Missing The Troop Train by Yevgeny Vinokurov

There’s something desperate about trains…

I stood alone on the icy platform,

lost in the Bashkir steppes.

What can be more fantastic, more desolate

than the light of an electric lamp

rocking in a small station at night?

Trains swept past from time to time.

Their roar engulfed me,

I was submerged in coal dust,

and each time, I grabbed hold of my cap –

it looked as though I was greeting someone.

The bare, stunted tree by the side of the platform

reached out after them…

I waited for one train at least

to stop, for God’s sake!

In the distance was the dark forest mass.

I lifted my head –

over me, a vast

host of stars:

regiments,

divisions,

armies of stars,

all bound for somewhere.

An hour earlier, I’d got out of the train

to fetch some boiling water…

I could be court-martialled for this.

I stood there,

the snow melted round my boots,

and the water in the aluminium kettle I was holding

had already iced over.

Above the forest mass I saw

a little star,

fallen a long way behind the others.

I looked at it

and it looked at me.

 

by Евгений Михайлович Винокуров (Yevgeny Mikhailovich Vinokurov)

(1965)

translated by Daniel Weissbort

Advertisements

In The Train Car by Innokenty Annensky

We’ve done enough, we’ve said enough –

let’s sit in silence, without smiling;

low-lying clouds are shedding snow

and heaven’s light is slowly fading.

 

The brittle willows rage and split

in an unspeakable pitched battle.

‘Until tomorrow, then,’ I say.

‘As for today, let’s call it settled.’

 

Even if boundlessly at fault,

I wish – not dreaming, not entreating –

to stare out at the fields of white

through windows swathed in cotton fleecing.

 

While you, show off your beauty, shine…

assure me that I have your pardon –

shine with that stream of eventide

around which everything has hardened.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1906)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

Black Cat by Bulat Okudzhava

There’s a courtyard in our building,

that’s where you’ll find the back door,

and behind it lives a Black Cat –

ensconced here like some lord.

 

There’s a smirk behind his whiskers,

darkness shields him like a wall,

and this Black Cat remains quiet

while all others caterwaul.

 

He keeps smirking in his whiskers,

hasn’t caught a mouse of late,

catches us on our loose lips,

on a bit of tempting bait.

 

He does not request or order –

when his yellow eye burns bright,

every one of us forks over,

thanking him with all our might.

 

He won’t meow and he won’t purr –

he just gorges, drinks and gloats.

And he paws at dirty floorboards

like he’s clawing at our throats.

 

This is why the place we live in

is so dark and dreary still,

we should really hang a light bulb –

but can’t seem to foot the bill.

 

by ბულატ ოკუჯავა

a.k.a. Булат Шалвович Окуджава

a.k.a. Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava

(1957 – 1959)

translated by Maria Bloshteyn


Here is the song, often believed to be about Stalin, being performed by Bulat Okudzhava:

 

Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava (Russian: Булат Шалвович Окуджава; Georgian: ბულატ ოკუჯავა) (May 9, 1924 – June 12, 1997) was a Soviet and Russian poet, writer, musician, novelist, and singer-songwriter of Georgian-Armenian ancestry. He was one of the founders of the Soviet genre called “author song” (авторская песня), or “guitar song”, and the author of about 200 songs, set to his own poetry. His songs are a mixture of Russian poetic and folksong traditions and the French chansonnier style represented by such contemporaries of Okudzhava as Georges Brassens. Though his songs were never overtly political (in contrast to those of some of his fellow Soviet bards), the freshness and independence of Okudzhava‘s artistic voice presented a subtle challenge to Soviet cultural authorities, who were thus hesitant for many years to give official recognition to Okudzhava.

I Was Washing At Night Out In The Yard by Osip Mandelstam

I was washing at night out in the yard,

the heavens glowing with rough stars,

a star-beam like salt upon an axe,

the water butt cold and brim full.

 

A padlock makes the gate secure,

and conscience gives sternness to the earth –

hard to find a standard anywhere

purer than the truth of new-made cloth.

 

A star melts in the water butt like salt,

cold water in the butt is blacker still,

death is more pure, disaster saltier

and earth more truthful and more terrible.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(Tbilisi, 1921)

translated by Peter France


 

A poem written in respone to the news of Nikolay Gumilyov‘s execution.

I Went Out In The Clear Air by Varlam Shalamov

I went out in the clear air

and raised my eyes to the heavens

to understand our stars

and their January brilliance.

