Нежность (Gentleness) by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

This can’t go on:
is after all injustice of its kind.
How in what year did this come into fashion?
Deliberate indifference to the living,
deliberate cultivation of the dead.
Their shoulders slump and they get drunk sometimes
and one by one they quit;
orators at the crematorium
speak words of gentleness to history.
What was it took his life from Mayakovsky?
What was it put the gun between his fingers?
If with that voice of his, with that appearance,
if ever they had offered him in life
some crumbs of gentleness.
Men live. Men are trouble-makers.
Gentleness is a posthumous honour.

by Евгений Александрович Евтушенко
(Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko)
(1960)
translation by Robin Milner-Gulland and Peter Levi

Нежность

Разве же можно,
чтоб все это длилось?
Это какая-то несправедливость…
Где и когда это сделалось модным:
«Живым — равнодушье,
внимание — мертвым?»
Люди сутулятся,
выпивают.
Люди один за другим
выбывают,
и произносятся
для истории
нежные речи о них —
в крематории…
Что Маяковского жизни лишило?
Что револьвер ему в руки вложило?
Ему бы —
при всем его голосе,
внешности —
дать бы при жизни
хоть чуточку нежности.
Люди живые —
они утруждают.
Нежностью
только за смерть награждают.

Additional information: This poem’s subject is the suicide of Vladimir Mayakovsky which, for a long time, was speculated to be a government sanctioned assassination though Mayakovsky was prone to suicidal ideation.

Осень (Autumn) by Boris Pasternak

I have let my household disperse,
My dear ones have long been apart,
And a familiar loneliness
Fills all of nature and all my heart.

Here I am with you in the lodge.
No one walks through the woods these days.
As in the old song, undergrowth
Has almost hidden the forest ways.

Forlornly, the timber walls
Look down on the two of us here.
We did not promise to leap obstacles,
We shall fall at last in the clear.

We shall sit down from one till three,
You with embroidery, I deep
In a book, and at dawn shall not see
When we kiss each other to sleep.

More richly and more recklessly,
Leaves, leaves, give tongue and whirl away,
Fill yesterday’s cup of bitterness
With the sadness of today.

Impulse, enchantment, beauty!
Let’s dissolve in September wind
And enter the rustle of autumn!
Be still, or go out of your mind!

As the coppice lets slip its leaves,
You let your dress slip rustling down
And throw yourself into my arms
In your silk-tasselled dressing gown.

You are my joy on the brink
Of disaster, when life becomes
A plague, and beauty is daring,
And draws us into each other’s arms.

By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(c.1947 or 1949)
from Доктор Живаго
(Doctor Zhivago – where it is presented as the work of the titular character)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Осень

Я дал разъехаться домашним,
Все близкие давно в разброде,
И одиночеством всегдашним
Полно всё в сердце и природе.

И вот я здесь с тобой в сторожке.
В лесу безлюдно и пустынно.
Как в песне, стежки и дорожки
Позаросли наполовину.

Теперь на нас одних с печалью
Глядят бревенчатые стены.
Мы брать преград не обещали,
Мы будем гибнуть откровенно.

Мы сядем в час и встанем в третьем,
Я с книгою, ты с вышиваньем,
И на рассвете не заметим,
Как целоваться перестанем.

Еще пышней и бесшабашней
Шумите, осыпайтесь, листья,
И чашу горечи вчерашней
Сегодняшней тоской превысьте.

Привязанность, влеченье, прелесть!
Рассеемся в сентябрьском шуме!
Заройся вся в осенний шелест!
Замри или ополоумей!

Ты так же сбрасываешь платье,
Как роща сбрасывает листья,
Когда ты падаешь в объятье
В халате с шелковою кистью.

Ты — благо гибельного шага,
Когда житье тошней недуга,
А корень красоты — отвага,
И это тянет нас друг к другу.

Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians want war?) by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Do Russian people stand for war?
Go, ask the calm on plain and shore
The wide expanse of field and lea,
The birches and poplar tree.

The soldiers who once fought abreast,
And near the birches lie at rest,
Their sons will answer by the score,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are for war.

Not only for their country’s life
Did soldiers perish in their strife –
But that all human creatures might
Sleep always peacefully at night.

Ask those that fearful battles knew,
Who on the Elbe joined with you,
We keep these memories evermore –
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are for war.

Yes, We know how to fight,
But we don’t want again
For soldiers to fall
On their bitter land.

Ask the mothers,
Ask my wife,
And then you should understand
If the Russians,
If the Russians,
If the Russians want war.

The working people of each land
Will come, for sure, to understand
Throughout the world on sea and shore –
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are for war.

by Евгений Александрович Евтушенко
(Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko)
(1962)
English lyrics translation by Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko)

Sung by Mark Naumovich Bernes who was a Soviet actor and singer of Jewish ancestry, who performed some of the most poignant songs to come out of World War II including “Dark Night” and “Cranes”.

Хотят ли русские войны?

Хотят ли русские войны?
Спросите вы у тишины
Над ширью пашен и полей,
И у берез, и тополей.

Спросите вы у тех солдат,
Что под березами лежат,
И вам ответят их сыны:
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Не только за свою страну
Солдаты гибли в ту войну,
А чтобы люди всей земли
Спокойно ночью спать могли.

Спросите тех, кто воевал,
Кто нас на Эльбе обнимал.
Мы этой памяти верны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Да, мы умеем воевать,
Но не хотим, чтобы опять
Солдаты падали в бою
На землю горькую свою.

Спросите вы у матерей,
Спросите у жены моей,
И вы тогда понять должны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Performed by Ансамбль Александрова (the Alexandrov Ensemble) using the 1970s (?) translated lyrics of Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko). Although she titles it ‘Do the Russian people stand for war’ a translation along the lines of ‘Do the Russian want war?’ is more common.

Additional information: Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians Want War?) is a 1961 anti-war song lyric written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and set to music by Eduard Kolmanovski.


Yevtushenko later said he wrote the song in response to conversations he had with foreigners while travelling in western Europe and the United States. The lyrics evoke the peaceful Russian countryside, the memory of the millions of lives lost in the Second World War, and the friendly meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers on Elbe Day.


The poem was cited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his address to the Russian people immediately prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the 2021-2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

On Thursday 24 February 2022 Russian citizens were heard singing the song at protests held in St Petersburg and Moscow. After these protests were broken up, by authorities in riot gear, it was apparently remarked by civilians “в России запрещено говорить, что русские не хотят войны…” (“In Russia it is forbidden to say Russians do not want war…”)

No civilians anywhere want war.

Китайская Прачечная (Chinese Laundry) by Yury Kazarnovsky

Here in the half-darkness of a basement
more musty than melancholy,
more soiled than sorrow,
streams of dirty laundry flowed together,
like ailments towards laboratory doors.
Fallen on tablecloth,
a cream-colored cowboy shirt
lies like a leper in sticky jam,
and Li Yu Chan,
with his salivating pencil,
brings the bill
to the sinners and the redeemed.
He’ll tear their flaxen body to pieces.
A storm of shirt –
he’s their ruthless whip!
May the laundry sparkle
once again in its altered appearance!
In the cauldron of farfetched quantity
layers of clothing
toss and turn gravely,
dreams are boiled out of pillowcases,
and a shirt’s confession circles in the steam.
Kerchiefs swim,
cuddled up to them in fear,
socks with holes
are boiling,
and the bleach is laughing like a satyr
at the bed sheets’ sleepy bosom.
Then with a burn in each hair
the laundry is readied
for new torments,
to be beaten in a fever of cleaning
on the steep board of pain.
And another torture has been foretold:
Margo Ivanova –
Yu Chan’s wife,
durable to the touch and in character,
will iron the laundry at a most hellish pace.
Moaning, she bowed
the enormous, sinking suns
of her breasts
that dragged along like a mountain after the iron,
her breasts, that have been tried in labor and desire.
This wife is a delight,
and a child with slanting eyes sucks
a lollipop at the crossroads of the races.
The laundry has been laundered.
The bedbugs aren’t too big.
It’s time for Yu Chan to sleep at last.
He sleeps.
And a created whiteness,
born with difficulty from the sticky ooze,
descends to him in white-snowed dreams,
in the form of childhood, rice, and jasmine.
And the laundry’s snow whirls out of the dark,
out of the darkest of darks. And the first light, and image of purity,
gratefully kisses the parchment of his brow.

by Юрий Александрович Казарновский (Yury Alexandrovich Kazarnovsky)
a.k.a Юрий Алексеевич Казарновский
(1904 – 1960?)
translated by Bradley Jordan

Китайская Прачечная

Здесь в полумглу подвального жилья,
Душней тоски, заношенней, чем горе,
Стеклись потоки грязного белья,
Как недруги к дверям амбулатории.
Упав на скатерть, кремовый апаш
Лежит в проказе липкого варенья.
И Ли Ю-Чан. слюнявя карандаш,
Подводит счет грехам и искупленьям!
Льняное тело будет он терзать,
Гроза рубах, он беспощадный бич их:
Пускай белье сумеет засверкать
Опять в переиначенных обличьях!
В котле надуманной величины
Пласты белья ворочаются тяжко.
Из наволочек выкинет он сны.
И паром вьется исповедь рубашки.
Плывут платки, прижавшись в страхе к ним,
Кипят носки, заношены до дырок,
И заспанную груду простыни
Высмеивает щелок, как сатира.
Потом с ожогом в каждом волоске
Белье идет на новые мученья,
Чтоб на крутой и ранящей доске
Забиться в лихорадке очищенья.
Затем иная мука суждена:
Его погладит в самом адском такте
Марго Ивановна — Ю-Чанова жена —
Добротная на ощупь и характер.
На жаркий стол она, кряхтя, склонила
Бредущие горой за утюгом
Огромные закатные светила
Грудей, испытанных восторгом и трудом.
Жена отрадна и раскос сынишка,
На перекрестке рас сосущий леденец.
Белье бело, клопы крупны не слишком,
Пора уснуть Ю-Чану, наконец,
Он спит. И созданная белизна,
Рожденная трудом из липкой тины,
К нему исходит в белоснежных снах:
В обличьях детства, риса и жасмина.
И снег белья кружит из темноты.
Из темноты нестирано угарной.
И первый свет, как образ Чистоты,
Пергамент лба целует благодарно.

