I would still go there
if only to await
opening of truth's flower;
if only to escape
such bought freedom, and live,
prisoner of the keyless sea,
on the mind's bread and water.
by R. S. Thomas
from No Truce with the Furies (1995)
I’m not ready for freedom yet.
Am I the one to blame?
You see, there was no likelihood
of freedom in my time.
My great-great-grandad, my great grandad,
my own grandad never
dared to dream of
None of them saw it: ever.
What’s this thing that they call freedom?
Does it bring satisfaction?
Or is it helping others first
and putting oneself last?
An overwhelming happiness,
pride and envy expelled,
throwing open one’s own soul,
not prying in anyone else’s.
Here are oceans composed of sweat,
Himalayas of toil!
Freedom’s a lot harder than
unfreedom to enjoy.
For years I, too, awaited freedom,
waited till I trembled,
waited till I ached – yet I’m
unready, now it’s come.
by Владимир Николаевич Корнилов (Vladimir Nikolayevich Kornilov)
translated by Katherine E. Young
Fun facts: Here is my rough effort to translate the Russian language Wikipedia article page on him as there is no English page available and most of the results for his name will lead you to information about the historical naval figure.
Vladimir Nikolaevich Kornilov ( June 29, 1928 , Dnepropetrovsk – January 8, 2002 , Moscow ) was a Soviet Russian poet, writer, and literary critic. He was heavily censored throughout the Soviet era for his, to the Soviet authorities, ideologically troubling works.
He was born into a family of civil engineers. When the Great Patriotic War began (i.e. World War II), he was evacuated to Novokuznetsk ( Siberia ), then moved to Moscow . In 1945 – 1950 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute (i.e. the LitInstitute mentioned in this poem) , which he was he was expelled from three times for absenteeism and “ideologically vicious verses”.
Kornilov’s first poems were published in 1953 . However, his works were rarely published, and even then only after ‘corrections’ had been made by censors. In 1957, his collection of poems “Agenda from the military registration and enlistment office” was rejected. Only in 1964 his first book of poems, The Pier, was published by the Soviet Writer Publishing House, and in 1965, on the recommendation of Anna Akhmatova , Kornilov was successfully admitted to the Union of Writers of the USSR.
A hard time awaited the prose works of Kornilov. His first and second novels – “Without arms, without legs”, completed in 1965 , and “Girls and ladies”, written in October 1968 he tried to get published for a long time unsuccessfully in the Soviet Union . The former was not printed and although the latter was accepted for publication in December 1971 but immediately thereafter rejected or banned.
By his third and largest prose work – the novel “Demobilization” – Kornilov no longer even tried to be publish in his homeland and instead sent his works to the west, where, from 1974 onwards, they were in print.
[he has two books in English I could find after a very brief search: Girls to the Front (1984) and Building a Prison (1985) so it’s possible the others were in German and other languages or have different titles in other languages. By all means comment on this post if you find others available in English.]
Being published in samizdat and in foreign Russian-language publications, as well as Kornilov’s speeches in support of Julius Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky ( 1966 ), displeased the Soviet authorities.
In 1975 he was made a member of the Soviet section of Amnesty International and on the recommendation of G. Böll, he was accepted also into the French Pen Club.
Kornilov signed a letter to “heads of state and government” with a request to protect academician Andrei Sakharov , and in March 1977 he was expelled from the Union of Writers of the USSR (he was initially accepted in 1965, and while expelled his membership was eventually restored in 1988 ). His books were removed from their libraries and sold in 1979. He began to publish his works again in the USSR from 1986 onwards.
Kornilov died from a bone tumor on January 8, 2002 .
… hopefully that is helpful to anyone wanting a little information about the poet.
Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:
Не готов я к свободе –
По своей ли вине?
Ведь свободы в заводе
Не бывало при мне.
Никакой мой прапрадед
И ни прадед, ни дед
Не молил Христа ради:
«Дай, подай!» Видел: нет.
Что такое свобода?
Это кладезь утех?
Или это забота
О себе после всех?
Сбросив зависть и спесь,
Распахнуть душу настежь,
А в чужую не лезть.
Океаны тут пота,
Да она ж несвободы
Я ведь ждал её тоже
Столько долгих годов,
Ждал до боли, до дрожи,
А пришла – не готов.
It’s time my friends, it’s time. We long for peace
of heart. But days chase days and every hour
gone by means one less hour to come. We live
our lives, dear friend, in hope of life, then die.
There is no happiness on earth, but peace
exists, and freedom too. Tired slave, I dream
of flight, of taking refuge in some far-
off home of quiet joys and honest labour.
by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)
a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
translated by Robert Chandler
An inscription on the grave of one of the children who died in the Aberfan disaster of October 21st, 1966
No grave could contain him.
He will always be young
in the classroom
waving an answer
like a greeting.
Buried alive –
alive he is
by the river
skimming stones down
the path of the sun.
When the tumour on the hillside
burst and the black blood
of coal drowned him,
he ran forever
with his sheepdog leaping
for sticks, tumbling together
in windblown abandon.
I gulp back tears
because of a notion of manliness.
After the October rain
the slag-heap sagged
its greedy coalowner’s belly.