 

I found the key to the riddle;

I grasped the heiroglyph’s secret;

I carried into our own tongue

the work of the star-poet.

 

I recorded all this on a stump,

on frozen bark,

since I had no paper with me

in that January dark.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

An Attempt At Jealousy by Marina Tsvetaeva

How is your life with the other one,

simpler, isn’t it? One          stroke of the oar

then a long coastline, and soon

even the memory of me

 

will be a floating island

(in the sky, not on the waters):

spirits, spirits, you will be

sisters, and never lovers.

 

How is your life with an ordinary

woman?          without godhead?

Now that your sovereign has

been deposed (and you have stepped down).

 

How is your life? Are you fussing?

flinching? How          do you get up?

The tax of deathless vulgarity

can you cope with it, poor man?

 

‘Scenes and hysterics          I’ve had

enough! I’ll rent my own house.’

How is your life with the other one

now, you that I chose for my own?

 

More to your taste, more delicious

is it, your food? Don’t moan if you sicken.

How is your life with an image

you, who walked on Sinai?

 

How is your life with a stranger

from this world? Can you (be frank)

love her? Or do you          feel shame

like Zeus’ reins on your forehead?

 

How is your life? Are you

healthy? How do you          sing?

How do you deal with the pain

of an undying conscience, poor man?

 

How is your life with a piece of market

stuff, at a steep price?

After Carrara marble,

how is your life with the dust of

 

plaster now? (God was hewn from

stone, but he is smashed to bits.)

How do you live with one of a

thousand women          after Lilith?

 

Sated with newness, are you?

Now you are grown cold to magic,

how is your life with an

earthly woman, without a sixth

 

sense? Tell me: are you happy?

Not? In a shallow pit how is

your life, my love? Is it as

hard as mine with another man?

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1924)

translated by Elaine Feinstein


 

The gaps mid-line were present in the original as was the emphasis on the word ‘image‘.

In case you want a few pointers regarding the context of the poem here are some facts about Tsvetaeva‘s life. To be honest I’ve tried to give a few points but it feels like you might have to do some in depth ‘further reading’ about her life to fully understand the context of this poem’s lines. A brief account of her life reads like it was one tragic event after the other…

Sergei Yakovlevich Efron (Сергей Яковлевич Эфрон; 8 October 1893 – 16 October 1941) was a Russian poet, officer of White Army and husband of Marina Tsvetaeva. While in emigration, he was recruited by the Soviet NKVD (forerunner to the better known KGB). After returning to USSR from France, he was executed. Some believe that Tsvetaeva did not seem to have known that her husband was a spy, nor the extent to which he was compromised.

They fell in love and were married in January 1912. While they had an intense relationship, Tsvetaeva had affairs, such as those with Osip Mandelstam and poet Sofia Parnok.

Tsvetaeva and her husband had two daughters: Ariadna a.k.a Alya (born 1912) and Irina (born 1917), and one son, Georgy. In 1919 while stuck in Moscow during the civil war (during which there was also a famine), she placed both her daughters in a state orphanage, mistakenly believing that they would be better fed there. Alya became ill and Tsvetaeva removed her but Irina died there of starvation in 1920. In summer 1924, Efron and Tsvetaeva left Prague (where they had resided) for the suburbs, living for a while in Jíloviště, before moving on to Všenory, where Tsvetaeva conceived their son, Georgy, whom she was to later nickname ‘Mur‘. He was a difficult child but Tsetaeva loved him obsessively. With Efron now rarely free from tuberculosis, their daughter Ariadna was relegated to the role of mother’s helper and confidante, and consequently felt robbed of much of her childhood.

To end on a lighter note: The Tsvetaev family name (feminine form: Tsvetaeva) evokes an association with flowers as the Russian word цвет (tsvet) means “color” or “flower”.

Also here is a reading of the poem in the original Russian by Маша Матвейчук, who does readings of various poems, on YouYube:

To Vyazemsky by Alexander Pushkin

It seems the sea, that scourge of ages,

contrives your genius to inspire?

You laud upon your golden lyre

old Neptune’s trident as he rages.

 

Don’t waste your praise. These days you’ll find

that sea and land have no division.

On any element mankind

is tyrant, traitor, or in prison.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1826)

translated by  Alan Myers


 

The poem is addressed to Pushkin’s close friend and poetic contemporary Prince Pyotr Andreyevich Vyazemsky who was a leading personality of the Golden Age of Russian poetry.