Additional information: There is little information about Yuri Kazarnovsky online. Even his date of death, somehow, is uncertain it seems. His patronymic is Alexandrovich but apparently, for a long time, it was mistakenly believed to be Alekseevich – hence why sources might choose to forgo mentioning it.

He was born in Rostov-on-Don. As a student, he was a member of a subversive literary circle called Vremennik and was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1926/1927. He spent the next four years (1928 to 1932) imprisoned in the Solovki prison camp. His poems of camp life were published in the OGPU-run prison journal “Solovetsky Islands“. He also worked on the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. In 1936 he published his only book Stikhi (lit. ‘Poems’).

Soon after, in 1937, he was caught up in Stalin’s purges, and spent four years in the Kolyma gulag. (As this was between 1938-1942 he was there at the same time as Varlam Shalamov who had begun serving a five year sentence in 1937. I don’t think there is any suggestion they ever met during their sentences, if ever at all, but I note it because Shalamov’s work instantly comes to mind when hearing of Kolyma. There are others who wrote of their experiences in Kolyma but Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is probably the best known account of the gulags there). Kazarnovsky was rehabilitated by the state in 1955 and is believed to have died in 1960.

It is speculated that he was one of the last people to have met the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the gulag in 1938. He also worked in the camp in Mariinsk, Siberia. According to Dmitry Likhachev (who may be the source of the inaccurate patronymic due to either mistake or misquotation) Mandelshtam‘s wife, Nadezhda, tried to extract information about her husband from Kazarnovsky but it was in vain. He spent his later years in poverty and addiction, in Tashkent and in Moscow, where he corresponded with a contemporary, the poet Ilya Selvinsky (1899–1968).

Little information about Kazarnovsky’s life has survived. After his work was published in an anthology of poetry by Ogoniok (1989), the scholar D. S. Likhachev stated that he had met the poet while both were incarcerated in the Solovki Gulag from the fall of 1928 to the fall of 1931. However, the Rostov newspaper Komsomolets reported in 1989 that Likhachev was mistaken. Relatives assert that Kazarnovsky was arrested in 1937 and rehabilitated in 1955. The compiler of this anthology met him briefly to express admiration for his only book, Stikhi (Poems) (1934). Kazarnovsky was surprised that anyone knew his poems and seemed distant, as if the hands of death were already embracing him. His poems are filled with stunning, fresh, unforgettable imagery.

Biographical information about Kazarnovsky, p.477, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

For anyone looking for more of Kazarnovsky‘s poems here are translations by Boris Dralyuk of The Stroll and The Tram.

‘На что мне ночи, полные вина…’ (‘Of What Use To Me…’) by Nina Grachova

Of what use to me are the nights full of wine,
and stars over the rusty rowan bush?
As though by barded wire, I’m fenced in
by the huge Russian Empire.
And among her holy fools and dunces
and among her serfs – I suffer for her.
It is not the whips’ and cannons’ power I revere,
but the anguish of the land.
And this pain, this bliss
which is called my motherland,
grain by grain I put down in my notebook,
so that later I won’t reproach myself
with not having learned by heart
this cart-horse tongue, these dialects
that hide wolfish sadness,
drunken delirium, and human torment…

by Нина Владимировна Грачёва
(Nina Vladimirovna Grachova
a.k.a Nina Vladimirovna Grachyova
a.k.a Nina Vladimirovna Grachiova)
from Строфы века (Stanza of the Century)
(1990)
translated by Nina Kossman

На что мне ночи, полные вина…

На что мне ночи, полные вина,
И звёзды над кустом рябины ржавой?
Как проволокой, я обнесена
Российскою огромною державой, –
И средь юродивых её, и средь шутов,
И средь холопов – всё терзаюсь ею,
И не пред властью пушек и кнутов,
А пред тоской земли благоговею.
И эту кару или благодать,
Что называется моей отчизной,
Я по крупице заношу в тетрадь,
Дабы не говорили с укоризной,
Что я не заучила наизусть
Сей ломовой язык, сии наречья,
В которых затаилась волчья грусть,
Хмельной угар и мука человечья…

Additional information: There is little information about her it seems. Boris Dralyuk recently did a post about her covering her poem Шпионка (Spy) about Mata Hari. A list of her poems is available to view on this Russian poetry site if you are able to read Russian.

An interesting thing I noticed is that the ‘Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry’ anthology, compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and printed in 1993, I referenced gives her date of birth as 1971 when the few other source I’ve found give it as 1969. In the anthology’s brief biography of her it states “Grachova was discovered by the editor E. C. Lashkin, a great connoisseur of poetry whose efforts sometime earlier had succeeded in the printing of Bulgakov’s great novel The Master and Margarita. Even at age fifteen it was already clear that Grachova possessed a divine gift. Her poems are uniquely religious, with a faith that incorporates nature, personal feeling, and poetry“.