What Are We To Do? by Daniil Kharms

While the dolphin and the sea-horse

Played silly games together,

The ocean beat against the cliffs

And washed the cliffs with its water.

The scary water moaned and cried.

The stars shone. Years went by.

Then the horrid hour came:

I am no more, and so are you,

The sea is gone, the cliffs, the mountains,

And the stars gone, too;

Only the choir sounds out of the dead void.

And for simplicity’s sake, our wrathful God

Sprung up and blew away the dust of centuries,

And now, freed from the shackles of time

He flies alone, his own and only dearest friend.

Cold everywhere, and darkness blind.

 

by ‘Dandan‘ a pseudonym used by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 October 1934)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun fact: A dandan or dendan is a mythical sea creature that appears in volume 9 of ‘The Book of One Thousand and One Nights’ (or more commonly ‘Arabian Nights’). It appears in the tale “Abdullah the Fisherman and Abdullah the Merman”, where the merman tells the fisherman that the dandan is the largest fish in the sea and is the enemy of the mermen. A dendan is capable of swallowing a ship and all its crew in a single gulp. Kharms was probably aware of this and thus played on it for one of his pseudonyms.

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‘Perechin sat on a thumbtack…’ by Daniil Kharms

Perechin sat on a thumbtack, and from that moment his life changed drastically. Ordinarily a thoughtful, quiet person, Perechin transformed into a typical scoundrel. He grew out his mustache and from that point onwards trimmed them with exceptional clumsiness, so that one of his mustaches was always longer than the other. And, generally speaking, his mustache grew a bit crooked. It became impossible to even look at Perechin. Adding to that, he got in the habit of winking and jerking his jowl in the most loathsome manner. For a while, Perechin limited himself to petty baseness: he gossiped, he ratted, and he cheated tram conductors by paying them in the smallest bronze coins and always underpaying by two or even three kopecks.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(Wednesday, 14 October 1940)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

‘Oh Don’t Look Back’ but Olga Berggolts

Oh don’t look back

at that ice

at that dark;

there, waiting greedily

for you is a look

that will demand an answer.

 

I looked back today. And suddenly,

I saw him – alive and with living eyes,

looking at me out of the ice,

my one and only, for all time.

 

I hadn’t known it was like that;

I’d thought I lived and breathed another.

But Oh, my joy, my dream, my death,

I only live beneath your gaze.

 

I have been faithful to him alone;

in that alone I have done right:

to all the living, I’m his wife;

to you and me – your widow.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1947)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

Olga was married a number of times. In 1925 she joined a youth literature group ‘The Shift’ where she became acquainted with Boris Kornilov. In 1927 Boris and Olga entered the State Institute of Art History, and in 1928 they got married. In 1930 she graduated from the philological faculty and was sent to Kazakhstan to work as a journalist for the Soviet Steppe newspaper. During this period Olga divorced Kornilov and married her fellow student Nikolay Molchanov. Her former husband Boris Kornilov was arrested “for taking part in the anti-Soviet Trotskyist organization” and executed on February 1938. In January 1942 she survived another personal tragedy: her second husband Nikolay Molchanov died of hunger. Olga later dedicated a poem 29 January 1942 and her book The Knot (1965) to Nikolay. On March 1942 Olga, who suffered from a critical form of dystrophy, was forcefully sent by her friends to Moscow using the Road of Life, despite her protests. On 20 April she returned to Leningrad and continued her work at the Radio House. On her return she married Georgy Makogonenko, a literary critic, also a radio host during the siege.

Prayer before Sleep 28 March 1931 at Seven O’Clock in the Evening by Daniil Kharms

‘Lord, in broad daylight

apathy overcame me.

Allow me to lie down and fall asleep Lord,

and while I sleep fill me Lord

with your strength.

There is much I want to know,

but neither books nor people

will tell me this.

May You alone Lord enlighten me

by means of my verses.

Wake me strong for the battle with meaning,

swift in the arrangement of words

and zealous to praise the name of God

for ever and ever.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(date unknown)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘I Thought about Eagles for a Long Time’ by Daniil Kharms

I thought about eagles for a long time

And understood a lot:

Eagles fly on heights sublime,

Disturbing people not.

I saw that eagles live on mountains hard to climb,

And make friends with spirits of the skies.

I thought about eagles for a long time,

But confused them, I think, with flies.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 March 1939)

from Events

translated by Matvei Yankelevich with Ilya Bernstein

What They Sell In Stores Nowadays by Daniil Kharms

Koratygin came to see Tikakeyev but did not find him at home.

Meanwhile, Tikakeyev was at the store buying sugar, meat and cucumbers. Koratygin milled around in Tikakeyev’s doorway and was about ready to write him a note when he saw Tikakeyev himself, carrying a plastic satchel in his hands. Koratygin saw Tikakeyev and yelled:

“And I’ve been waiting here for a whole hour!”

“That’s not true,” said Tikakeyev, “I’ve only been out 25 minutes.”

“Well that I don’t know,” said Koratygin, “but I’ve been here an hour, that much I do know.”

“Don’t lie,” said Tikakeyev, “It’s shameful.”

“My good sir,” said Koratygin, “you should use some discretion in choosing your words.”

“I think…,” started Tikakeyev, but Koratygin interrupted:

“If you think…,” he said, but then Tikakeyev interrupted Koratygin, saying:

“You’re one to talk!”

These words so enraged Koratygin that he pinched one nostril with his finger and blew his other nostril at Tikakeyev.

Then Tikakeyev snatched the biggest cucumber from his satchel and hit Koratygin over the head.

Koratygin clasped his hands to his head, fell over and died.

What big cucumbers they sell in stores nowadays!

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

from Events

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

‘There Once Was A Mechanic…’ by Daniil Kharms

There once was a mechanic who decided to take turns at work standing on one leg and then on the other in order not to tire.

But no good came of this: he started getting even more tired than before and his work wasn’t coming together the way it used to.

The mechanic was called into the office where he was reprimanded and given a warning.

But the mechanic decided to overcome his nature and continued to stand on one leg while on the job.

The mechanic fought against his nature a long time and, finally, sensing a pain in his spine that grew with every day, he was forced to seek medical attention.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(27 August 1936)

from Events

translated by Matvei Yankelevich