Папиросники (Cigarette Pedlars) by Sergey Yesenin

Avenues so wretched,

snowbanks, bitter frost.

Desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

Wandering dirty avenues,

enjoying evil games –

all of them are pickpockets,

all are jolly thieves.

That bunch takes Nikitskaya,

this – Tverskaya Square.

They stand, sombrely whistling,

the livelong day out there.

They dash to all the barrooms

and, with some time to spare,

they pore over Pinkerton

out loud over a beer.

Let the beer be bitter –

beer or not, they’re soused.

All rave about New York,

all dream of San Frantsisk…

Then again, so wretchedly,

they walk out in the frost –

desperate little urchins

with trays of cigarettes.

.

.

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1923)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

.

A recital of the poem by the actor Кирилл Радциг (Kirill Radzig).

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

Папиросники

Улицы печальные,
Сугробы да мороз.
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.
Грязных улиц странники
В забаве злой игры,
Все они — карманники,
Веселые воры.
Тех площадь — на Никитской,
А этих — на Тверской.
Стоят с тоскливым свистом
Они там день-деньской.
Снуют по всем притонам
И, улучив досуг,
Читают Пинкертона
За кружкой пива вслух.
Пускай от пива горько,
Они без пива — вдрызг.
Все бредят Нью-Йорком,
Всех тянет в Сан-Франциск.
Потом опять печально
Выходят на мороз
Сорванцы отчаянные
С лотками папирос.

.

Information:

Nikitskaya is a radial street that runs west from Mokhovaya Street to Garden Ring in Moscow, between Vozdvizhenka Street (south) and Tverskaya Street (north).

Tverskaya Square is a square in Central Administrative Okrug in Moscow. Belorussky railway station faces the square. The streets which terminate at the square are, in counterclockwise order, Leningradsky Avenue, Gruzinsky Val, 2nd Brestskaya Street, 1st Brestskaya Street, 1st Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street, Lesnaya Street, and Butyrsky Val.

Pinkerton likely references to Allan J. Pinkerton (25 August 1819 – 1 July 1884) who was a Scottish–American detective and spy, best known for creating the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. He produced numerous popular detective books, ostensibly based on his own exploits and those of his agents. Some were published after his death, and they are considered to have been more motivated by a desire to promote his detective agency than a literary endeavour. Most historians believe that Allan Pinkerton hired ghostwriters, but the books nonetheless bear his name and no doubt reflect his views.

Ласточки (Swallows) by Afanasy Fet

Nature’s ever indolent spy,

forgetting cares and tasks, I’m fond

of watching darkening swallows fly

above a twilit pond.

.

I watch an arrow almost touch

the pond’s clear glass – until I fear

a hostile element may snatch

this winged lightning from the air.

.

Once more this upsurge of elation,

once more black water sliding by…

But is not this true inspiration?

The very breath of being alive?

.

Do poets not seek ways forbidden

to beings made from dust and clay?

Do I not dream of what lies hidden

and long to scoop a drop away?

.

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1884)

translated by Anonymous, revised by Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski

.

A reading of the poem in Russian by the actor Sergey Chonishvili (Сергей Чонишвили)

Below is the original, Russian Cyrillic, version of the poem.

Ласточки

Природы праздный соглядатай,
Люблю, забывши всё кругом,
Следить за ласточкой стрельчатой
Над вечереющим прудом.

Вот понеслась и зачертила —
И страшно, чтобы гладь стекла
Стихией чуждой не схватила
Молниевидного крыла.

И снова то же дерзновенье
И та же тёмная струя, —
Не таково ли вдохновенье
И человеческого я?

Не так ли я, сосуд скудельный,
Дерзаю на запретный путь,
Стихии чуждой, запредельной,
Стремясь хоть каплю зачерпнуть?

.

Extra information: Here is the Wikipedia page about swallows and here is the RSPB page which has lots of interesting information about swallows.

Also a ‘revised translation’ which is rare. I wonder what the previous translation was like and how it came to require 3 professionals in the revision?

‘The last trolleybus glides along the city’ [Excerpt] by Bulat Okudzhava

The last trolleybus glides along the city.

Moscow grows dim and, like a river, fades.

And the pain that thrashed at my temple

slowly abates.



by ბულატ ოკუჯავა
a.k.a. Булат Шалвович Окуджава
a.k.a. Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava
(1957 – 1959)
translated by Maria Bloshteyn and Boris Dralyuk

This is an excerpt from a song about the night’s last trolleybus, which is blue and rescues the lost and lonely granting them a sense of wordless communion. Some consider Okudzhava’s gentle and welcoming songs to be this symbolic bluetrolleybus as his songs brought an intimacy into a world that had been ruled by intimidation.

Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava (Russian: Булат Шалвович Окуджава; Georgian: ბულატ ოკუჯავა) (May 9, 1924 – June 12, 1997) was a Soviet and Russian poet, writer, musician, novelist, and singer-songwriter of Georgian-Armenian ancestry. He was one of the founders of the Soviet genre called “author song” (авторская песня), or “guitar song”, and the author of about 200 songs, set to his own poetry. His songs are a mixture of Russian poetic and folksong traditions and the French chansonnier style represented by such contemporaries of Okudzhava as Georges Brassens. Though his songs were never overtly political (in contrast to those of some of his fellow Soviet bards), the freshness and independence of Okudzhava‘s artistic voice presented a subtle challenge to Soviet cultural authorities, who were thus hesitant for many years to give official recognition to Okudzhava

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

Сороковые (The Forties) by David Samoylov

The forties, fateful,

warring, frontline,

with funeral notices,

clattering trains.

The hum of the rails.

All is cold, high and barren.

Their houses have burned –

they’re heading east.

That’s me at the station

in my scruffy wool cap.

The star’s not standard issue –

it’s cut from a can.

Yes, here I am in the world,

skinny, happy, carefree.

I’ve got tobacco in my pouch –

I have a stash of rolling papers.

I joke with the girls,

and limp a little overmuch.

I break my rationed bread in half,

and I know everything on earth.

Imagine! What coincidence –

war, horror, dreams and youth!

And all of it sank deep inside me…

and only later did it wake.

The forties, fateful,

lead and gun smoke…

War wanders through the land.

And we are all so young!

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

A recital of the poem in its original Russian:

The original Cyrillic Russian version of the poem:

Сороковые

Сороковые, роковые,
Военные и фронтовые,
Где извещенья похоронные
И перестуки эшелонные.

Гудят накатанные рельсы.
Просторно. Холодно. Высоко.
И погорельцы, погорельцы
Кочуют с запада к востоку…

А это я на полустанке
В своей замурзанной ушанке,
Где звездочка не уставная,
А вырезанная из банки.

Да, это я на белом свете,
Худой, веселый и задорный.
И у меня табак в кисете,
И у меня мундштук наборный.

И я с девчонкой балагурю,
И больше нужного хромаю,
И пайку надвое ломаю,
И все на свете понимаю.

Как это было! Как совпало –
Война, беда, мечта и юность!
И это все в меня запало
И лишь потом во мне очнулось!..

Сороковые, роковые,
Свинцовые, пороховые…
Война гуляет по России,
А мы такие молодые!