We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler

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Snow Keeps Falling Night And Day by Varlam Shalamov

Snow keeps falling night and day –

some god, now turned more strict,

is sweeping out from his domain

scraps of his old manuscripts.

 

Sheaves of ballads, songs and odes,

all that now seems bland or weak –

he sweeps it down from his high clouds,

caught up now by newer work.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950 – or at least the incident which inspired the poem occurred then)

translated by Robert Chandler

Dream by Mikhail Lermontov

At blazing noon, in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a bullet in my chest, dead still I lay,

as steam yet rose above my wound, I tallied

each drop of blood, as life now now seeped away.

 

Alone I lay within a sandy hollow,

as jagged ledges teemed there, rising steep,

with sun-scorched peaks above me, burning yellow,

I too was scorched, yet slept a lifeless sleep.

 

I dreamt of lights upon an evening hour,

a lavish feast held in my native land,

and fair young maidens garlanded with flowers:

their talk of me was merry and off-hand.

 

But one of them, not joining their free chatter,

sat timidly apart, bemused, alone,

sunk in a dream, her soul by sadness shattered:

God only knows what made her so forlorn;

 

she dreamed of sand in Dagestan’s deep valley,

a gorge in which a man she knew lay dead,

black steam still rose above the wound’s scorched hollow,

as blood streamed down and cooled like molten lead.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Alexander Levitsky

I Went Out In The Clear Air by Varlam Shalamov

I went out in the clear air

and raised my eyes to the heavens

to understand our stars

and their January brilliance.

 

I found the key to the riddle;

I grasped the heiroglyph’s secret;

I carried into our own tongue

the work of the star-poet.

 

I recorded all this on a stump,

on frozen bark,

since I had no paper with me

in that January dark.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

They Played Pushkin On A Grand Piano by Sergey Chudakov

They played Pushkin on a grand piano.

They killed Pushkin in a duel one day.

He had asked them for a plate of cloudberries

and, lying near a bookshelf, passed away.

 

In icy water, full of frozen clods,

they buried Pushkin, hallowed be his name.

And we too tend to meet too many bullets;

we hang ourselves, and open up our veins.

 

All too often we are hit by cars,

get tossed down stairwells in a drunken state.

We live – and all our petty intrigues

wound little Pushkin in some way.

 

Little, cast in iron, celebrated –

in a park deserted thanks to frost –

he stands (his understudy and replacement),

bitterly regretful at the loss

 

of youth, and of the title Kammerjunker,

of songs, of glory, of the girls in Kishinyov,

of Goncharova in her white lace petticoat,

and of death that cannot be shrugged off.

 

by Сергей Иванович Чудаков (Sergeĭ Ivanovich Chudakov)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

All Rules Are Incorrect by Boris Slutsky

All rules are incorrect,

all laws remain perverse,

until they’re firmly set

in well wrought lines of verse.

 

An age or era will

be merely a stretch of time

without a meaning until

it’s glorified in rhyme.

 

Until the poet’s ‘Yes!’,

entrusted by his pen

to print, award success

to this or that – till then

 

the jury will be out,

the verdict still in doubt.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by Stephen Capus

Shape Ships To Seek by Vladislav Khodasevich

Shape ships to seek some shining shore,

or, if you choose, chirp chants in churches.

But seize your chance – shout one shy cheer,

and shoot up starwards, sharp and sheer…

I shift the chairs – a cheerless chore…

What tosh you chunter in these searches

for shoes and spectacles, to be sure!

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1922)

translated by Michael Frayn