Deep in the mountain the idol rests in sweet repose, infinite and blest, the fat of necklaces dripping from his neck protects his dreams of flood tide and of slack.
As a boy, he buddied with a peacock, they gave him rainbow of India to eat and milk in a pink clay dish, and didn't stint the cochineal.
Bone put to bed, locked in a knot, shoulders, arms and knees made flesh, he smiles with his own dead-silent lips, thinks with his bone, feels with his brow, and struggles to recall his human countenance...
by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.) His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam) from the first of the Voronezh Notebooks (10-26 December 1936) translated by Andrew Davis
Once we all used to abide together with God, side by side, He didn't dwell in the sky, we'd see him from time to time alive, on the mausoleum. He was much more clever and evil than that other God, the old one, known to the world as Jehovah, whom he overthrew with a crash and reduced to a heap of ash, then subsequently restored and recruited to serve the cause. For once we all used to abide together with God, side by side.
One day as I wandered around in the Arbat, I met God on parade with five limousines and surrounded by guards wearing mousy grey overcoats, hunched in dread. It was early and late – overhead the grey light of morning was showing as he grazed with his cruel, all-knowing eyes through the hearts of men, unmasking deviants and traitors.
For we lived in an era when God himself was our neighbour.
by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky) (1955) translated by Stephen Capus
Here is the poem in the original Cyrillic Russian.
Мы все ходили под богом. У бога под самым боком. Он жил не в небесной дали, Его иногда видали Живого. На мавзолее. Он был умнее и злее Того — иного, другого, По имени Иегова, Которого он низринул, Извел, пережег на уголь, А после из бездны вынул И дал ему стол и угол.
Мы все ходили под богом. У бога под самым боком. Однажды я шел Арбатом. Бог ехал в пяти машинах. От страха почти горбата, В своих пальтишках мышиных Рядом дрожала охрана. Было поздно и рано. Серело. Брезжило утро. Он глянул жестоко, мудро Своим всевидящим оком, Всепроницающим взглядом.
Мы все ходили под богом. С богом почти что рядом.
Additional information: Slutsky was an atheist but he didn’t forget his Jewish cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. This poem can be read as Slutsky reflecting on how the cult of persona arose in the Soviet era. Communist iconography of Lenin replaced Imperial Russia’s religious iconography in the day to day lives of Russian citizens in Moscow’s historical Arbat street and the surrounding area. Then he reflects, in the second part of the poem, how imagery of Stalin eventually replaced Lenin’s image and he was even worse than him.
One man fell asleep a believer but woke up an atheist. Luckily, this man kept medical scales in his room, because he was in the habit of weighing himself every morning and every evening. And so, going to sleep the night before, he had weighed himself and had found out he weighed four poods and 21 pounds. But the following morning, waking up an atheist, he weighed himself again and found out that now he weighed only four poods thirteen pounds. “Therefore,” he concluded, “my faith weighed approximately eight pounds.”
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms) a.k.a. Даниил ИвановичЮвачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov) (1936-37) translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
Not love, but rabid fury, has led God's servant to the truth. Her pride is justified - first high-born lady to seek a convict's fate.
Gripping her Old Believer's cross tight as a whip between her hands, she thunders out her final curses; the sleigh slips out of sight.
So this is how God's saints are born... Her hate more ardent than her love, she runs dry fingers through her dry, already frost-chilled hair.
by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov) (1950) translated by Robert Chandler
The poem refers to Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Russian: Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова) (21 May 1632 – 1 December 1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. She was perceived as a martyr after she was arrested and died in prison.
She became a household name after being discussed by important Russian writers and depicted by Vasily Surikov. She was also taken as a heroine by some radical groups, who saw her as a symbol of resistance to state power. The People’s Will revolutionary movement promoted her, and her virtues were praised by writers of the Soviet era such as Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov and Fazil Iskander, who “symbolically enlisted her in their own causes of resistance”.
Below is the full Russian version in Cyrillic.
Попрощаться с сонною Москвою Женщина выходит на крыльцо. Бердыши тюремного конвоя Отражают хмурое лицо.
И широким знаменьем двуперстным Осеняет шапки и платки. Впереди – несчитанные версты, И снега – светлы и глубоки.
Перед ней склоняются иконы, Люди – перед силой прямоты Неземной – земные бьют поклоны И рисуют в воздухе кресты.
С той землей она не будет в мире, Первая из русских героинь, Знатная начетчица Псалтыри, Сторож исторических руин.
Возвышаясь над толпой порабощенной, Далеко и сказочно видна, Непрощающей и непрощеной Покидает торжище она.
Это – веку новому на диво Показала крепость старина, Чтобы верил даже юродивый В то, за что умрет она.
Не любовь, а бешеная ярость Водит к правде Божию рабу. Ей гордиться – первой из боярынь Встретить арестантскую судьбу.
Точно бич, раскольничье распятье В разъяренных стиснуто руках, И гремят последние проклятья С удаляющегося возка.
Так вот и рождаются святые, Ненавидя жарче, чем любя, Ледяные волосы сухие Пальцами сухими теребя.
by Николай Макарович Олейников (Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov) a.k.a. Nikolai Makarovich Oleinikov (1932) translated by Eugene Ostashevsky
Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov ( Никола́й Мака́рович Оле́йников; born 5 August 1898, d. 24 November 1937) was a Russian editor, avant-garde poet and playwright who was arrested and executed by the Soviets for subversive writing. During his writing career, he also used the pen names Makar Svirepy, Nikolai Makarov, Sergey Kravtsov, NI chief engineer of the mausoleums, Kamensky and Peter Shortsighted.
And with a strange desire all her days she walked her worldly ways; for dull the melodies of earth she found after that heavenly sound.
by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov) translated by Frances Cornford
Interesting extra: The poem this extract is from was written by Lermontov when he was seventeen years old. Typical of his early romanticism its subject is a soul unable to forget the songs of the angel who first carried her down to earth to be incarnated.
On a sidenote: The past day or two I’ve been using WordPress’ new ‘blocks’ system and putting this in the ‘verse’ version. Does it make any difference? The entire system just feels like it complicates matters needlessly.