Зима (Winter) by Bella Akhmadulina

Winter, to me your gestures are
cold and careful: yes, in
winter there is something
gentle as medicine,

or why else would sickness
put out trusting hands
into that season, from its own
torture and darkness?

Weave your magic then
my love, let the kiss
of one curl of ice
brush over my forehead.

Soon I shall trust any
deception, and look without fear
into the eyes of dogs, as I
press close to the trees:

And forgive, playfully, with a
run, turn and jump; and
after a bout of forgiveness
forgive again,

become like a winter’s day:
empty and oval, though
in comparison to such
presence, always small.

I shall turn to nothing, and
so call over the wall,
not some shadow of myself, but light
I shall not block at all.

by Бе́лла (Изабе́лла) Аха́товна Ахмаду́лина
Белла Әхәт кызы Әхмәдуллина
Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina
(1950)
translated by Elaine Feinstein

Зима

О жест зимы ко мне,
холодный и прилежный.
Да, что-то есть в зиме
от медицины нежной.

Иначе как же вдруг
из темноты и муки
доверчивый недуг
к ней обращает руки?

О милая, колдуй,
заденет лоб мой снова
целебный поцелуй
колечка ледяного.

И все сильней соблазн
встречать обман доверьем,
смотреть в глаза собак
и приникать, к деревьям.

Прощать, как бы играть,
с разбега, с поворота,
и, завершив прощать,
простить еще кого-то.

Сравняться с зимним днем,
с его пустым овалом,
и быть всегда при нем
его оттенком, малым.

Свести себя на нет,
чтоб вызвать за стеною
не тень мою, а свет,
не заслоненный мною.

A recital of the poem in Russian by Maria Selivanova.

Additional information: Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina (10 April 1937 – 29 November 2010) was a Soviet and Russian poet, short story writer, and translator, known for her apolitical writing stance. She was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement. She was cited by Joseph Brodsky as the best living poet in the Russian language. She is known in Russia as “the voice of the epoch“.
Despite the aforementioned apolitical stance of her writing, Akhmadulina was often critical of authorities in the Soviet Union, and spoke out in favour of others, including Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was known to international audiences via her travels abroad during the Khrushchev Thaw, during which she made appearances in sold-out stadiums. Upon her death in 2010 at the age of 73, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev hailed her poetry as a “classic of Russian literature.”

The main themes of Akhmadulina‘s works are friendship, love, and relations between people. She wrote numerous essays about Russian poets and translators, some devoted to her close friend, Bulat Okudzhava. Akhmadulina avoided writing overtly political poems, but took part in political events in her youth, supporting the so-called dissident movement.

Akhmadulina wrote in an apolitical style making use of imagery and humour in her work. She used rhymed quatrains in her early works, which discussed ordinary, yet imaginative occurrences from daily life in language that was full of both archaisms and neologisms. Religion and philosophy became her themes as she aged and she wrote in longer forms.

Of mixed Tartar and Italian descent, Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow into a middle-class family. At the age of eighteen she married Yevtushenko, a fellow student at the Gorky Institute of Literature, from which she was expelled. Her second husband was the well-known short-story writer Yuri Nagibin, with whom she collaborated on a film scenario. Her third marriage weas to the playwright and children’s writer Gennadi Mamlin.

Akhmadulina’s first collection, String, was published in 1962 and criticized by the Party as ‘superfluous’, too intimate, etc. It was composed mainly of short lyrics, witty, whimsical, well-turned – strongly influenced by Ahmatova in their sobriety of form and preoccupation with individual emotions. Though Akhmadulina’s work appeared thereafter in magazines and almanacs from time to time, it was not until 1969 that her second collection, Music Lessons, was published. In 1963 a fragment of her long poem ‘A Fairy Tale about the Rain’ was published in Literary Georgia. ‘Rain’ marked a high point and and is still her most ambitious work to date. Since then she appears to have done more translating, especially from Georgian, than original writing, though the indications are that she has again entered a more creative period. Akhmadulina has perhaps major potentialities (Yevtushenko regards her as the foremost woman poet in Russian since the death of Akhmatova). Her work became rapidly more complex after the early short lyrics, and in ‘Rain’ it gained a weight of symbolic meaning that indicates considerable poetic endurance and power. Her subject in this poem, and in many others leading up to it, is nothing less than her relationship to her own poetic inspiration, symbolized by the Rain.

As Christine Rydel says in her illuminating analysis of Akhmadulina’s symbolic system, ‘The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina’ (Russian Literature Triquarterly, No.1): ‘Where most poets look to love for inspiration, Akhmudalina looks to inspiration for love.’ Like Tsvetayeva, with whom, as in ‘Music Lessons’ and ‘I Swear’, she identifies explicitly, Akhmadulina is uncomfortable, uneasy in the world. There is a plaintive, complaining tone to all this that can be irritating, but her verbal power, her technical accomplishment, allied to her capacity, by remote control as it were, to enter into and share in the destiny of her distinguished women predecessors, accurately and agonizingly conveys the struggle of creativity in an alienating environment.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.227- 228, Post-War Russian Poetry (1974), ed. Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
‘Bella Akhmadulina: Meeting in the Ostankino Concert Studio’ (1976)‎. It’s about an hour and a half long featuring her doing recitals of her poetry and talking about various subjects. If you have time it’s worth watching (It’s in Russian obviously but the auto-translated subtitles will let you get the gist of many parts).

Among Akhmadulina’s ancestors on her mother’s side were Italians who settled in Russia, including the professional revolutionary Aleksandr Stopani, after whom a street in Moscow was named. On her father’s side were Tatars. In 1955, when her first verses were published in the journal Oktiabr’, it was immediately obvious that a real poet had come on the scene. She entered the Gorky Literary Institute the same year and became its queen. All of the young poets there were in love with her, including the compiler of this anthology who became her first husband. Her talent was also admired by poets of the older generation – Pavel Antokolsky, Mikhail Svetlov and Vladimir Lugovskoi. She encountered Boris Pasternak once while walking down a country path; he recognized her and invited her to visit him the next day when guests were coming, but she was too shy and respectful to come.

After mastering the assonant “Yevtushenko” rhyme, she took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, into whispers, rustling indeterminacy, and, at times, such intimacy as to be incomprehensible. Many of her major poems establish links to the memory on the great Russian poets on the past, especially Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Aleksandr Pushkin.

With Anna Akhmatova’s death, Akhmadulina became known as the most brilliant woman poet writing in Russian. She is an absolute sorceress with poetic form, though she has a tendency to spin intricate verbal webs. Probably no one in Russian poetry at the present has such an innate feeling for words. Akhmadulina’s poetry is somewhat private and she has a reputation of being apolitical, as assessment that misses the point. One can discern in such poems as “I Swear”, “St. Bartholomew’s Night,” and “A Fairy Tale About Rain” a social conscience permeated with a hatred for the vile politics that degrades people. Her fragile, gentle hand has signed any and all letters in defense of dissidents or anyone in trouble in the Soviet system. She was unafraid to cross police lines to visit Sakharov while he was in exile.

Akhmadulina writes elegant prose, placing refinement of language above all else, as she does with her poetry. She was awarded the State Prize for literature in 1989 and was the first of her generation to be elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.873 – 874, ‘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.

Не выходи из комнаты (Don’t Leave The Room) by Joseph Brodsky

Don’t leave the room, don’t blunder, do not go on.
If you’re smoking Shipka, what good is the Sun?
Outside, all is meaningless, especially – the cry of joy.
To the lavatory and back straightaway, old boy.

O, don’t leave the room, don’t call for a cab, my friend.
Because Space is a corridor that will end
with a meter. And, if your dear, delight expressing,
walks inside, kick her out without undressing.

Don’t leave the room; pretend that you have a cold.
Four walls and a chair entice like nothing else in the world.
Why leave the place that you’ll surely return to late in
the night, as you were, only more – mutilated?

O, don’t leave the room. Enchanted, dance bossa nova
in shoes worn on bare feet, in a coat draped over
your naked body. The hall reeks of ski wax and cabbage.
You’ve written a lot; more would be extra baggage.

Don’t leave the room. Let only the room imagine a little
what you might look like. And besides, incognito
ergo sum, as form itself learned from substance once.
Don’t leave the room! Outside, you will not find France.

Don’t be a fool! Be what others weren’t. Remain.
Don’t leave the room! Let the furniture have free reign,
blend in with wallpaper. Bolt the door, barricade in place
with a dresser from chronos, cosmos, eros, virus, race.

.

by Иосиф Александрович Бродский

(Joseph Aleksandrovich Brodsky a.k.a. Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky)

(1970)

translated by ??? (I’ve lost track of who did this translation so any aid in attributing the appropriate credit would be greatly appreciated)

Brodsky reciting his poem in Russian

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Не выходи из комнаты

Не выходи из комнаты, не совершай ошибку.
Зачем тебе Солнце, если ты куришь Шипку?
За дверью бессмысленно все, особенно — возглас счастья.
Только в уборную — и сразу же возвращайся.

О, не выходи из комнаты, не вызывай мотора.
Потому что пространство сделано из коридора
и кончается счетчиком. А если войдет живая
милка, пасть разевая, выгони не раздевая.

Не выходи из комнаты; считай, что тебя продуло.
Что интересней на свете стены и стула?
Зачем выходить оттуда, куда вернешься вечером
таким же, каким ты был, тем более — изувеченным?

О, не выходи из комнаты. Танцуй, поймав, боссанову
в пальто на голое тело, в туфлях на босу ногу.
В прихожей пахнет капустой и мазью лыжной.
Ты написал много букв; еще одна будет лишней.

Не выходи из комнаты. О, пускай только комната
догадывается, как ты выглядишь. И вообще инкогнито
эрго сум, как заметила форме в сердцах субстанция.
Не выходи из комнаты! На улице, чай, не Франция.

Не будь дураком! Будь тем, чем другие не были.
Не выходи из комнаты! То есть дай волю мебели,
слейся лицом с обоями. Запрись и забаррикадируйся
шкафом от хроноса, космоса, эроса, расы, вируса.

Another recital of the poem by the Russian actor and activist Алексей Девотченко (Alexei Devotchenko)

Additional Information:

Here is an interesting article, with an alternative translation of this poem, by Alexandra Berlina regarding Brodsky and the timeliness of this poem at the moment.

In particular this translation note, from the article, where she discusses the choices faced in expressing wordplay successfully to an audience unlikely to be familiar with the original cultural context:

the original second line says ‘Why should you need the sun (solntse) if you smoke Shipka?’ Both Solntse and Shipka were brands of Bulgarian cigarettes. I decided against attempts along the lines of ‘You read The Guardian, why should you need the sun?’, Brodsky being a Russian chain smoker rather than a British liberal.

Alexandra Berlina