‘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!

‘Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail’ by Sergey Yesenin

Oh, to hell with this storm, damn this snow and hail –

pounding on the rooftop, driving in white nails!

But me – I’m not frightened, and I know my fate:

my wastrel heart has nailed me to you – nailed us tight!

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1925)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

‘No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock’ by Osip Mandelstam

No, not the moon – the bright face of a clock

glimmers to me. How is it my fault

that I perceive the feeble stars as milky?

And I hate Batyushkov’s unbounding arrogance:

What time is it? Someone simply asked –

and he replied to them: eternity!

 

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

(1912)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Fun fact: Such an exchange did occur between Konstanin Batyushkov and his doctor and in his poem ‘For The Tombstone of a Little Girl’ he imagined a dead baby saying to her parents ‘Dear ones, don’t cry! / Envy my ephemerality; / I did not know this life, / And know eternity’ (translation by Peter France).

 

Disillusionment by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Don’t tempt me with your tender ruses,

with the return of passion’s blaze:

a disenchanted man refuses

inveiglements of former days!

My faith in faithfulness has faded,

my faith in love has passed its prime;

I won’t indugle another time

in dreams degrading and degraded.

Let blind despair not increase,

the things that were, pray, do not mention,

and, caring friend! allow the patient

to doze in long, untroubled peace.

I sleep, and sweet is relaxation;

let bygone dreams be laid to rest:

you will awaken agitation,

not love, in my tormented breast.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1829)

translated by Boris Dralyuk