Directions by R.S. Thomas

In this desert of language

we find ourselves in,

with the sign-post with the word ‘God’

worn away

and the distance… ?

 

Pity the simpleton

with his mouth open crying:

How far is it to God?

 

And the wiseacre says: Where you were,

friend.

You know the smile

glossy

as the machine that thinks it has outpaced

belief?

I am one of those

who sees from the arms opened

to embrace the future

the shadow of the Cross fall

on the smoothest of surfaces

causing me to stumble.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Between Here and Now (1981)

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‘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.

He Who Gave The Wind Its Weight by Semyon Lipkin

He who gave the wind its weight,

and gave measure to the water,

pointed lightning on its path,

and showed rain what rules to follow –

he once told me with quiet joy:

‘No one’s ever going to kill you:

How can dust be broken down?

Who has power to ruin beggars?’

 

by Семён Израилевич Липкин (Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin)

(1981)

translated by Robert Chandler


Lipkin is renowned as a literary translator and often worked from the regional languages which Stalin tried to obliterate. Lipkin hid a typescript of his friend Vasily Grossman‘s magnum opus, Life and Fate, from the KGB and initiated the process that brought it to the West.

Lipkin’s importance as a poet was achieved once his work became available to the general reading public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the many years prior, he was sustained by the support of his wife, poet Inna Lisnianskaya and close friends such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who thought him a genius and championed his poetry). Lipkin’s verse includes explorations of history and philosophy and exhibits a keen sense of peoples’ diverse destinies. His poems include references to his Jewish heritage and to the Bible. They also draw on a first-hand awareness of the tragedies of Stalin’s Great Purge and World War II. Lipkin’s long-standing inner opposition to the Soviet regime surfaced in 1979-80, when he contributed in the uncensored almanac “Metropol” and then he and Lisnianskaya left the ranks of the official Writer’s Union of the USSR.

День Космонавтики : Cosmonautics Day

День Космона́втики (Cosmonautics Day) is an anniversary celebrated in Russia and some other former USSR countries on 12 April. In Poland an “International Day of Aviation and Cosmonautics” (Polish: Międzynarodowy Dzień Lotnictwa i Kosmonautyki) is celebrated on the same day. In 2011, 12 April was declared as the International Day of Human Space Flight in dedication of the first manned space flight made on 12 April 1961 by the 27-year-old Russian Soviet cosmonaut Ю́рий Алексе́евич Гага́рин (Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin). Gagarin circled the Earth for 1 hour and 48 minutes aboard the Vostok 1 spacecraft.

 

The commemorative day was established in the Soviet Union one year later, on 9 April 1962. In modern Russia, it is celebrated in accordance with Article 1.1 of the Law “On the Days of Military Glory and the Commemorative Dates in Russia”.

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Gagarin’s flight was a triumph for the Soviet space program, and opened a new era in the history of space exploration. Gagarin became a national hero of the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc and a famous figure around the world. Major newspapers around the globe published his biography and details of his flight. Moscow and other cities in the USSR held mass demonstrations, the scale of which was second only to World War II Victory Parades. Gagarin was escorted in a long motorcade of high-ranking officials through the streets of Moscow to the Kremlin where, in a lavish ceremony, he was awarded the highest Soviet honour, the title of Hero of the Soviet Union, by the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

Nowadays the commemoration ceremony on Cosmonautics Day starts in the city of Korolyov, near Gagarin’s statue. Participants then proceed under police escort to Red Square for a visit to Gagarin’s grave in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, and continue to Cosmonauts Alley, near the Monument to the Conquerors of Space. Finally, the festivities are concluded with a visit to the Novodevichy Cemetery.

In 1968, the 61st conference of the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale resolved to celebrate this day as the World Aviation and Astronautics Day.

On 12 April 1981, exactly 20 years after Vostok 1, a Space Shuttle, STS-1, Columbia, was launched for the first orbital flight, although this was a coincidence as the launch of STS-1 had been delayed for two days.

On 7 April 2011 United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 12 April as the International Day of Human Space Flight.

In the 1960s the song 14 минут до старта (14 minutes until the launch) written by Oscar Feltsman and Vladimir Voynovich was considered the unofficial “anthem of cosmonautics” and regularly aired on this day in the USSR.

In the 1980s it was eclipsed by the hit Трава У Дома (Grass at home) performed by the Russian VIA band Zemlyane Земляне (The Earthlings). The latter song was awarded the official status of the anthem of Russian Cosmonautics in 2010. Russian cosmonauts have traditionally taken this song with them getting assigned for orbital deployments.

Since 2001, Yuri’s Night, also known as the “World’s Space party“, is held every 12 April worldwide to commemorate milestones in space exploration. Yuri’s Night is named for the first human to launch into space, Yuri Gagarin, who flew the Vostok 1 spaceship on April 12, 1961. The launch of STS-1, the first Space Shuttle mission, is also honoured, as it was launched 20 years to the day of Vostok 1 on April 12, 1981. In 2013, Yuri’s Night was celebrated at over 350 events in 57 countries.

Of course while Gagarin‘s flight was a first let us not forget the other firsts including the first woman in space Валенти́на Влади́мировна Терешко́ва (Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova) who was selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. She completed 48 orbits of the Earth in her three days in space.

RIAN_archive_612748_Valentina_Tereshkova

In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.

Before her recruitment as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova was a textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur skydiver. After the dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, she became a prominent member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, holding various political offices. She remained politically active following the collapse of the Soviet Union and is still regarded as a hero in post-Soviet Russia.

In 2013, she offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars if the opportunity arose. At the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, she was a carrier of the Olympic flag.

this entry wouldn’t be complete without mention of Laika, the first dog in space whose sacrifice led to scientific discoveries which made the flights of Gagarin and all who followed possible.

Лайка (Laika) c. 1954November 3, 1957) was a Soviet space dog who became one of the first animals in space, and the first animal to orbit the Earth. Laika, a stray dog from the streets of Moscow, was selected to be the occupant of the Soviet spacecraft Sputnik 2 that was launched into outer space on November 3, 1957.

Laika_(Soviet_dog)

Little was known about the impact of spaceflight on living creatures at the time of Laika’s mission, and the technology to de-orbit had not yet been developed, and therefore Laika’s survival was not expected. Some scientists believed humans would be unable to survive the launch or the conditions of outer space, so engineers viewed flights by animals as a necessary precursor to human missions. The experiment aimed to prove that a living passenger could survive being launched into orbit and endure a Micro-g environment, paving the way for human spaceflight and providing scientists with some of the first data on how living organisms react to spaceflight environments.

Laika died within hours from overheating, possibly caused by a failure of the central R-7 sustainer to separate from the payload. The true cause and time of her death were not made public until 2002; instead, it was widely reported that she died when her oxygen ran out on day six or, as the Soviet government initially claimed, she was euthanised prior to oxygen depletion.

On April 11, 2008, Russian officials unveiled a monument to Laika. A small monument in her honour was built near the military research facility in Moscow that prepared Laika’s flight to space. It features a dog standing on top of a rocket. She also appears on the Monument to the Conquerors of Space in Moscow.