The last trolleybus glides along the city.
Moscow grows dim and, like a river, fades.
And the pain that thrashed at my temple
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,
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
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,
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)
translated by Andrew Davis
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
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)
translated by Robert Chandler