Отцу (To Father…) by Yury Kuznetsov

What can I say at your grave?
That you had no right to die?

You have left us alone in the world.
Look at mother – she is nothing but a scar.
A wound like this can see even the wind!
Father, these scars will never fade.

On a widow’s bed a memory grieves her,
She begged you to give her children.

Like flashes in distant storm clouds,
She gave the world fleeting spirits –
Sisters and brothers grew up in her mind…
Whom can I tell this to?

It’s not for me to ask my fate at your grave,
What have I got to wait for? …
Year after year will pass.
“Father,” I cry. “You didn’t bring us
happiness!…
Mother quiets me in fear…

by Юрий Поликарпович Кузнецов
(Yury Polikarpovich Kuznetsov)
(1969)
translated by Sarah W. Bliumis

Отцу

Что на могиле мне твоей сказать?
Что не имел ты права умирать?
Оставил нас одних на целом свете.
Взгляни на мать — она сплошной рубец.
Такая рана видит даже ветер!
На эту боль нет старости, отец.
На вдовьем ложе памятью скорбя,
Она детей просила у тебя.
Подобно вспышкам на далёких тучах,
Дарила миру призраков летучих —
Сестёр и братьев, выросших в мозгу…
Кому об этом рассказать смогу?
Мне у могилы не просить участья.
Чего мне ждать?..
Летит за годом год.
— Отец! — кричу. — Ты не принёс нам счастья!.. —
Мать в ужасе мне закрывает рот.

Additional information: Kuznetsov‘s father died during war so there is an autobiographical aspect to this poem even if the literal event of shouting at his father’s grave never occurred.

Yuri Polikarpovich Kuznetsov (11 February 1941 – 17 November 2003) was a Russian poet, translator and literary critic. There is not much immediately available in English so I took some leads from his Russian Wikipedia page. Notably it seems Yuri Kuznetsov is a relatively common name as I came across a pianist and various athletes who share the name.

“In 1970 he graduated with honours from the Maxim Gorky Literature Institute. After the institute he worked in the Moscow publishing house “Sovremennik” in the editorial office of national poetry. From 1994 he was the editor of the publishing house “Sovetsky Pisatel a.k.a. Soviet Writer“, then in 1996 the editor of the poetry department in the magazine “Nash Sovremennik a.k.a Our Contemporary“. He was also a professor of the Literary Institute, member of the Union of Soviet Writers a.k.a. Union of Writers of the USSR since 1974 and in 1990 he signed the Letter of 74.”

Here is a biography of Kuznetsov with an English translation by a non-native speaker.

Here is information about the location of his grave.

He received the following awards:
* Order of the Badge of Honor (1984)
* State Prize of the RSFSR in the field of literature (1990) – for the book of poems and poem “The soul is faithful to unknown limits” (1986)
* Yesenin Prize (1998)
* Lermontov Prize (2001)
* D. Kedrin Prize “Architect” (2001)
* International Competition “Literary Russia” (2003)

Kuznetsov’s father was a military officer who rescued his wife and son from certain execution by the Germans behind enemy lines in 1942; he himself was killed later in the war. Kuznetsov was raised in villages in the region of Stavropol and at age nine began to write poetry that was published in local newspapers. Critics in the 1960s toiled hard to establish a counterbalance to the poetry of the postwar generation, but no “great reactionary poet” ever appeared. Instead, Kunetsov wrote his own alternative to the liberalism of the day. He is not reactionary on a political sense, but his poetry seems antihumanistic and lacking in tenderness and lacking in tenderness. Kuznetsov’s unquestioned, even rare talent as a poet is a unique combination of vampire and nightingale, of darkness and light. Perhaps no one has written so shatteringly about the pain of orphanhood as he, transforming pain into a cry of accusation against his father for dying and thus abandoning his wife and son.

When his first book was published in 1972, the naked sincerity of his work had a remarkable impact. Many consider him the future hope of Russian poetry. Others, who maintain that antihumanism and talent are incompatible, considered him and obtuse reactionary. One aspect of his reactionary character is the scandalous, mocking statement he made about the poetry of women, insulting both Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva and all other women poets. (He announced that there are only three types of women poets, the first being the embroidery work of Akhmatova, the second the hysteria of Tsvetayeva, and the third, a general, faceless type.) Kuznetsov is certainly more complex that Aleksandr Blok’s definition of the poet: “[The poet] is entirely the child of the good and of light, he is entirely the triumph of freedom.” Kuznetsov is a child of light, but also darkness. We should not forget his light.

Biographical information about Kuznetsov, p.984-5, ‘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).

Журавли (Cranes) by Rasul Gamzatov

Sometimes I think soldiers, who have never

come back to us from the blood-covered plains,

escaped the ground and didn’t cross the River,

but turned instead into white screeching cranes.

 

And since that time the flock is flying, narrow

or wide, or long – and maybe that is why

so often and with such a sudden sorrow

we stop abruptly, staring at the sky.

 

On flies the wedge trespassing every border –

a sad formation, ranks of do-re-mi,

and there’s a gap in their open order:

it is the space they have reserved for me.

 

The day will come: beneath an evening cloud

I’ll fly, crane on my right, crane on my left,

and in a voice like theirs, shrill and loud,

call out, call out to those on earth I’ve left.

 

by Расул Гамзатович Гамзатов (Rasul Gamzatovich Gamzatov) (1968)

translated by Irina Mashinski

 


 

This poem was set to music, first performed in 1969, soon becoming one of the most famous Russian songs about World War II.

 

 

The poem’s publication in the journal Novy Mir caught the attention of the famous actor and crooner Mark Bernes who revised the lyrics and asked Yan Frenkel to compose the music. When Frenkel first played his new song, Bernes (who was by then suffering from lung cancer) cried because he felt that this song was about his own fate: “There is a small empty spot in the crane flock. Maybe it is reserved for me. One day I will join them, and from the skies I will call on all of you whom I had left on earth.” The song was recorded from the first attempt on 9 July 1969. Bernes died a month after the recording on 16 August 1969, and the record was played at his funeral. Later on, “Zhuravli” would most often be performed by Joseph Kobzon. According to Frenkel, “Cranes” was Bernes’ last record, his “true swan song.”