Late night over the Neva. There, where they are keeping watch, A siren sends up its vicious howl, Acetylene flares, a pillar of fire.
It’s quiet again, and dark once more. The storm has swept the great square clean.
The winged angel on the column Holds aloft its misty cross and gazes down On forgotten palaces, Broken pavements.
The frost bites deeper, the wind grows angry, Water flows beneath the ice.
Upon the ice bonfires glow. The sentry goes on duty. Telegraph wires hum above: All hail to thee, Petrograd!
In the dark recess of a palace wall A phantom corpse has taken shape, And the dead capital Stares into its ghostly eyes.
Atop the granite by the bonfire The Specter of the last Peter Hides its eyes, trembles, And sobs bitter tears in denial.
Foghorns wail piteously. Wind whistles along the river.
Darkness melts. Dawn awakes. Steam rises from the yellow ice floes, Yellow light glints through the pane. Citizen calls to Citizen: “What’s for dinner, citizen, Today? Have you registered, citizen, Or not?” “Today, citizen. I Got no sleep: Swapped my soul for a pint Of Kerosene”
A sharp squall blows in from the bay Hurries to build a snowy rampart- So that all might be quieter still and darker So that the souls of the dead might rest.
by Вильгельм Александрович Зоргенфрей (Wilgelm Aleksandrovich Zorgenfrey) a.k.a. Wilhelm Zorgenfrey (1920) translated by Sophie Lund
Поздней ночью над Невой В полосе сторожевой Взвыла злобная сирена, Вспыхнул сноп ацетилена.
Снова тишь и снова мгла. Вьюга площадь замела.
Крест вздымая над колонной, Смотрит ангел окрыленный На забытые дворцы, На разбитые торцы.
Стужа крепнет. Ветер злится. Подо льдом вода струится.
Надо льдом костры горят, Караул идет в наряд. Провода вверху гудят: Славен город Петроград!
В нише темного дворца Вырос призрак мертвеца, И погибшая столица В очи призраку глядится.
А над камнем, у костра, Тень последнего Петра – Взоры прячет, содрогаясь, Горько плачет, отрекаясь.
Ноют жалобно гудки. Ветер свищет вдоль реки.
Сумрак тает. Рассветает. Пар встает от желтых льдин, Желтый свет в окне мелькает. Гражданина окликает Гражданин:
– Что сегодня, гражданин, На обед? Прикреплялись, гражданин, Или нет?
– Я сегодня, гражданин, Плохо спал! Душу я на керосин Обменял.
От залива налетает резвый шквал, Торопливо наметает снежный вал Чтобы глуше еще было и темней, Чтобы души не щемило у теней.
Additional information: You could more directly transliterate his first name from Cyrillic as Vilgyelm but it’s most likely a case of German to Russian transliteration of the name Wilhelm. When trying to find information about him is it ‘Wilhelm Zorgenfrey‘ which gained a few, rare, results.
Zorgenfrey, the son of an army doctor, began to publish his poetry in 1905, but his one and only collection, Strastnaia subbota (Passion Saturday), was not published until 1922. Zorgenfrey had all the markings of a great poet, as the selection here indicates. At one time this poem made an enormous impression on the strict, sometimes implacable Aleksandr Blok, with whom Zorgenfrey developed a personal and professional relationship, and other contemporaries. In general Zorgenfrey’s themes and imagery are close to Blok’s.
Zorgenfrey was a prolific translator of major German writers, including Goethe, Herder, and Heine, and the editor of the translations of Heinrich von Kleist, Novalis, and Thomas Mann. He was arrested during Stalin’s terror and vanished in the gulag. Even just one or two of his remarkable poems are an inalienable part of Russian literature and history.
Biographical information about Zorgenfrey, p.108, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc. (transcribed as found in the original text).
Some rose from the underground, Some from exile, factories, mines, Poisoned by suspicious freedom And the bitter smoke of cities. Others from military ranks, From noblemen’s ravished nests, Where to the country churchyard They carried dead fathers and brothers. In some even now is not extinguished The intoxication of immemorial conflagrations; And the wild free spirit of the steppe, Of both the Razins and the Kudaiars, lives on. In others, deprived of all roots, is The torn fabric and sad discord of our days – The putrefied spirit of the Neva capital, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. Some raise on placards Their ravings about bourgeois evil, About the radiant pure proletariat, A Philistine paradise on earth. In others is all the blossom and rot of empires, All the gold, all the decay of ideas, The splendor of all great fetishes, And of all scientific superstition. Some go to liberate Moscow and forge Russia anew, Others, after unleashing the elements, Want to remake the entire world. In these and in others war inspires Anger, greed, the dark intoxication of wild outbursts – And in a greedy pack the plunderer Afterward steals to heroes and leaders In order to break up and sell out to enemies The wondrously beautiful might of Russia, To let rot piles of wheat, To dishonor her heavens, To devour her riches, incinerate her forests, And suck dry her seas and ore. And the thunder of battles will not cease Across all the expanses of the southern steppes Amid the golden splendor Of harvests trampled by horses. Both here and there among the ranks Resounds one and the same voice: “Who is not with us is against us!” “No one is indifferent, truth is with us!” And I stand one among them In the howling flame and smoke And with all my strength I pray for them and for the others.
by Максимилиа́н Алекса́ндрович Воло́шин (Maksimilian Voloshin) (22 November 1920) from the cycle ‘Strife‘ with Wrangel Koktebel, Crimea translated by Albert C. Todd
Одни восстали из подполий, Из ссылок, фабрик, рудников, Отравленные тёмной волей И горьким дымом городов.
Другие — из рядов военных, Дворянских разорённых гнёзд, Где проводили на погост Отцов и братьев убиенных.
В одних доселе не потух Хмель незапамятных пожаров, И жив степной, разгульный дух И Разиных, и Кудеяров.
В других — лишённых всех корней — Тлетворный дух столицы Невской: Толстой и Чехов, Достоевский — Надрыв и смута наших дней.
Одни возносят на плакатах Свой бред о буржуазном зле, О светлых пролетариатах, Мещанском рае на земле…
В других весь цвет, вся гниль империй, Всё золото, весь тлен идей, Блеск всех великих фетишей И всех научных суеверий.
Одни идут освобождать Москву и вновь сковать Россию, Другие, разнуздав стихию, Хотят весь мир пересоздать.
В тех и в других война вдохнула Гнев, жадность, мрачный хмель разгула, А вслед героям и вождям Крадётся хищник стаей жадной, Чтоб мощь России неоглядной Pазмыкать и продать врагам:
Cгноить её пшеницы груды, Её бесчестить небеса, Пожрать богатства, сжечь леса И высосать моря и руды.
И не смолкает грохот битв По всем просторам южной степи Средь золотых великолепий Конями вытоптанных жнитв.
И там и здесь между рядами Звучит один и тот же глас: «Кто не за нас — тот против нас. Нет безразличных: правда с нами».
А я стою один меж них В ревущем пламени и дыме И всеми силами своими Молюсь за тех и за других.
Addition information:Voloshin‘s poem – published on the centenary (plus one year) of the poem’s creation!
The ‘with Wrangel’ mentioned in the poem’s accreditation I believe refers to Pyotr Wrangel who was a Russian officer of Baltic German origin in the Imperial Russian Army. During the later stages of the Russian Civil War, he was commanding general of the anti-BolshevikWhite Army in Southern Russia. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia. He was known as one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés and military leader of the South Russia (as commander in chief).
Razin refers to Stepan (Stenka) Razin (ca. 1630 – 1671), a Don Cossack who led a peasant rebellion in 1670 – 1671. Celebrated in folk songs and folktales, he was captured and publicly quartered alive.
According to my book’s notes “Kudaiar refers to a legendary brigand celebrated in folk songs”. However translating it myself from the Russian root Кудеяр it is actually better Latinised/transliterated to Kudeyar regarding a Russian legendary folk hero whose story is told in Nikolay Kostomarov‘s 1875 novel of the same name. It should be noted there were apparently several Cossack robbers who adopted this name. In a letter to tsar Ivan IV a Muscovite boyar, from Crimea, reported that “there is only one brigand left here – the accursed Kudeyar“. The name is apparently Persian, composed of two elements standing for “God” and “man”.
The Neva capital refers to St Petersburg. Its location on the Neva River was the constant feature of the capital, whose name was changing from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad during the era.
Koktebel is an urban-type settlement and one of the most popular resort townlets in South-Eastern Crimea. It is situated on the shore of the Black Sea about halfway between Feodosia and Sudak and is subordinated to the Feodosia Municipality. It is best known for its literary associations as Voloshin made it his residence, where he entertained many distinguished guests, including Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, and Andrey Bely (who died there). They all wrote remarkable poems in Koktebel. Another prominent literary resident of Koktebel was Ilya Ehrenburg who lived there circa 1919 while escaping from anti-Semitic riots in Kiev.
Voloshin, whose real surname was Kirilenko-Voloshin, was born into a noble family that included Zaporozhskie Cossacks and Germans Russified in the seventeenth century. He studied law at Moscow University, though he was unable to complete a degree because of his participation in student protests in 1898. He continued to study extensively in Paris from 1903 to 1917 and traveled throughout Europe and Russia. Voloshin settled in Russia for good in 1917, just before the February Revolution, and spent the rest of his years in Koktebel in the Crimea.
Voloshin always stood alone against literary currents and intrigues. The hospitality of his home in Koktebel, which has been turned into a museum, was open to all; during the Civil War both a Red leader and a White officer found refuge in it. Voloshin’s position was neutral but not indifferent, for he condemned but the excesses of the Red Terror and the bloody actions of the White Guards. His response to the Revolution, however, never slipped into spite or petty argument or pessimism, as did the opinions of many of his literary colleagues. His response was much like Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” (see page 71), in which a white apparition of Christ rises above the Red Guards marching through a blizzard.
Voloshin based his writing to a large extent on French poetic models, but in his best works – particularly in the Civil War period – he freed himself from literariness and plunged into the maelstrom of Russian events. In these poems he tried hard to stand above the conflict, “praying for the one side as much as for the other”. Nevertheless, his sympathies were not on the side of obsolete tsarism but with the future of Russia, its people, and its culture. His celebrated poem “Holy Russia” was misinterpreted by Proletkult critics as anti-Bolshevik; its lines “You yielded to passion’s beckoning call / And gave yourself to bandit and to thief” refer not only to the Bolsheviks but to the gangs of anarchist-bandits who roamed through Russia. Voloshin’s interpretation of Russian history is controversial, subjective, and sometimes mystical, but it always conveys an undoubting faith that Russia will emerge from its fiery baptism purified and renewed.
By the time of his return to Russia from Paris in 1917, Voloshin had become a sophisticated European intellectual, more philosophical, and more socially and historically minded. Enormous intellectual and artistic daring was needed for him to call Peter the Great the “first Bolshevik.” After his return, his poetry became viewed by Soviet critics with dogmatic narrowness and in the latter years of his life went unpublished. A single-volume Soviet edition of Voloshin’s work in 1977 unfortunately made him appear an aesthete, not the chronicler of the civil war of Russia. Yet it was in the latter role that he grew into a great poet; indeed, a series of definitions from his poem “Russia” could serve as a philosophic textbook for the study of the nation’s history. Voloshin made himself a great poet by never succumbing to indifference, by his understanding of the historical laws of a social explosion, and by his courage to bless and not to curse.
Biographical information about Voloshin, p.33 – 34, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.
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)
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.