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.

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By The Sea by Semyon Lipkin

The waves crashed under the flicker of the lighthouse

and I, in my ignorance, heard a monotone.

Years later the sea speaks to me and I begin to understand

there are birds and laundresses, sprites and sorcerers,

laments and curses, moans and profanity, white horses

and half breeds who rear up unexpectedly.

There are waves who are salesgirls with buxom hips

who sell foam from the counter, they tremble fluent or airy.

Nature can’t be indifferent, she always mimics us

like a loan, a translation; we’re the blueprint, she’s the copy.

Once upon a time the pebble was different

and so the wave was different.

 

by Семён Израилевич Липкин (Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin)

(1965)

translated by Yvonne Green


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.

Lot’s Wife by Anna Akhmatova

And the just man trailed God’s messenger,

His huge, light shape devoured the black hill.

But uneasiness shadowed his wife and spoke to her:

‘it’s not too late, you can look back still

 

At the red towers of Sodom, the place that bore you,

The square in which you sang, the spinning-shed,

At the empty windows of that upper storey

Where children blessed your happy marriage-bed.’

 

Her eyes that were still turning when a bolt

Of pain shot through them, were instantly blind;

Her body turned into transparent salt,

And her swift legs were rooted to the ground.

 

Who mourns one woman in a holocaust?

Surely her death has no significance?

Yet in my heart she never will be lost,

She who gave up her life to steal one glance.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922-1924)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

Rachel by Anna Akhmatova

A man met Rachel, in a valley. Jacob

Bowed courteously, this wanderer far from home.

Flocks, raising the hot dust, could not slake their

Thirst. The well was blocked with a huge stone.

Jacob wrenched the stone from the well

Of pure water, and the flocks drank their fill.

 

But the heart in his breast began to grieve,

It ached like an open wound.

He agreed that in Laban’s fields he should serve

Seven years to win the maiden’s hand.

For you, Rachel! Seven years in his eyes

No more than seven dazzling days.

 

But silver-loving Laban lives

In a web of cunning, and is unknown to grace.

He thinks: every deceit forgives

Itself to the glory of Laban’s house.

And he led Leah firmly to the tent

Where Jacob took her, blind and innocent.

 

Night drops from on high over the plains,

The cool dews pour,

And the youngest daughter of Laban groans,

Tearing the thick braids of her hair.

She curses her sister and reviles God, and

Begs the Angel of Death to descend.

 

And Jacob dreams the hour of paradise:

In the valley the clear spring,

The joyful look in Rachel’s eyes,

And her voice like a bird’s song.

Jacob, was it you who kissed me, loved

Me, and called me your black dove?

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Under An Empty Dwelling’s Frozen Roof…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Under an empty dwelling’s frozen roof,

Dead days. Here no living comes.

I read the acts of the Apostles

And the Psalms.

 

But the stars are blue, the hoar-frost downy,

And each meeting more wonderful,

And in the Bible a red maple leaf

Marks the pages of the Song of Songs.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas