‘Dense impenetrable, Tatar’ [Excerpt] by Anna Akhmatova

Dense, inpenetrable, Tatar,
drawn from God knows when,
it clings to every disaster,
itself a doom without end.


by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) a.k.a.Anna Gorenko
(1960s)
translation by Robert Chandler

Extra information: Akhmatova wrote the above piece about her pen name during her later years. When Anna Andreyevna Gorenko began publishing poetry, in her late teens, her father considered it an unrespectable pursuit and so she adopted her grandmother’s Tatar surname of Akhmatova as a pen name when publishing her works from then on as Anna Akhmatova by which name she is more commonly known. 

The Age [Excerpt] by Osip Mandelstam

Buds will swell just as in the past,

Sprouts of green will spurt and rage,

but your backbone has been smashed,

my grand and pitiful age.

 

And so, with a meaningless smile,

you glance back, cruel and weak,

like a beast once quick and agile,

at the prints of your own feet.

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

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler


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

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.

‘Newly Reaped Ears Of Early Wheat’ by Osip Mandelstam

Newly reaped ears of early wheat

lie in level rows;

fingertips tremble, pressed against

fingers fragile as themselves.

 

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

(1909)

translated by James Greene

Фрагмент (Fragment) by Anna Akhmatova

And it seemed to me that there were fires

Flying till dawn without number,

And I never found out things – those

Strange eyes of his – that colour?

 

Everything trembling and singing and

Were you my enemy or my friend,

Winter was it or summer?

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1959)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Cautious, Toneless Sound’ by Osip Mandelstam

Cautious, toneless sound

of fruit from a tree

to the constant

melody of forest silence…

 

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

(1908)

translated by John Riley

On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

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.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>

Pity The Nation by Kahlil Gibran

My friends and my road-fellows, pity the nation

that is full of beliefs and empty of religion.

“Pity the nation that wears a cloth it does not weave…

eats bread it does not harvest…

and drinks a wine that flows not from its own winepress.

 

“Pity the nation that acclaims the bully as a hero,

and that deems the glittering conqueror bountiful.

 

“Pity the nation that raises not its voice save when it

walks in a funeral, boasts not except among its ruins,

and will rebel not save when its neck is laid between

the sword and the block.

 

“Pity the nation whose statesman is a fox, whose

philosopher is a juggler, and whose art is the art of

patching and mimicking.

 

“Pity the nation that welcomes its new ruler with

trumpetings, and farewells him with hooting, only to

welcome another with trumpeting again.

 

“Pity the nation divided into fragments, each fragment

deeming itself a nation.”

 

by Kahlil Gibran

(1883-1931), Lebanon

Fragment (Before Death I Have Felt The Dark Of Death) by Wilhelm Küchelbecker

Before death I have felt the dark of death;

I thought: like Ossian I shall lose my way

in mist by the grave’s edge and blindly stare

from wild moors down through the dim precipice

of dawnless night and see no trees, no fields

of freedom, no soft grass, no azure skies,

and no sun rising like a miracle.

Yet with the soul’s eye I shall see you, shades

of prophets, friends too soon flown out of sight,

and I shall hear the blessed poet’s song

and know each voice and recognize each face.

 

by Вильгельм Карлович Кюхельбекер (Wilhelm Karlovich Küchelbecker)

(1845)

translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: This was written after he went blind about a year before his death.