Январь (January) by Yunna Morits

Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river
We want to turn aside our eyes
As on ikons or at miracles.
Such shrouds, such continents of snow,
To touch a day sets our ears ringing
And people everywhere are blue.
– And you and I, apprentices
of the enchanter, stand and freeze
In the spaces of the studio
Beside the blackboard on the wall,
With dry throats and piercing gaze.
I’ll draw and scan, in arrogance,
Each syllable, each minute’s life,
To my remoteness; and the crammed
Fairbooth, no rag to veil its panes –
And all that was irrelevance
Now shapes our fate, enters our veins,
Stands as prefix to our names.
Accomplices! Our love’s forever,
For all men, to the ruinous grave,
To the torn wound, and to the line
Unfinished: where grass springs, and stands
Above our breasts, above our hands.
Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river.

by Юнна Петровна Мориц
(Yunna Petrovna Morits [also spelled ‘Moritz’])
Translated by J. R. Rowland

Январь

У нас такая синева
В окне — от близости реки,
Что хочется скосить зрачки,
Как на иконе, как при чуде.
У нас такие покрова
Снегов — почти материки,
Что день задень — в ушах звонки,
И всюду голубые люди,
И я да ты — ученики
У чародея. Холодея,
Стоим в просторах мастерской
У стенки с аспидной доской.
Зрачками — вглубь. В гортани — сушь.
Вкачу, вчитаю по слогам
В гордыню, в собственную глушь
Ежеминутной жизни гам,
Битком набитый балаган
Без тряпки жалкой на окне.
И все, что прежде было вне,
Теперь судьбу слагает нам,
Родным составом входит в кровь,
Приставкой к личным именам.
Сообщники! У нас-любовь
Ко всем грядущим временам,
Ко всем — до гибельного рва,
До рваной раны, до строки
Оборванной, где прет трава
Поверх груди, поверх руки!
У нас такая синева
В окне от близости реки.

Additional information: Yunna Petrovna Morits (Moritz) is a Soviet and Russian poet, poetry translator and activist. She was born 2 June 1937 in Kiev, USSR (present day Kyiv, Ukraine) into a Jewish family. Her father Pinchas Moritz, was imprisoned under Stalin, she suffered from tuberculosis in her childhood and spent years of hardship in the Urals during World War II.

She has been founding member of several liberal organizations of artistic intelligentia, including the Russian section of International PEN. She is a member of Russian PEN Executive Committee and its Human Rights Commission. She has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including Andrei Sakharov Prize For Writer’s Civic Courage.

After 2014 Morits became a supporter of the Russian occupation of Donbass and Crimea. Some of her recent poetry conveys anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments, and her invective at perceived anti-Russian campaign by the West.

Moritz was first published in 1954, and her first collection of poetry, Razgovor o schast’e (Conversation About Happiness), came out in 1957. She completed studies at the Gorky Literary Institute in 1961 and, in addition to writing her own poetry, has translated both Hebrew and Lithuanian works. In 1954, when she was not yet eighteen, she announced uncautiously to fellow students in Moscow, including the compiler of this anthology, that “the Revolution has croaked.” She was always then and continues to be rather harsh and uncompromising. Though she may have lost friends, who were unable to withstand her categorical judgements, she has never lost her conscience. A mercilessness is sometimes felt in her poetry – as in the lines “War upon you! Plague upon you! / Butcher…” from the poem in honor of the Georgian poet Titian Tabidze, who was killed in Stalin’s torture chambers. This poem caused a storm of protest when it was published in the journal lunost’ (Youth) in 1961.

Moritz is a masterful poet; where she reaches into her own pain, she does more than just touch us – she conquers. Yet if her adult verse is dominated by dark tones, then her poetry for young people is full of joy of the open-air market. It is as if Moritz does not deem adults worthy of joy and must give it all to children.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.932, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

