‘Moscow Who Are You?’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

Moscow, who are you?

Enchantress or enchanted?

Forger of freedom

or fettered lady?

What thought furrows your brow

as you plot your worldwide plot?

Are you a shining window

into another age?

O Moscow, are you femme fatale

or fetter-fated,

fated or fêted?

Does scholarship decree

your crucifixion

beneath the razorblades of clever scholars

frozen over an old book

as pupils stand around their desk?

O daughter of other centuries,

powder keg,

explosion of your fetters.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler

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‘You Took Me’ by Olga Berggolts

You took me –

I was sullen, without affection,

with only black thoughts

and convict ravings

and a widow’s unhealed anguish

and a past love that wasn’t past

You took me as a wife –

not for joy’s sake,

not of your own accord

but out of love.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

By The Sea by Semyon Lipkin

The waves crashed under the flicker of the lighthouse

and I, in my ignorance, heard a monotone.

Years later the sea speaks to me and I begin to understand

there are birds and laundresses, sprites and sorcerers,

laments and curses, moans and profanity, white horses

and half breeds who rear up unexpectedly.

There are waves who are salesgirls with buxom hips

who sell foam from the counter, they tremble fluent or airy.

Nature can’t be indifferent, she always mimics us

like a loan, a translation; we’re the blueprint, she’s the copy.

Once upon a time the pebble was different

and so the wave was different.

 

by Семён Израилевич Липкин (Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin)

(1965)

translated by Yvonne Green


Lipkin is renowned as a literary translator and often worked from the regional languages which Stalin tried to obliterate. Lipkin hid a typescript of his friend Vasily Grossman‘s magnum opus, Life and Fate, from the KGB and initiated the process that brought it to the West.

Lipkin’s importance as a poet was achieved once his work became available to the general reading public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the many years prior, he was sustained by the support of his wife, poet Inna Lisnianskaya and close friends such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who thought him a genius and championed his poetry). Lipkin’s verse includes explorations of history and philosophy and exhibits a keen sense of peoples’ diverse destinies. His poems include references to his Jewish heritage and to the Bible. They also draw on a first-hand awareness of the tragedies of Stalin’s Great Purge and World War II. Lipkin’s long-standing inner opposition to the Soviet regime surfaced in 1979-80, when he contributed in the uncensored almanac “Metropol” and then he and Lisnianskaya left the ranks of the official Writer’s Union of the USSR.

They Say We Plough Shallow by Varlam Shalamov

They say we plough shallow,

always tripping and slipping,

but it’s hard to plough boldly

on the soil we’ve been given.

 

We plough in a graveyard

just tickling the topsoil,

afraid our blades may turn up

bones of dead people.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler

Civil War [Extract] by Maximilian Voloshin

And from the ranks of both armies –

the same voice the same refrain:

‘He who is not with us is against us.

You must take sides. Justice is ours.’

 

And I stand alone in the midst of them,

Amidst the roar of fire and smoke,

And pray with all my strength for those

who fight on this side , and on that side.

 

by  Макс Волошин (Max Voloshin)

a.k.a. Максимилиан Александрович Кириенко-Волошин

(Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin)

(1919)

translated by Robert Chandler

My Boring Lamp [extract] by Fyodor Sologub

Lord, if I am a poor and feeble

word slave,

sentenced to tedious labour

until the grave,

 

allow me to transcend myself

in one eternal prayer,

to compose eigth lines,

whose flame burns clear

 

by Фёдор Сологуб (Fyodor Sologub)

a.k.a. Фёдор Кузьмич Тетерников (Fyodor Kuzmich Teternikov)

(1898)

translated by Robert Chandler

Three Autumns by Anna Akhmatova

The smiles of summer are simply indistinct

And winter is too clear,

But I can unerringly pick out

Three autumns in each year.

 

The first is a holiday chaos

Spiting the summer of yesterday.

Leaves fly like a schoolboy’s notes,

Like incense, the smell of smoke,

Everything moist, motley, gay.

 

First into the dance are the birches,

They put on their transparent attire

Hastily shaking off their fleeting tears

On to the neighbour next door.

 

But as it happens, the story’s just begun.

A moment, a minute – and here

Comes the second, passionless as conscience,

Sombre as an air raid.

 

Everything suddenly seems paler, older,

Summer’s comfort is plundered,

Through the scented fog float

Far-off marches played on golden trumpets…

 

A flagstone covers the sky vault. Cold waves

Of incense. But the wind’s started to blow

Everything clean open, and straightway

It’s clear that this is the end of the play,

This is not the third autumn but death.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1943)

from Reed

translated by D. M. Thomas