Snow Keeps Falling Night And Day by Varlam Shalamov

Snow keeps falling night and day –

some god, now turned more strict,

is sweeping out from his domain

scraps of his old manuscripts.

 

Sheaves of ballads, songs and odes,

all that now seems bland or weak –

he sweeps it down from his high clouds,

caught up now by newer work.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950 – or at least the incident which inspired the poem occurred then)

translated by Robert Chandler

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I Went Out In The Clear Air by Varlam Shalamov

I went out in the clear air

and raised my eyes to the heavens

to understand our stars

and their January brilliance.

 

I found the key to the riddle;

I grasped the heiroglyph’s secret;

I carried into our own tongue

the work of the star-poet.

 

I recorded all this on a stump,

on frozen bark,

since I had no paper with me

in that January dark.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

By Candlelight by Varlam Shalamov

By candlelight,

in midday dark, I’ll warm

your words beside the stove;

frost’s bitten them.

 

Frost’s wordless spell

had made your letter dumb.

The letters melt, drip tears;

calling me home.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1952?)

translated by Robert Chandler

I Felt In Soul And Body by Varlam Shalamov

I felt in soul and body,

for the first time in years,

the silence after a blizzard,

the even light of the stars.

 

Should the magi wish to see

their kindness to the end,

they’d bring me sheets of paper

A candle. Matches. And a pen.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

Purple Honey by Varlam Shalamov

From a frost-chilled

line of poetry

my anguish will drop

like a ripe berry.

 

Rosehip juice will dye

fine crystals of snow –

and a stranger will smile

on his lonely way.

 

Blending dirty sweat

with the purity of a tear,

he will carefully collect

the tinted crystals.

 

He sucks tart sweetness,

this purple honey,

and his dried mouth

twists in happiness.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

Tools by Varlam Shalamov

Our tools are primitive

and simple:

a rouble’s worth of paper,

a hurrying pencil,

 

we need no more

to build a castle –

high in the air –

above the world’s bustle.

 

Dante needed nothing else

to build gates

into that Hell hole

founded on ice.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

They Say We Plough Shallow by Varlam Shalamov

They say we plough shallow,

always tripping and slipping,

but it’s hard to plough boldly

on the soil we’ve been given.

 

We plough in a graveyard

just tickling the topsoil,

afraid our blades may turn up

bones of dead people.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler