‘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

‘City of splendour, city of poor’ by Alexander Pushkin

City of splendour, city of poor,

spirit of grace and servitude,

heaven’s vault of palest lime,

boredom, granite, bitter cold –

still I miss you rather, for

down your streets from time to time

one may spy a tiny foot,

one may glimpse a lock of gold.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1828)

translated by Anthony Wood


Fun fact: Pushkin is most likely alluding to St Petersburg prior to his exile.

‘Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice’ Osip Mandelstam

Gotta keep living, though I’ve died twice,

and water’s driving the city crazy:

how beautiful, what high cheekbones, how happy,

how sweet the fat earth to the plough,

how the steppe extends in an April upheaval,

and the sky, the sky – pure Michelangelo…

 

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

(1935)

translated by Andrew Davis

Jerusalem by R. S. Thomas

A city – its name

keeps it intact. Don’t

touch it. Let the muezzin’s

cry, the blood call

 

of the Christian, the wind

from sources desiccated

as the spirit drift over

its scorched walls. Time

 

devourer of its children

chokes here on the fact

it is in high places love

condescends to be put to death.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

‘I Thought They Would Make Us the Heroes’ by Varlam Shalamov

I thought they would make us the heroes

of cantantas, posters, books of all kinds;

that hats would be flung in the air

and streets go out of their minds.

 

We had returned.

We were unbowed.

We had stayed true.

 

But the city had thoughts of its own;

it just muttered a word or two.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1961)

translated by Robert Chandler

The Letter by R. S. Thomas

And to be able to put at the end

Of the letter Anthens, Florence – some name

That the spirit recalls from earlier journeys

Through the dark wood, seeking the path

To the bright mansions; cities and towns

Where the soul added depth to its stature.

 

And not to worry about the date,

The words being timeless, concerned with truth,

Beauty, love, misery even,

Which has its seasons in the long growth

From seed to flesh, flesh to spirit.

 

And laying aside the pen, dipped

Not in tear’s volatile liquid

But in black ink of the heart’s well,

To read again what the hand has written

To the many voices’ quiet diction.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Poetry for Supper (1958)