Epigram about Stalin [extract] by Osip Mandelstam

Horseshoe-heavy, he hurls his decrees low and high:

In the groin, in the forehead, the eyebrow, the eye.

Executions are what he likes best.

Broad is the highlander’s chest.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(Autumn, 1933)

translated by Alexandra Berlina


Interesting additon: In  the Autumn of 1933 Mandelstam composed an epigram about Stalin, which he performed at seven small gatherings in Moscow, which ends with the above lines. Mandelstam was arrested six months later but instead of being executed (by being shot) he was exiled to the Northern Urals. Why was this considering ‘executions’ are what [Stalin] loves best’? A cruel irony or possibly that this relative leniency was due to Stalin taking a personal interest in Mandelstam’s case and being concerned about his own place in Russian literary history? After Mandelstam’s attempted suicide the usual sentence was commuted to one of being banished from the largest cities in Russia. Mandelstam and his wife, Nadezhda, settled in Voronezh where he went on to write the three Voronezh Notebooks. In May 1938 he was arrested again and sentenced to five years in the Gulag. He died in a transit camp near Vladivostok on 27 December 1938.

Эпиграмма (Epigram) by Alexander Pushkin

Part Black Sea merchant, part milord,

a half-baked sage and halfwit fool,

a semi-scoundrel – but there’s hope

his scoundrelhood may soon be full.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1824)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The subject of this epigram poem is Count Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856) the Governor General of ‘New Russia and of Bessarabia’, which consisted of most of southern Russia. Vorontsov was Pushkin’s boss during much of his southern exile.

Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

Here the loveliest of young women fight

for the honour of marrying the hangmen;

here the righteous are tortured at night

and the resolute worn down by hunger

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1928)

translated by Robert Chandler