Петербург (Petersburg) [Excerpt] by Innokenty Annensky

The wizard’s gifts were only stone,

the River Neva’s yellow brown,

and empty squares like desert wastes

for executions staged at dawn.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(date unknown)

translated by Robert Chandler

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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.

‘The Fifth Act Of The Drama…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The fifth act of the drama

Blows in the wind of autumn,

Each flower-bed in the park seems

A fresh grave, we have finished

The funeral-feast, and there’s nothing

To do. Why then do I linger

As if I am expecting

A miracle? It’s the way a feeble

Hand can hold fast to a heavy

Boat for a long time by the pier

As one is saying goodbye

To the person who’s left standing.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after, her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.

‘The Souls Of Those I Love…’ by Anna Akhmatova

The souls of those I love are on high stars.

How good that there is no-one left to lose

And one can weep. Tsarskoye Selo’s

Air was made to repeat songs.

 

By the river bank the silver willow

Touches the bright September waters.

Rising from the past, my shadow

Comes silently to meet me.

 

So many lyres, hung on branches, here,

But there seems a place even for my lyre.

And this shower, drenched with sun and rare,

Is consolation and good news.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.

I Was Washing At Night Out In The Yard by Osip Mandelstam

I was washing at night out in the yard,

the heavens glowing with rough stars,

a star-beam like salt upon an axe,

the water butt cold and brim full.

 

A padlock makes the gate secure,

and conscience gives sternness to the earth –

hard to find a standard anywhere

purer than the truth of new-made cloth.

 

A star melts in the water butt like salt,

cold water in the butt is blacker still,

death is more pure, disaster saltier

and earth more truthful and more terrible.

 

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

(Tbilisi, 1921)

translated by Peter France


 

A poem written in respone to the news of Nikolay Gumilyov‘s execution.

Россия (Russia) [extract] by Max Voloshin

Great Peter was the first true Bolshevik;

his project: to project his Russia, against

all her customs, all her inclinations,

hundreds of years into some distant vista.

And like us all, he knew no other way

save execution, torture and diktat

to realize truth and justice upon earth.

If not a butcher, you could call the Tsar

a sculptor – his material not marble

but flesh, hacking out a Galatea

and flinging scraps aside. But no man builds

alone. What else was our nobility

but our first Communists? Our nobility

was – all in one – the Party, secret police

and Ivan the Terrible’s Oprichniki,

a hothouse for the breeding of strange cultures.

[…] Bakunin reflects the Russian countenance

in every way – what intellectual boldness,

what sweep of thought, what soaring flights and falls!

Our creativity lies in anarchy.

All Europe took the path of fire – but we

bear in our hearts a culture of explosion.

Fire needs machines and cities, factories,

blast furnaces; an explosion, unless it aims

to pulverize itself, needs the containment

of steel rifling, the matrix of a heavy gun.

This is why Soviet hoops all bind so tight,

why the autocracy’s flasks and retorts

were so refractionary. Bakunin needed

Nicholas – as Peter’s streltsy needed Peter,

as Avvakum needed Nikon. This is why

Russia is so immeasurable – in anarchy

and in autocracy alike, and why no history

is darker, madder, more terrible than hers.

 

by Максимилиан Александрович Кириенко-Волошин

(Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler