‘Not To Set Fire To Myself’ by Varlam Shalamov

Not to set fire to myself

or be burned like Avvakum,

I do what I can

to chase away thought.

 

I now orbit the earth

in low-level flight,

life’s burdens and vanities

far out of sight.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1981)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Referenced in this poem is Avvakum Petrov (Аввакум Петров) a Russian protopope of the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square who led the opposition to Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church. For his opposition to the reforms, Avvakum was repeatedly imprisoned. For the last fourteen years of his life, he was imprisoned in a pit or dugout (a sunken, log-framed hut) at Pustozyorsk above the Arctic Circle. He was finally executed by being burned at the stake. The spot where he was burned has been commemorated by an ornate wooden cross. His autobiography and letters to the tsar, Boyarynya Morozova, and other Old Believers are considered masterpieces of 17th-century Russian literature.

Advertisements

By Candlelight by Varlam Shalamov

By candlelight,

in midday dark, I’ll warm

your words beside the stove;

frost’s bitten them.

 

Frost’s wordless spell

had made your letter dumb.

The letters melt, drip tears;

calling me home.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler

I Felt In Soul And Body by Varlam Shalamov

I felt in soul and body,

for the first time in years,

the silence after a blizzard,

the even light of the stars.

 

Should the magi wish to see

their kindness to the end,

they’d bring me sheets of paper

A candle. Matches. And a pen.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

Purple Honey by Varlam Shalamov

From a frost-chilled

line of poetry

my anguish will drop

like a ripe berry.

 

Rosehip juice will dye

fine crystals of snow –

and a stranger will smile

on his lonely way.

 

Blending dirty sweat

with the purity of a tear,

he will carefully collect

the tinted crystals.

 

He sucks tart sweetness,

this purple honey,

and his dried mouth

twists in happiness.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler