the door", i.e. writing a special inscription on your door with chalk during Epiphany day; see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chalking_the_door for details. I won't venture to interpret the rest of the stanza, though.
    – J. D.
    Oct 5 at 15:16
3

In the Russian literary tradition the chalk cross on the door is strongly associated with the story of St. Bartholomew's night massacre of Huguenots. Their doors were allegedly marked with chalk crosses. Cf Pasternak's Метель (the Blizzard):

Все в крестиках двери, как в Варфоломееву Ночь

all doors are in crosses, just like in St Bartholomew's night

и по двери мелом – крест-накрест

and with chalk over the door - cross-accross

(translation is mine; unfortunately I can't find a canonical one). I cannot tell how this tradition has started. Some blame Dumas' Queen Margot.

I am sure that the author was raised in that tradition. She was born in 1981.

So I think (after reading the original) that this line indeed connects the author and her us with the targets of a massacre. The chariots (in the original they are just cars, two or tree of them) definitely invite an image of a secret police, but the third verse trivialized that: Love which came in those cars is 200 roubles worth.

I have no idea what the interpreter meant by veiled.

1
  • Notice that in classical myth, love shoots you with an arrow. Here, love has adopted a more modern method; love chalks your door and arrives in the middle of the night.
    – Peter Shor
    Oct 10 at 23:36

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.