The Friend by Rimma Kazakova

Quietly my friend is growing old,

and like an ancient itinerant

nun, has a faint gleam about her: an

unnatural light, thrown back as if from a mirror.

.

As she sits her needle stabs at her sewing.

Her apartment is nearby the station, yet

from somewhere else much more remote

comes the far-away hoot of another railway.

.

Her most ordinary things seem sad. A picture

of The Unknown Woman hangs over the bed;

across the tapestry of a German gobelin

a herd of sleek deer are grazing.

.

It’s well-heated in here, I say to her,

and she nods in reply: it is warm, yes.

What is it we have drowned in this room,

that I can feel trickling through our fingers?

.

Can these little muslin curtains here that

fool us with their starched whiteness be

the only banks, the only rivers

ever to flow for us with milk and honey?

.

Beggars we are, working infertile ground.

Like green arrows from a bow, perhaps

both of us have overestimated

the strength that belongs to young girls.

.

And yet maybe it is no sin, maybe

it is even part of knowing yourself human

to want to have some material thing that

can somehow last, and be eternal.

.

I am afraid of muddling everything with

words, on the wrong track again: is

it possible these nineteen years we’ve

shared will disappear without a trace of us?

.

They sank into us like burdens once,

and lay like routes ahead we had to take.

Comes to, wake up now, my dear friend.

Prick your finger with your needle!

.

Along the shipping routes, you also may

bear your lights out into the

open sea, as in other times,

pedlars carried their wares over old Russia.

.

My friend…

.

by Римма Фёдоровна Казакова (Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova)

(1955?)

translated by Elaine Feinstein

.

Additional information: Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova (Римма Фёдоровна Казакова) was born in Sevastopol. 27 January 1932 in Sevastopol, Soviet Union – 19 May 2008 in Perkhushkovo, Odintsovo District of Moscow Oblast, Russia) was a Soviet/Russian poet. She was known as an author of many popular songs of the Soviet era. She studied history and worked in Khabarovsk as a lecturer. She has also worked as an editor in a newsreel studio.

Though a very conservative writer, Kazakova is nevertheless unusual in the Soviet context for her occasional frank treatment of such themes as pregnancy. Her poetry, like Berggolts’, is quite often sombre, showing insight into such problems as loneliness or ageing, particularly as it affects women. She identifies with the hard life of hunters, builders, fishermen etc., and much of her poetry springs from her observations of the working life of such people.

Her first rhymes were reminiscent of Yevtushenko, Okudzhava, Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky and were first published in 1955. Her first poetry collection, Let’s Meet in the East («Встретимся на Востоке»), was published in 1958.

From 1959 until her death, she was a member of the USSR Union of Writers. She also held the position of First Secretary of the Moscow Union of Writers. In October 1993, she signed the Letter of Forty-Two. She died suddenly at age 76 at a medical sanatorium near Perkhushkovo on 19 May 2008 at 1pm. She was buried on 22 May 2008 at Vagankovo Cemetery in Moscow.

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There doesn’t seem to be much available information about Kazakova in English. In fact this is the only translated poem of hers I’m aware of so if anyone is able to contribute something further then please leave a comment. Especially if you know where to source the original, Cyrillic, version as I couldn’t find any evidence of it after looking at a number of Russian language poetry websites.

Бог (God) by Boris Slutsky

 Once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side,
He didn't dwell in the sky,
we'd see him from time to time
alive, on the mausoleum.
He was much more clever and evil
than that other God, the old one,
known to the world as Jehovah,
whom he overthrew with a crash
and reduced to a heap of ash,
then subsequently restored
and recruited to serve the cause.
For once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side.

One day as I wandered around in
the Arbat, I met God on parade
with five limousines and surrounded
by guards wearing mousy grey
overcoats, hunched in dread.
It was early and late – overhead
the grey light of morning was showing
as he grazed with his cruel, all-knowing
eyes through the hearts of men,
unmasking deviants and traitors.

For we lived in an era when
God himself was our neighbour.


by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(1955)
translated by Stephen Capus
A recital of the poem in Russian by Alla Demidova (from 1:11 onwards after she briefly introduces it).

Here is the poem in the original Cyrillic Russian.

 Бог


Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Он жил не в небесной дали,
Его иногда видали
Живого. На мавзолее.
Он был умнее и злее
Того — иного, другого,
По имени Иегова,
Которого он низринул,
Извел, пережег на уголь,
А после из бездны вынул
И дал ему стол и угол.

Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Однажды я шел Арбатом.
Бог ехал в пяти машинах.
От страха почти горбата,
В своих пальтишках мышиных
Рядом дрожала охрана.
Было поздно и рано.
Серело. Брезжило утро.
Он глянул жестоко, мудро
Своим всевидящим оком,
Всепроницающим взглядом.

Мы все ходили под богом.
С богом почти что рядом.

Additional information: Slutsky was an atheist but he didn’t forget his Jewish cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. This poem can be read as Slutsky reflecting on how the cult of persona arose in the Soviet era. Communist iconography of Lenin replaced Imperial Russia’s religious iconography in the day to day lives of Russian citizens in Moscow’s historical Arbat street and the surrounding area. Then he reflects, in the second part of the poem, how imagery of Stalin eventually replaced Lenin’s image and he was even worse than him.

Придворный соловей (Our Court nightingale) by Varlam Shalamov

Our court nightingale,

beak open wide,

can let out the loudest

trills in the world.

The creature is stunning

by what pours from his throat –

but it was he who spurred

Derzhavin to write

that praise and flattery

are by no means the same:

a slave can flatter

but he can’t do praise.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: The Dershavin mentioned in th epoem is Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин, 14 July 1743 – 20 July 1816) who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

Original Russian cyrillic version:

Придворный соловей
Раскроет клюв пошире,
Бросая трель с ветвей,
Крикливейшую в мире.

Не помнит божья тварь
Себя от изумленья,
Долбит, как пономарь,
Хваленья и моленья.

Свистит что было сил,
По всей гремя державе,
О нем и говорил
Язвительный Державин,

Что раб и похвалить
Кого-либо не может.
Он может только льстить,
Что не одно и то же.

 

A recital of the Russian version set to music:

‘And so I keep going’ by Varlam Shalamov

And so I keep going;

death remains close;

I carry my life

in a blue envelope.

 

The letter’s been ready

ever since autumn:

just one little word –

it couldn’t be shorter.

 

But I still don’t know

where I should send it;

if I had the address,

my life might have ended.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘All that is human slips away’ by Varlam Shalamov

All that is human slips away;

everything was mere husk.

All that is left, indivisible,

is birdsong and dusk.

A sharp scent of warm mint,

the river’s far-off noise;

all equal, and equally light –

all my losses and joys.

Slowly, with its warm towel

the wind dries my face;

moths immolate themselves

in the campfire’s flames.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Alive Not By Bread Alone’ by Varlam Shalamov

Alive not by bread alone,

I dip a crust of sky,

in the morning chill,

in the stream flowing by.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

March Saw Winter Gain In Strength by Maria Petrovykh

March saw winter gain in strength –

bitter cold and unrelenting storms.

In reckless fury, blinding spite,

the wind blew only from the north.

 

No hint of spring. Gripped by inertia,

the heart slips all too close to places

of no return: no self, no words,

mere apathy and voicelessness.

 

Who can bring back our sight, our hearing?

Who can retrace the way to hearth

and home now that all trace of home

is gone, wiped from the earth?

 

by Мария Сергеевна Петровых (Maria Sergeyevna Petrovykh)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler and Irina Mashinski


 

the final line could be considered a sceptical response to Khrushchev’s Thaw during the, relatively, liberal period after Stalin’s death.

Also it is quite timely considering the current UK weather where ‘the Beast for the East’ and Storm Emma are double teaming the British Isles.

Pisces by R. S. Thomas

Who said to the trout,

You shall die on Good Friday

To be food  for a man

And his pretty lady?

 

It was I, said God,

Who formed the roses

In the delicate flesh

And the tooth that bruises.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song at the Year’s Turning (1955)

No Through Road by R. S. Thomas

All in vain. I will cease now

My long absorption with the plough,

With the tame and the wild creatures

and man united with the earth.

I have failed after many seasons

In the mind’s precincts do not apply.

 

But where to turn? Earth endures

After the passing, necessary shame

Of winter, and the old lie

Of green places beckons me still

From the new world, ugly and evil,

That men pry for in truth’s name.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song at the Year’s Turning (1955)

No Through Road by R. S. Thomas

All in vain. I will cease now

My long absorption with the plough,

With the tame and the wild creatures

And man united with the earth.

I have failed after many seasons

To bring truth to birth,

And nature’s simple equations

In the mind’s precincts do not apply.

 

But where to turn? Earth endures

After the passing, necessary shame

Of winter, and the old lie

Of green places beckons me still

From the new world, ugly and evil,

That men pry for in truth’s name.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)