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.

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Памятник (The Monument) by Vladislav Khodasevich

I am an end and a beginning.

So little spun from all my spinning!

I’ve been a firm link nonetheless;

with that good fortune I’ve been blessed.

 

New Russia enters on her greatness;

they’ll carve my head two-faced, like Janus,

at crossroads, looking down both ways,

where wind and sand, and many days…

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

translated by Michael Frayn

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

Small Fruit Tree After Rain by Dobriša Cesarić

Consider the small fruit tree after the rain:

full of trembling raindrops

the enchanted magnificence of its branches

glitters in the sunlight.

 

Yet when the sun hides, in a moment

the magic vanishes.

It is again, as it was before,

an ordinary, poor little tree.

 

by Dobriša Cesarić (1902 – 1980), Croatia

Translated by Jeni Williams and Pavlija Jovic after the Croatian of Dobriša Cesarić.

‘Blows The Swan Wind…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Blows the swan wind,

The blue sky’s smeared

With blood; the anniversary

Of your love’s first days draws near.

 

You have destroyed

My sorcery; like water the years

Have drifted by. Why

Aren’t you old, but as you were?

 

Your tender voice even more ringing…

Only your serene brow

Has taken from time’s wing

A scattering of snow.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

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

‘Everything Is Looted…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is looted, spoiled, despoiled,

Death flickering his black wing,

Anguish, hunger – then why this

Lightness overlaying everything?

 

By day, cherry-scent from an unknown

Wood near the town. July

Holding new constellations, deep

At night in the transparent sky –

 

Nearer to filthy ruined houses

Flies the miraculous…

Nobody has ever known it,

This, always so dear to us.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

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

‘Lying In Me…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Lying in me, as though it were a white

Stone in the depths of a well, is one

Memory that I cannot, will not, fight:

It is happiness and it is pain.

 

Anyone looking straight into my eyes

Could not help seeing it, and could not fail

To become thoughtful, more sad and quiet

Than if he were listening to some tragic tale.

 

I know the gods changed people into things,

Leaving their consciousness alive and free.

To keep alive the wonder of suffering,

You have been metamorphed into me.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer 1916, Slepnyovo)

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