He drew a picture of a wren,
his favourite bird for fraility
and determination. His eyes gleamed
as gorse-flowers do now
above the village.
His scream was stopped mid-flight.
Black and blemished
with the hill’s sickness
he must have been,
like a child collier
dragged out of one of Bute’s mines –
a limp statistic.
There he is, climbing a tree,
mimicking an ape, calling out names
at classmates. Laughs springing
down the slope. My wife hears them
her ears attuned as a ewe’s in lambing,
and I try to foster the inscription,
away from its stubborn stone.
by Mike Jenkins
from Empire of Smoke
Not so Fun facts: This poem refers to the Aberfan disaster the catastrophic collapse of a colliery spoil tip at 9.15 am on 21 October 1966. The tip had been created on a mountain slope above the Welsh village of Aberfan, near Merthyr Tydfil and overlaid a natural spring. A period of heavy rain led to a build-up of water within the tip which caused it to suddenly slide downhill as a slurry, killing 116 children and 28 adults as it engulfed the local junior school and other buildings. The tip was the responsibility of the National Coal Board (NCB), and the subsequent inquiry placed the blame for the disaster on the organisation and nine named employees.
I’ve been to the town and it’s still a very quiet place to this day as a generation of the community was lost in that disaster. Where the junior school once stood there is now a memorial garden.
He blunders through the last dream
of the night. I hear him, waking.
A brick and concrete stall, narrow
as a heifer’s haunches. Steel bars
between her trap and his small yard.
A froth of slobbered hay droops
from the stippled muzzle. In the slow
rolling mass of his skull his eyes
surface like fish bellies.
He is chained while they swill his floor.
His stall narrows to rage. He knows
the sweet smell of a heifer’s fear.
Remembered summer haysmells reach him,
a trace of the herd’s freedom, clover-
loaded winds. The thundering seed
blows up the Dee breathing of plains,
of cattle wading in shallows.
His crazy eyes churn with their vision.
By Gillian Clarke
from Letters from a Far Country (1982)
Fun fact: The River Dee (Welsh: Afon Dyfrdwy, Latin: Deva Fluvius) is a river in the United Kingdom. It flows through parts of both Wales and England, forming part of the border between the two countries.
I go outside to find the way.
Through broken mist I glimpse a flinty path.
I am alone. This empty place hears God;
and stars converse with stars.
The heavens are a miracle
and pale blue sleep lies over all the earth.
What’s wrong with me? Why does life seem so hard?
Do I still cherish hope? Or hurt?
No, no, I have no expectations.
I’ve said goodbye to my past joys and griefs.
Freedom and peace are all I wish for now;
I seek oblivion and sleep.
But not the cold sleep of the grave –
my dream is of a sweeter sleep that will
allow life’s force to rest within a breast
that breathes, that still can rise and fall.
I wish a voice to sing all day
and night to me of love, and a dark tree,
an oak with spreading boughs, to still my sleep
with the green rustle of its leaves.
by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)
translated by Robert Chandler
The forest sways its tippy-tops,
people walk around with pots,
catching water from air with them.
In the sea, water bends.
But fire will not bend to the very end.
Fire loves airy freedom.
by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)
a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)
(21/22 August 1933)
translated by Matvei Yankelevich
Fun facts: The original Russian title, О.Л.С., is an acronym of three of the last lines four words – огонь любит воздушную свободу (Ogon’ Liubit vozdushnuyu Svobodu) i.e. Fire Loves airy Freedom.
Lord, give them freedom who are weak,
and sanctify the people’s ways,
grant them their justice which they seek,
and bless their labouring days.
May freedom, but a seed at first,
untrammelled rise to flower and spread.
For knowledge let the people thirst,
and light the path ahead.
Lord, set your chosen followers free,
release them from their ancient bands,
entrust the flag of liberty
at last, to Russian hands.
by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)
translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman
Recital in the original Russian:
Original Russian Cyrillic text:
Господь! твори добро народу!
Благослови народный труд,
Упрочь народную свободу,
Упрочь народу правый суд!
Чтобы благие начинанья
Могли свободно возрасти,
разлей в народе жажду знанья
И к знанью укажи пути!
И от ярма порабощенья
Твоих избранников спаси,
Которым знамя просвещенья,
Господь! ты вверишь на Руси…
I feel my life hang by a hair
as I wait at night for the Muse;
youth, freedom, fame melt into air
as my guest appears with her flute.
She enters, tosses back her shawl;
her half-closed eyes let nothing pass.
‘So it was you who sang of Hell
to Dante?’ ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘it was.’
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)
from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) era
translation by Robert Chandler
Fun Fact: The exact muse from Greek mythology referred to here is Euterpe who in late Classical times was named muse of lyric poetry and was often depicted holding a flute. The Dante referred to here is of course Dante Alighieri and his epic poem the Divine Comedy, in particular the Inferno section. Calliope was usually considered the muse of epic poetry but of course Akhmatova herself wrote lyric poetry thus explaining why she, to her surprise, encounters Euterpe and not Calliope.
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)
translated by Peter France
Fun fact: This was written after he went blind about a year before his death.