The Friend by Rimma Kazakova

Quietly my friend is growing old,

and like an ancient itinerant

nun, has a faint gleam about her: an

unnatural light, thrown back as if from a mirror.

.

As she sits her needle stabs at her sewing.

Her apartment is nearby the station, yet

from somewhere else much more remote

comes the far-away hoot of another railway.

.

Her most ordinary things seem sad. A picture

of The Unknown Woman hangs over the bed;

across the tapestry of a German gobelin

a herd of sleek deer are grazing.

.

It’s well-heated in here, I say to her,

and she nods in reply: it is warm, yes.

What is it we have drowned in this room,

that I can feel trickling through our fingers?

.

Can these little muslin curtains here that

fool us with their starched whiteness be

the only banks, the only rivers

ever to flow for us with milk and honey?

.

Beggars we are, working infertile ground.

Like green arrows from a bow, perhaps

both of us have overestimated

the strength that belongs to young girls.

.

And yet maybe it is no sin, maybe

it is even part of knowing yourself human

to want to have some material thing that

can somehow last, and be eternal.

.

I am afraid of muddling everything with

words, on the wrong track again: is

it possible these nineteen years we’ve

shared will disappear without a trace of us?

.

They sank into us like burdens once,

and lay like routes ahead we had to take.

Comes to, wake up now, my dear friend.

Prick your finger with your needle!

.

Along the shipping routes, you also may

bear your lights out into the

open sea, as in other times,

pedlars carried their wares over old Russia.

.

My friend…

.

by Римма Фёдоровна Казакова (Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova)

(1955?)

translated by Elaine Feinstein

.

Additional information: Rimma Fyodorovna Kazakova (Римма Фёдоровна Казакова) was born in Sevastopol. 27 January 1932 in Sevastopol, Soviet Union – 19 May 2008 in Perkhushkovo, Odintsovo District of Moscow Oblast, Russia) was a Soviet/Russian poet. She was known as an author of many popular songs of the Soviet era. She studied history and worked in Khabarovsk as a lecturer. She has also worked as an editor in a newsreel studio.

Though a very conservative writer, Kazakova is nevertheless unusual in the Soviet context for her occasional frank treatment of such themes as pregnancy. Her poetry, like Berggolts’, is quite often sombre, showing insight into such problems as loneliness or ageing, particularly as it affects women. She identifies with the hard life of hunters, builders, fishermen etc., and much of her poetry springs from her observations of the working life of such people.

Her first rhymes were reminiscent of Yevtushenko, Okudzhava, Voznesensky and Rozhdestvensky and were first published in 1955. Her first poetry collection, Let’s Meet in the East («Встретимся на Востоке»), was published in 1958.

From 1959 until her death, she was a member of the USSR Union of Writers. She also held the position of First Secretary of the Moscow Union of Writers. In October 1993, she signed the Letter of Forty-Two. She died suddenly at age 76 at a medical sanatorium near Perkhushkovo on 19 May 2008 at 1pm. She was buried on 22 May 2008 at Vagankovo Cemetery in Moscow.

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There doesn’t seem to be much available information about Kazakova in English. In fact this is the only translated poem of hers I’m aware of so if anyone is able to contribute something further then please leave a comment. Especially if you know where to source the original, Cyrillic, version as I couldn’t find any evidence of it after looking at a number of Russian language poetry websites.

Baratynsky by Varlam Shalamov

	Three Robinson Crusoes
in an abandoned shack,
we found a real find -
a single, battered book.

We three were friends
and we quickly agreed
to share out this treasure
as Solomon decreed.

The foreword for cigarette paper:
one friend was delighted
with a gift so unlikely
he feared he was dreaming.

The second made playing cards
from the notes at the back.
May his play bring him pleasure,
every page bring him luck.

As for my own cut -
those precious jottings,
the dreams of a poet
now long forgotten -

it was all that I wanted.
How wisely we'd judged.
What a joy to set foot in
a forgotten hut.

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
(1949)
translated by Robert Chandler

Interesting extra: The poem refers to Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky (Евге́ний Абра́мович Бараты́нский ) was lauded by AlexanderPushkin as the finest Russian elegiac poet. After a long period when his reputation was on the wane, Baratynsky was rediscovered by Russian Symbolism poets as a supreme poet of thought..

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.

Coming by R.S. Thomas

To be crucified

again? To be made friends

with for his jeans and beard?

Gods are not put to death

 

any more. Their lot now

is with the ignored.

I think he still comes

stealthily as of old,

 

invisible as a mutation,

an echo of what the light

said, when nobody

attended; an impression

 

of eyes, quicker than

to be caught looking, but taken

on trust like flowers in the

dark country towards which we go.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Experimenting with an Amen (1986)

February Diary [extract] by Olga Berggolts

It was a day like any other.

A woman friend of mine called round.

Without a tear she told me she’d

just buried her one true friend.

We sat in silence till the morning.

What words were there to say to her?

I’m a Leningrad widow too.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

 

Fun extra: Here is a recital of the entire poem in the original Russian: