‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

Advertisements

‘I Love A Despairing Peace…’ by Georgy Ivanov

I love a despairing peace:

chrysanthemum blossoms in fall,

lights adrift in a river of mist,

a sunset that has turned pale,

nameless graves, all the clichés

of a Symbolist ‘wordless romance’ –

what Annensky loved with such greed

and Gumilyov couldn’t stand.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Say A Few More Words To Me’ by Georgy Ivanov

Say a few more words to me,

don’t sleep before the dawn.

I need you to feel close to me.

My journey’s almost done.

 

May the last poem I have made

take on new life through your sweet lisp,

your quiet wrestle with sounds

you cannot get your tongue round.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Ivanov’s wife Odoevtseva, who this poem addresses, had a mild speech defect so couldn’t roll her ‘r’s. Ivanov died on 26 August 1958 hence the poems tone and themes.

Irina Vladimirovna Odoyevtseva (Ирина Владимировна Одоевцева) real name Iraida Heinike was a Russian poet, novelist and memoirist, and the wife of the poet Georgy Ivanov in her own right.

‘Led By What Is Shining…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Led by what is shining,

the sleepwalker looks into a blank,

black is the death beneath him

and there’s no knowing

where the moon’s thin ledge

will slide him.

 

The innocent are executed

in a universal night –

look the other way.

Look into cold nothing

and let its moonshine take you

beyond all understanding.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1948)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Where Can I Look, Where Can I Go…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Where can I look, where can I go,

to find that almost Alpine snow,

all sacrificed so life can grow,

all turned by May to splash and flow,

to breath of dandelion and rose,

to mighty wave or shining billow –

into that foolish question posed

by François Villon long ago?

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1951)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: François Villon was born in Paris in 1431, disappeared from view in 1463 and is the best known French poet of the late Middle Ages. A ne’er-do-well who was involved in criminal behavior, had multiple encounters with law enforcement authorities and so wrote about some of these experiences in his poems.

‘I Still Find Charm In Little Accidental Trifles…’ by Georgy Ivanov

I still find charm in little accidental

trifles, empty little things –

say, in a novel without end or title,

or in this rose, now wilting in my hands.

 

I like its moiré petals, dappled

with trembling silver drops of rain –

and how I found it on the sidewalk,

and how I’ll toss it in a garbage can.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1956)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

‘The Smokey Blotches Of The Neighbours’ Windows…’ by Georgy Ivanov

The smokey blotches of the neighbours’ windows,

and windswept roses bending, drawing breath –

if I could think that life is but a dream,

that we cannot help waking after death.

 

To wait in heaven – heaven is so blue –

to wait in that cool bliss without a care.

And then, never to part with you.

With you for ever. Do you see? For ever…

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Boris Dralyuk