9 March 1823 by Vasily Zhukovsky

You stood before me

so still and quiet.

Your gaze was languid

and full of feeling.

It summoned memories

of days so lovely…

It was the last

such day you gave me.

Now you have vanished,

a quiet angel;

your grave is peaceful,

as calm as Eden!

There rest all earthly

recollections,

There rest all holy

Thoughts of heaven.

 

Heavenly stars,

quiet night!

 

by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)

(1823)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author,  is related to him.

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Courage by Anna Akhmatova

We know what trembles in the scales,

What has to be accomplished.

The hour for courage. If all else fails,

With courage we are not unfurnished.

What though the dead be crowded, each to each,

What though our houses be destroyed? –

We will preserve you, Russian speech,

Keep you alive, great Russian word.

We will pass you to our sons and heirs

Free and clean, and they in turn to theirs,

And so forever.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(23 February 1942)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘That’s How I Am…’ by Anna Akhmatova

That’s how I am. I could wish for you someone other,

Better.

I trade in happiness no longer…

Charlatans, pushers at the sales! …

We stayed peacefully in Sochi,

Such nights, there, came to me,

And I kept hearing such bells!

Over Asia were spring mists, and

Tulips were carpeting with brilliance

Several hundreds of miles.

O, what can I do with this cleanness,

This simple untaintable scene? O,

What can I do with these souls!

I could never become a spectator.

I’d push myself, sooner or later,

Through every prohibited gate.

Healer of tender hurts, other women’s

Husbands’ sincerest

Friend, disconsolate

Widow of many. No wonder

I’ve a grey crown, and my sun-burn

Frightens the people I pass.

But – like her – I shall have to part with

My arrogance – like Marina the martyr –

I too must drink of emptiness.

You will come under a black mantle,

With a green and terrible candle,

Screening your face from my sight…

Soon the puzzle will be over:

Whose hand is in the white glove, or

Who sent the guest who calls by night.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1942, Tashkent)

from her Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book) era of work but not published at the time

translation by D. M. Thomas


 

In 1942 Akhmatova was flown out of Leningrad by the authorites on a whim and spent the next 3 years in Tashkent. She became seriously ill with typhus but regarded this period with a mix of joy, delirium and recognition.

Akhmatova in this poem draws a parallel between her circumstances and the fate of fellow poet Marina Tsvetaeva. Tsvetaeva had been an emigre since 1922, returning to Russia only to find out her husband was shot and her daughter arrested. She hung herself in 1941 and it had an immense effect on her peer Akhmatova as evidenced by her poetry.

‘And You, My Friends…’ by Anna Akhmatova

And you, my friends who have been called away,

I have been spared to mourn for you and weep,

Not as a frozen willow over your memory,

But to cry to the world the names of those who sleep.

What names are those!

I slam shut the calender,

Down on your knees all!

Blood of my heart,

The people of Leningrad march out in even rows,

The living, the dead: fame can’t tell them apart.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1942)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Searching The Doll by Mike Jenkins

Slowly pacing the beach,

in age now not in sleep,

it’s a cemetery

but I’ve come to dig.

Gulls wailing what’s inside.

 

I’m alone again at night

in a waking trance

searching for that doll

I dropped, the blood-smirch

on its white wedding-dress.

 

My prints always lead back

to the cellar of that house.

A nine-month sentence stretched

to life on its camp-bed:

the memory condemned.

 

I chatted so readily then

hadn’t learnt suspicion’s martial art,

his affection the breadth of air

and hands soft as powdery sand.

Soon became my jailer, my interrogator.

 

Buried me under his sweaty bulk

so my frenzied fingers tried

to take flight and reach up

to the single slit of light.

Dead birds washed up with the flotsam.

 

by Mike Jenkins

from This House, My Ghetto

Журавли (Cranes) by Rasul Gamzatov

Sometimes I think soldiers, who have never

come back to us from the blood-covered plains,

escaped the ground and didn’t cross the River,

but turned instead into white screeching cranes.

 

And since that time the flock is flying, narrow

or wide, or long – and maybe that is why

so often and with such a sudden sorrow

we stop abruptly, staring at the sky.

 

On flies the wedge trespassing every border –

a sad formation, ranks of do-re-mi,

and there’s a gap in their open order:

it is the space they have reserved for me.

 

The day will come: beneath an evening cloud

I’ll fly, crane on my right, crane on my left,

and in a voice like theirs, shrill and loud,

call out, call out to those on earth I’ve left.

 

by Расул Гамзатович Гамзатов (Rasul Gamzatovich Gamzatov) (1968)

translated by Irina Mashinski

 


 

This poem was set to music, first performed in 1969, soon becoming one of the most famous Russian songs about World War II.

 

 

The poem’s publication in the journal Novy Mir caught the attention of the famous actor and crooner Mark Bernes who revised the lyrics and asked Yan Frenkel to compose the music. When Frenkel first played his new song, Bernes (who was by then suffering from lung cancer) cried because he felt that this song was about his own fate: “There is a small empty spot in the crane flock. Maybe it is reserved for me. One day I will join them, and from the skies I will call on all of you whom I had left on earth.” The song was recorded from the first attempt on 9 July 1969. Bernes died a month after the recording on 16 August 1969, and the record was played at his funeral. Later on, “Zhuravli” would most often be performed by Joseph Kobzon. According to Frenkel, “Cranes” was Bernes’ last record, his “true swan song.”

‘To Fall Ill As One Should…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To fall ill as one should, deliriously

Hot, meet everyone again,

To stroll broad avenues in the seashore garden

Full of the wind and the sun.

 

Even the dead, today, have agreed to come,

And the exiles, into my house.

Lead the child to me by the hand.

Long I have missed him.

 

I shall eat blue grapes with those who are dead,

Drink the iced

Wine, and watch the grey waterfall pour

On to the damp flint bed.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas