The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


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Роландов рог (Roland’s Horn) by Marina Tsvetaeva

Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight

of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.

 

Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,

behind everyone there’s someone to understand

 

and support him – the assurance of a living wall

of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;

 

the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,

but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.

 

And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite

alone and that my destiny is always to fight

 

beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,

abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,

 

I blow with all my strength on my horn and send

its cry into the distance in search of a friend.

 

And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all

alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(March 1921)

translated by Stephen Capus


Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.

Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.

And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.

 

Original Russian cyrillic version:

 

Роландов рог

Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…

За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,

Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!

Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.

Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,

Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —

Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.

И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!

 

A recital of the original Russian language version

On The Ills Of Smoking by Daniil Kharms

You should quit smoking in order to boast of your will power.

It would be nice, not having smoked for a week and having acquired confidence in yourself that you will be able to hold back from smoking, to come into the company of Lipavsky, Oleinikov, and Zabolotsky, so that they would notice on their own that all evening you haven’t been smoking.

And when they ask, “Why aren’t you smoking?” you would answer, concealing the frightful boasting inside you, “I quit smoking.”

A great man must not smoke.

It is good and useful to employ the fault of boastfulness to rid yourself of the fault of smoking.

The love of wine, gluttony, and boastfulness are lesser faults than smoking.

A man who smokes is never at the height of his circumstance, and a smoking woman is capable of just about anything. And so, comrades, let us quit smoking.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(1933)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich


Fun facts: Lipavsky refers to Leonid Lipavsky, Oleinikov to Nikolay Oleynikov, and Zabolotsky to Nikolay Zabolotsky.

Zabolotsky was part of OBERIU (ОБэРИу) a short-lived avant-garde collective of Russian Futurist writers, musicians, and artists in the 1920s and 1930s. The group coalesced in the context of the “intense centralization of Soviet Culture” and the decline of the avant garde culture of Leningrad, as “leftist” groups were becoming increasingly marginalized.

Lipavsky and Oleynikov belonged to a later grouping, which had no public outlet, is generally called the “chinari” (i.e. “the titled ones”) group in Russian literary scholarship, though it is uncertain that they ever formalized a name for the group, nor that they called themselves “chinari” with any consistency. Thus, the names “OBERIU” and “chinari” are somewhat interchangeable in the scholarship. The borders between the two groups are (and were) permeable, and the only basic continuity is the presence of Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky.