Cирена (Siren) by Anna Prismanova

In that land we tried to speak
of thirst, unquenchable thirst,
of a mournful cry that pierced us in the dark
and was halted in mid-flight.

But in the silence there reaches out for us
a steamboat’s cry, the crying of its soul,
it pulls us in, inviting and in parting,
as it sails into the age-old twilight.

This high-flown, antediluvian howl,
that the head and insides both absorb,
that even soaks into the legs –
is the union of peace and anxiety.

The steamboat sails off into the darkness and the night.
But it’s as if the siren’s wail died long ago.
As in the time of crusades when knights
were blessed on their way by ringing church bells.

And we, my dear, will leave like this, exactly,
having spent our last small ounce of arrogance,
we’ll leave – moving restlessly into the night,
we’ll have taken little and won’t have weighed the consequences.

The siren awaits us at the end of the earth,
and I know already the torment that she bears:
she wants us all to follow in her footsteps,
and wishes too we’d leave her all alone.

And so the steamboat howls, and howls the darkness.
I’ve not the strength to counteract these howls.
It’s possible that I myself am howling
inside the funnel of just a boat as this.

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(Date unknown – before 1953)
translated by Bradley Jordan
from the poetry collection Трубы (Trumpets/Tubes/Pipes)

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Additional information: There is a dedication in the Russian version, ‘В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому‘, omitted from the translation. This refers to Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891 -1966) who was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright.

I am unsure of the exact date of the poem but a Russian website listing the poetry collection it is from has an end note stating “The poem was included in the anthology In the West: An Anthology of Russian Foreign Poetry. Comp. Y.P.Ivask. New York. Ed. Chekhov. 1953. p. 226.” which refers to the book published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry).

Prismanova is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femininity in her poetry.

Prismanova’s origins and early life are obscure. She appears in emigration in Paris in the mid-1920s, and her first published collection, Ten’ itelo (Shadow and Body) (1937), contains poems beginning in 1929. She and her poet husband, Aleksandr Ginger, remained in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Responding to the wave of patriotic feeling and longing for Russia that appeared among emigres after the war, they both accepted Soviet passports, though they continued to live in Paris.

Prismanova was best known in the emigre world for intimate lyrics that manifest her spiritual searching for real truth in herself, in language, and in literary form. Prismanova’s poem “Vera” (1960), about the heroic, revolutionary populist Vera Figner (1852-1942), amazed readers by its portrait of a figure so unlike the poet and her intimate lyrical themes. Overshadowed by the more vocal figures of emigration, she was nevertheless a highly intelligent, subtle, and sensitive poet.

Biographical information about Prismanova, p.342-343, ‘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.

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Cирена

В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому
Cтаpалиcь мы cказать на cей земле
о жажде и ее неутоленьи,
о кpике cкоpби, pвущем наc во мгле
и оcтановленном в cвоем cтpемленьи.
Но нам навcтpечу тянетcя в тиши
влекущий наc, пpизывный и пpощальный,
кpик паpоxода, кpик его души,
уже плывущей в cумpак изначальный.
Вбираемый нутpом и головой,
пpоcачивающийcя даже в ноги,
cей выcпpенний и допотопный вой
cлияние покоя и тpевоги.
Во мглу и в ночь уxодит паpоxод.
Но cтон cиpены как бы замеp в оном.
Так pыцаpи в кpеcтовый шли поxод,
напутcтвуемые цеpковным звоном.
И мы, душа моя, вот так, точь-в-точь,
утpатив до конца оcтаток cпеcи,
уйдем – вдвигаяcь неотcтупно в ночь,
немного взяв и ничего не взвеcив.
Cиpена ждет наc на конце земли,
и знаю я – томленье в ней какое:
ей xочетcя и чтоб за нею шли,
и чтоб ее оcтавили в покое…
Так воет паpоxод, и воет тьма.
Пpотиводейcтвовать такому вою
не в cилаx я. Я, может быть, cама
в тpубе такого паpоxода вою.

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

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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.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

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.

Y Gwynt (The Wind) by Dafydd ap Gwilym

Masterly wind of the sky
Striding with mighty outcry –
Ah, what a man, unheeding
And harsh, without foot or wing
Given out from the pantry
Of the sky – how can it be?
How is your pace so nimble
Now, across the highest hill?
No need of horse for transport
Or, on river, bridge or boat –
You’ll not drown, you’ve been promised!
Angleless, go where you list,
Take nest, strip leaves – there’s no one
Arrests with accusation,
No posse, captain or corps,
Blue blade or flood or downpour.
Thresher of treetop plumage,
You nor king nor troop can cage,
Nor mother’s son foully kill,
Fire burn, nor trick enfeeble.
Though none see you in your den,
Nest of rains, thousands harken,
Cloud-calligrapher, vaulter
Over nine lands wild and bare.
You’re on the world God’s favour,
High oaktops’ tired-cracking roar;
Dry, for you tread prudently
The clouds in your great journey;
Archer of snow on highlands,
Useless chaff, swept into mounds –
Tell me where, constant credo,
Northwind of the vale, you go?
Tempest on the ocean, you’re
A wanton lad on seashore,
Eloquent author, wizard,
Sower, and tilt at leaf horde,
Laughter on hills, you harry
Wild masts on white-breasted sea.

You fly the wide world over,
Weather of slopes, tonight there,
Man, go high to Uwch Aeron
with clarity, with clear tone.
Don’t falter, frightened fellow,
For fear of the Little Bow,
That querulously jealous man!
Her country is my prison.
Too grave a love I’ve given
To my gold girl, Morfudd, when
My own land’s made my thraldom –
O speed high towards her home!
Beat, till they loose the doorway,
Messenger, before the day:
Find her, if you can, and bring
My sighs to her, my mourning.
You of the glorious Zodiac,
Tell her bounty of my lack.
I’m her true lover always
While the quick life in me stays.
Without her, I go lovelorn –
If it’s true she’s not foresworn.
Go up, till she’s in prospect
Under you, the sky’s elect,
Find her, the slim gold damsel –
Good of the sky, come back hale!

By Dafydd ap Gwilym

Additional information:The Wind” (Welsh: Y Gwynt) is a 64-line love poem in the form of a cywydd (one of the most important metrical forms in traditional Welsh poetry but most often referring to a long lined couplet) by the 14th-century Welsh poet Dafydd ap Gwilym. Dafydd is widely seen as the greatest of the Welsh poets.

The Litte Bow (Y Bwa Back) was Dafydd’s nickname for Morfudd’s husband.

Uwch Aeron was historically recorded as one of Cardiganshire’s (Welsh: Sir Aberteifi or Ceredigion) three cantrefs in the Middle Ages. The cantref was divided into three commotes: Mefenydd, Anhuniog and Pennardd.

However there is also another Aeron which was a kingdom of the Brythonic-speaking Hen Ogledd (English: Old North), presumed to have been located in the region of the River Ayr in what is now southwestern Scotland. It existed during the post-Roman era, perhaps earlier, and disappeared before or during the 7th-century conquest of the region by the ascendant Kingdom of Northumbria.

Aeron is incidentally mentioned in the Book of Taliesin in poems of praise to Urien of Rheged. It is the homeland of several heroes in the Book of Aneirin. The families of several of these heroes also appear in royal genealogies associated with the genealogies of the better-known kings of Alt Clut who lived in southwestern Scotland. This, taken together with the phonetic similarity of Aeron and Ayr, suggests the location of Aeron.

There are no historical records confirming its history or even its existence, only literary references combined with circumstantially consistent genealogies and incidentally relevant historical records. Though Aeron may have been located within the territory of modern Scotland, as a part of Yr Hen Ogledd it is also an intrinsic part of Welsh history, as both the Welsh and the Men of the North (WelshGwŷr y Gogledd) were self-perceived as a single people, collectively referred to in modern Welsh as Cymry.

Below is the poem in its original Middle Welsh form.

Y Gwynt

Yr wybrwynt, helynt hylaw,
Agwrdd drwst a gerdda draw,
Gŵr eres wyd garw ei sain,
Drud byd heb droed heb adain.
Uthr yw mor eres y’th roed
O bantri wybr heb untroed,
A buaned y rhedy
Yr awr hon dros y fron fry.

Dywaid ym, diwyd emyn,
Dy hynt, di ogleddwynt glyn.
Hydoedd y byd a hedy,
Hin y fron, bydd heno fry,
Och ŵr, a dos Uwch Aeron
Yn glaer deg, yn eglur dôn.
Nac aro di, nac eiriach,
Nac ofna er Bwa Bach,
Cyhuddgwyn wenwyn weini.
Caeth yw’r wlad a’i maeth i mi.

Nythod ddwyn, cyd nithud ddail
Ni’th dditia neb, ni’th etail
Na llu rhugl, na llaw rhaglaw,
Na llafn glas na llif na glaw.
Ni’th ladd mab mam, gam gymwyll,
Ni’th lysg tân, ni’th lesga twyll.
Ni boddy, neu’th rybuddiwyd,
Nid ei ynglŷn, diongl wyd.
Nid rhaid march buan danad,
Neu bont ar aber, na bad.
Ni’th ddeil swyddog na theulu
I’th ddydd, nithydd blaenwydd blu.
Ni’th wŷl drem, noethwal dramawr,
Neu’th glyw mil, nyth y glaw mawr.

Rhad Duw wyd ar hyd daear,
Rhuad blin doriad blaen dâr,
Noter wybr natur ebrwydd,
Neitiwr gwiw dros nawtir gŵydd,
Sych natur, creadur craff,
Seirniawg wybr, siwrnai gobraff,
Saethydd ar froydd eiry fry,
Seithug eisingrug songry’,
Drycin yn ymefin môr,
Drythyllfab ar draethellfor,
Hyawdr awdl heod ydwyd,
Hëwr, dyludwr dail wyd,
Hyrddwr, breiniol chwarddwr bryn,
Hwylbrenwyllt heli bronwyn.

Gwae fi pan roddais i serch
Gobrudd ar Forfudd, f’eurferch.
Rhiain a’m gwnaeth yn gaethwlad,
Rhed fry rhod a thŷ ei thad.
Cur y ddôr, par egori
Cyn y dydd i’m cennad i,
A chais ffordd ati, o chaid,
A chân lais fy uchenaid.
Deuy o’r sygnau diwael,
Dywaid hyn i’m diwyd hael:
Er hyd yn y byd y bwyf,
Corodyn cywir ydwyf.
Ys gwae fy wyneb hebddi,
Os gwir nad anghywir hi.
Dos fry, ti a wely wen,
Dos obry, dewis wybren.
Dos at Forfudd felenllwyd,
Debre’n iach, da wybren wyd.

Кошка (Cat) by Inna Lisnianskaya

Where is your cat, walking
On its own,
Lapping the milky mist
Amid September?

Where its leopard tread,
Its phosphorescence,
Where is your cat and your truth
Where on this earth?

Where is the cat, still not found,
Where the roof and the leak in it?
Where is the hoarse speech
Broken by the speed of sound?

Where is your clairvoyant autumn
and corn-bins of dreams?
Where is your phosphorescent cat
and you yourself?

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)
(1983)
from В пригороде Содома (In the Suburb of Sodom) / Вдали от Содома (Far from Sodom)
translated by Daniel Weissbort

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Кошка

Где кошка твоя, гуляющая
Сама по себе,
Молочный туман лакающая
В густом сентябре?

Где поступь её леопардовая
И фосфор во мгле,
Где кошка твоя и где правда твоя
На этой земле?

Где кошка, ещё не отловленная,
Где крыша и течь?
Где скоростью звука надломленная
Охриплая речь?

Где осень твоя ясновидческая
И снов закрома?
Где кошка твоя фосфорическая
И где ты сама?

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Additional information: Inna Lisnianskaya was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband initially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.


She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.

‘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“.