On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>
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January by R. S. Thomas

The fox drags its wounded belly

Over the snow, the crimson seeds

Of blood burst with a mild explosion,

Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

 

Over the snow that feels no pity,

Whose white hands can give no healing,

The fox drags its wounded belly.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)

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.”