‘Spring Exultation, Nightingales, The Moon…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Spring exultation, nightingales, the moon

on southern seas – they make my poor head spin

with boredom. More than that. I disappear.

The real me lives elsewhere. Far to the north.

 

Berlin, poor Russian Paris, filthy Nice –

a dream from which I soon will find release.

 

Petersburg. Winter, Gumilyov and I

walk by an ice-bound Neva, bright with snow.

The river Lethe. Side by side, we walk

and talk as poets did, so long ago.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Gumilyov of course refers to the poet Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov (Николай Степанович Гумилёв) who was executed by the Petrograd Cheka in 1921. Neva to the river Neva which runs through St Petersburg (also known as Petrograd or Leningrad) while Lethe is one of the five rivers running through Hades, the underworld populated by the dead, in Greek mythology.

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The Sixth Sense by Nikolay Gumilyov

Good is the wine that is in love with us,

and good is bread, our generous friend;

and good the woman who brings us torment

yet yields her sweetness to us in the end.

 

But what are we to do with sunset fires?

With joys that can’t be eaten, drunk or kissed?

And what are we to do with deathless verse?

We stand and watch – as mysteries slip past.

 

Just as some boy too young to know of love

will leave his play to gaze, his heart on fire,

at maidens swimming in a lake, and gaze

and gaze, tormented by obscure desire;

 

or as within the gloom of ancient jungle

some earthbound beast once slithered from its lair

with wing buds on its back, still tightly closed,

and let out cries of impotent despair;

 

so year on year – how long, Lord, must we wait? –

beneath the surgeon’s knife of art and nature,

our flesh is wasted and our spirit howls

as one more sense moves slowly to creation.

 

by Николай Степанович Гумилёв (Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov)

(1920)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

An influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He cofounded the Acmeist movement and was Anna Akhmatova’s husband who was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.

‘They Wiped Your Slate…’ by Anna Akhmatova

They wiped your slate

With snow, you’re not alive.

Bayonets twenty-eight

And bullet-holes five.

It’s a bitter present,

Love, but I’ve sewed it.

Russia, an old peasant

Killing his meat.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas