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)
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.