Придворный соловей (Our Court nightingale) by Varlam Shalamov

Our court nightingale,

beak open wide,

can let out the loudest

trills in the world.

The creature is stunning

by what pours from his throat –

but it was he who spurred

Derzhavin to write

that praise and flattery

are by no means the same:

a slave can flatter

but he can’t do praise.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: The Dershavin mentioned in th epoem is Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин, 14 July 1743 – 20 July 1816) who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

Original Russian cyrillic version:

Придворный соловей
Раскроет клюв пошире,
Бросая трель с ветвей,
Крикливейшую в мире.

Не помнит божья тварь
Себя от изумленья,
Долбит, как пономарь,
Хваленья и моленья.

Свистит что было сил,
По всей гремя державе,
О нем и говорил
Язвительный Державин,

Что раб и похвалить
Кого-либо не может.
Он может только льстить,
Что не одно и то же.

 

A recital of the Russian version set to music:

I’m Not Of Those Who Left…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I’m not of those who left their country

For wolves to tear it limb from limb.

Their flattery does not touch me.

I will not give my songs to them.

 

Yet I can take the exile’s part,

I pity all among the dead.

Wanderer, your path is dark,

Wormwood is the stranger’s bread.

 

But here in the flames, the stench,

The murk, where what remains

Of youth is dying, we don’t flinch

As the blows strike us, again and again.

 

And we know there’ll be a reckoning,

An account for every hour… There’s

Nobody simpler than us, or with

More pride, or fewer tears.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘I Hear The Oriole’s Always Grieving Voice…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I hear the oriole’s always grieving voice,

And the rich summer’s welcome loss I hear

In the sickle’s serpentine hiss

Cutting the corn’s ear tightly pressed to ear.

 

And the short skirts on the slim reapers

Fly in the wind like holiday pennants,

The clash of joyful cymbals, and creeping

From under dusty lashes, the long glance.

 

I don’t expect love’s tender flatteries,

In premonition of some dark event,

But come, come and see this paradise

Where together we were blessed and innocent.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1917)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas