‘I Thought about Eagles for a Long Time’ by Daniil Kharms

I thought about eagles for a long time

And understood a lot:

Eagles fly on heights sublime,

Disturbing people not.

I saw that eagles live on mountains hard to climb,

And make friends with spirits of the skies.

I thought about eagles for a long time,

But confused them, I think, with flies.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(15 March 1939)

from Events

translated by Matvei Yankelevich with Ilya Bernstein

The Death of Sophocles by Anna Akhmatova

Then the king learnt that Sophocles was dead

(Legend)

To Sophocles’ house that night an eagle flew down from the sky,

And sombrely rang from the garden the cicadas’ choir.

At that hour the genius was passing into immortality,

Skirting, at the walls of his native town, the night-fires

Of the enemy. And this was when the king had a strange dream:

Dionysus himself ordered the raising of the siege,

That no noise disturb the Athenians in burying him

With fitting ceremony and with elergies.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1961)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun facts: Sophocles (Σοφοκλῆς) c. 497/6 – winter 406/5 BC) is one of three ancient Greek tragedians whose plays have survived. His first plays were written later than those of Aeschylus, and earlier than or contemporary with those of Euripides. Sophocles wrote over 120 plays during the course of his life, but only seven have survived in a complete form: Ajax, Antigone, The Women of Trachis, Oedipus Rex, Electra, Philoctetes and Oedipus at Colonus.

The most famous tragedies of Sophocles feature Oedipus and also Antigone: they are generally known as the Theban plays, although each play was actually a part of a different tetralogy, the other members of which are now lost. Sophocles influenced the development of drama, most importantly by adding a third actor, thereby reducing the importance of the chorus in the presentation of the plot. He also developed his characters to a greater extent than earlier playwrights such as Aeschylus.

Sophocles died at the age of ninety or ninety-one in the winter of 406/5 BC, having seen within his lifetime both the Greek triumph in the Persian Wars and the bloodletting of the Peloponnesian War. As with many famous men in classical antiquity, his death inspired a number of apocryphal stories. The most famous is the suggestion that he died from the strain of trying to recite a long sentence from his Antigone without pausing to take a breath. Another account suggests he choked while eating grapes at the Anthesteria festival in Athens. A third holds that he died of happiness after winning his final victory at the City Dionysia. A few months later, a comic poet, in a play titled The Muses, wrote this eulogy: “Blessed is Sophocles, who had a long life, was a man both happy and talented, and the writer of many good tragedies; and he ended his life well without suffering any misfortune.” According to some accounts, however, his own sons tried to have him declared incompetent near the end of his life; he is said to have refuted their charge in court by reading from his as yet unproduced Oedipus at Colonus. One of his sons, Iophon, and a grandson, also called Sophocles, also became playwrights.

Several ancient sources mention Sophocles’ homosexuality or bisexuality. Athenaios reported that Sophocles loved boys like Euripides loved women. The poet Ion of Chios relates an anecdote involving Sophocles seducing a serving boy at a symposium, and Athenaios one in which Sophocles is tricked by a hustler.

Regarding LGBT history under Stalin it makes interesting reading regarding the recriminalisation of homosexuality by him, associating it with fascism and accusating men of being pederasts thus conflating homosexuality with pedophilia. Especially as he tolerated the activities of Beria. Long after Stalin’s death in 1953, a 1964 Soviet sex manual instructed citizens that: “With all the tricks at their disposal, homosexuals seek out and win the confidence of youngsters. Then they proceed to act. Do not under any circumstances allow them to touch you. Such people should be immediately reported to the administrative organs so that they can be removed from society” despite liberalisation reforms under Khrushchev.

To Osip Mandelstam by Marina Tsvetaeva

Nothing’s been taken away!

We’re apart – I’m delighted by this!

Across the hundreds of miles

that divide us, I send you my kiss.

 

Our gifts, I know, are unequal.

For the first time my voice is still.

What, my young Derzhavin, do

you make of my doggrel?

 

For your terrible flight I baptized you –

young eagle, it’s time to take wing!

You endured the sun without blinking,

but my gaze – that’s a different thing!

 

None ever watched your departure

more tenderly than this

or more finally. Across hundreds

of summers, I send you my kiss.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1916)

translated by Peter Oram


 

Fun fact: Her referring to Mandelstam as ‘my young Derzhavin’ references Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин), who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. 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.

High Flight (An Airman’s Ecstacy) by John Gillespie Magee Jr

Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth

And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;

Sunward I’ve climbed and joined the tumbling mirth

Of sun-split clouds – and done a hundred things

You have not dreamed of; wheeled and sored and swung

High in the sun-lit silence. Hovering there

I’ve chased the shouting wing along, and flung

My eager craft through footless halls of air;

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue

I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace,

Where never lark nor even eagle flew;

And while, with silent lifting mind I’ve trod

The high untrespassed sanctity of space,

Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

 

by John Gillespie Magee Jr (1922-1941)