Yunna Morits born in Kiev. Her first collection of poetry, Talk of Happiness, was published in 1957. In 1964 she published a collection of translations of the Jewish poet M. Toif. With Joseph Brodsky, she was a particular favourite of Akhmatova’s. She has had a hard life: she suffered from tuberculosis, and her husband, a literary critic, committed suicide at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Though regarded by many writers as one of the finest women poets in Russia today, Morits is very little published now, and is scarcely known abroad. She has been much influenced by Pasternak and, like him and Zabolotsky, has an animistic vision of nature. Her powerful, atmospheric poems about the Far North or the South, severe, utterly serious, with intimations of pain, of loss, of separation, are darkly moving. Her verses stir with the slow rhythm of nature. She is a poet of rooted attachments, measuring her love against the forces of nature. She is drawn to those men – hunters, settlers, fishermen – whose business it is to live and contend with these forces. The intensity of her work, its concrete, weighted depiction of the drama of the spiritual life as it is reflected or as it unfolds in nature, places her in the forefront of contemporary Russian poetry.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.241, ‘Post-War Russian Poetry’ (1974), edited by Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
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Red Nosed Frost [extract] by Nikolay Nekrasov

Not the autumn wind in the forest,

not streams hurtling down to the plains –

what we hear is Frost the Commander,

patrolling his far-flung domains.

 

Has snow been swept by the blizzards

over every pathway and track?

Is there any bare ground still showing,

any last brown fissure or crack?

 

Have the oak trees been handsomely dappled,

are the tops of the pines fluffed just right?

Have the ice floes been shackled together

so that every lake is gripped tight?

 

Frost comes striding over the treetops;

shards of ice crackle under his tread.

Lord Frost moves closer and closer;

beams of sunlight dance in his beard.

 

What pathway is closed to a wizard?

Ever nearer the widow he draws.

Now Frost is looming above her,

rehearsing his wintry laws.

 

There he stands in a pine tree,

beating time with his cane,

boasting of his own glory

and repeating his old refrain:

 

‘No need to be bashful, sweet maiden,

see how fine a Commander I am!

Speak truthfully now: have you ever

glimpsed a more handsome young man?

 

‘Blizzards, downpours and whirlwinds –

I can quieten them all in a trice;

I can stroll out over the ocean

and build myself chambers of ice.

 

‘One breath – and the greatest of rivers

lie silenced beneath my yoke,

transformed to the strongest of bridges,

broad roads for the merchant folk.

 

‘I love dropping down into graves

to scatter diamonds over the dead,

to freeze the blood in their veins

and ice the brains in their heads.

 

‘I love frightening a lonely robber

riding home with a purse he’s plundered:

in the depth of the forest silence

I make branches resound like thunder.

 

‘Old women go rushing back home,

their heads full of spirits and devils.

But there’s more pleasure still to be had

with drunkards returning from revels.

 

‘I don’t need chalk to whiten their faces!

I set their noses ablaze without fire!

I freeze beards to reins in a tangle

not even an axe can sever!

 

‘I’m rich, there’s no counting my treasure;

my fortune’s as great as the world.

Every day I bejewel my kingdom

anew with silver and pearls.

 

‘Dear Maiden, I bid you now enter

my empire. Let me make you my queen!

We shall reign in glory all winter,

then let summer slip by in a dream.

 

‘Come, maiden, and let me warm you

in a palace of pale blue ice!’

So Lord Frost sings out above her

as he swings his sparkling mace.

 

‘Are you warm enough there, dear maiden?’

he calls from high in the pine.

‘Oh yes,’ the young widow answers –

and icy shivers run down her spine.

 

Now Frost has dropped down lower,

his mace swinging ever so near,

and he whispers softly and tenderly:

‘Warm enough?’ ‘Oh yes, my dear!’

 

Warm enough – but what does she feel?

Frost’s breath has already numbed her

and needles of ice from his beard,

though colder and sharper than steel,

are lulling her into slumber.

 

‘Are you warm enough now?’ Frost whispers,

his arms now encircling her waist –

and she hears not Frost but Proklyusha

and all she sees is long past.

 

On her lips and her eyes and her shoulders

Darya feels the wizard’s long kisses –

and she sees not Frost but her husband

and she drinks in his honeyed whispers.

 

He’s talking to her of a wedding,

his words so caressing and sweet

that Darya’s eyes are now closing

and her axe lies still by her feet.

 

And the arc of a smile now parts

the poor lips of the wretched widow.

White flakes now cover her eyelids

and needles of ice her brow…

 

A lump of snow falls on Darya

as a squirrel takes a flying leap,

but Darya does not lift a finger;

she’s frozen, enchanted, asleep.

 

by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)

(1864)

translated by Robert Chandler and Boris Dralyuk