‘I’ll say this in a whisper, in draft’ by Osip Mandelstam

I'll say this in a whisper, in draft,
because it's early yet:
we have to pay
with experience and sweat
to learn the sky's free play.

And under purgatory's temporal sky
we easily forget:
the dome of heaven
is a home
to praise forever, wherever.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Robert Chandler

‘Farewell Forever, Unwashed Russia!’ by Mikhail Lermontov

Farewell forever, unwashed Russia!

O land of slaves, of masters cruel!

And you, blue-uniformed oppressors!

And you, meek nation whom they rule!

 

Beyond the Caucasus’ high ridges,

I may be safe from your viziers –

far from those eyes – unseen, all-seeing –

and far from their all-hearing ears.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Guy Daniels, revised by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This poem wasn’t published until 1887 – over 40 years after Lermontov’s death (caused by being shot through the heart during a duel on 27 July 1841) during his second exile. It is possible he wrote this upon being told of his exile when he was ordered to leave St Petersburg within 48 hours. The ‘blue uniformed oppressors’ in the poem were the tsarist police of the time who wore distinctly coloured uniforms and would have played their part in ensuring he followed the exile order.

‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.

‘People, Years and Nations’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

People, years and nations

run away forever

like a flowing river.

In nature’s supple mirror

We’re the fish,

dark’s ghosts are gods,

and the constellations

knot night’s nets.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1915)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This was written shortly before the centenary of Derzhavin’s death, continuing the theme’s of his last poem.

Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river

And the rivers with the ocean,

The winds of heaven mix for ever

With a sweet emotion;

Nothing in the world is single;

All things by a law divine

In one another’s being mingle –

Why not I with thine?

 

See the mountain’s kiss high heaven

And the waves clasp one another;

No sister-flower would be forgiven

If it disdain’d its brother:

 

And the sunlight clasps the earth,

And the moonbeams kiss the sea –

What are all these kissings worth,

If thou kiss not me?

 

by Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792 – 1822)