‘I, A Butterfly That Has Flown’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

I, a butterfly that has flown

into the room of human life,

must leave the handwriting of my dust

like a prisoner’s signature

over the stern windows,

across fate’s strict panes.

The wallpaper of human life

is grey and sad.

And there is the windows’

transparent ‘No’.

 

I have worn away my deep-blue morning glow,

my patterns of dots,

my wing’s light-blue storm, first freshness.

The powder’s gone, the wings have faded

and turned transparent and hard.

Jaded, I beat

against the window of mankind.

From the other side knock eternal numbers,

summoning me to the motherland,

asking one single number

to return to all numbers.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников (Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Khlebnikov possibly reflecting on Zhuangzi’s famous quote:

  • Once upon a time, I, Chuang Chou, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of my happiness as a butterfly, unaware that I was Chou. Soon I awaked, and there I was, veritably myself again. Now I do not know whether I was then a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly, dreaming I am a man. Between a man and a butterfly there is necessarily a distinction. The transition is called the transformation of material things.
    • As translated by Lin Yutang

 

 

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‘The Fifth Act Of The Drama…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The fifth act of the drama

Blows in the wind of autumn,

Each flower-bed in the park seems

A fresh grave, we have finished

The funeral-feast, and there’s nothing

To do. Why then do I linger

As if I am expecting

A miracle? It’s the way a feeble

Hand can hold fast to a heavy

Boat for a long time by the pier

As one is saying goodbye

To the person who’s left standing.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after, her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.

‘The Souls Of Those I Love…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The souls of those I love are on high stars.

How good that there is no-one left to lose

And one can weep. Tsarskoye Selo’s

Air was made to repeat songs.

 

By the river bank the silver willow

Touches the bright September waters.

Rising from the past, my shadow

Comes silently to meet me.

 

So many lyres, hung on branches, here,

But there seems a place even for my lyre.

And this shower, drenched with sun and rare,

Is consolation and good news.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.

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.

Бежецк (Bezhetsk) by Anna Akhmatova

There are white churches there, and the crackle of icicles,

The cornflower eyes of my son are blossoming there.

Diamond nights above the ancient town, and yellower

Than lime-blossom honey is the moon’s sickle.

From plains beyond the river dry snow-storms fly in,

And the people, like the angels in the fields, rejoice.

They have tidied the best room, lit in the icon-case

The tiny lamps. On an oak table the Book is lying.

There stern memory, so ungiving now,

Threw open her tower-rooms to me, with a low bow;

But I did not enter, and I slammed the fearful door;

And the town rang with the news of the Child that was born.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (26 December 1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI

translation by D. M. Thomas


In December 1921, during visits to her imprisoned son at Slepnyovo, Akhmatova was tormented, while passing by the ancient town of Bezhetsk nearby, with memories of happier times she shared with Gumilev when she would visit this area.

 

To A Guest by Vladislav Khodasevich

Bring visions when you ring my bell

or all the loveliness of hell,

of God, if you belong to that band.

But little acts of meaning well –

just leave them outside on the hat stand.

 

On this small pea in endless space

be shining angel or be demon.

But not mere man, though, for to be one

is to pass by and leave no trace.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1921)

translated by Michael Frayn

‘Moscow Who Are You?’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

Moscow, who are you?

Enchantress or enchanted?

Forger of freedom

or fettered lady?

What thought furrows your brow

as you plot your worldwide plot?

Are you a shining window

into another age?

O Moscow, are you femme fatale

or fetter-fated,

fated or fêted?

Does scholarship decree

your crucifixion

beneath the razorblades of clever scholars

frozen over an old book

as pupils stand around their desk?

O daughter of other centuries,

powder keg,

explosion of your fetters.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler