‘Flying in at my window’ by Varlam Shalamov

Flying in at my window,

a moon like a snow jay

scrapes claws on walls,

flutters over my pillow

 

Scared of confinement

in pages or dwelling,

my homeless darling –

in midnight finery.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950)

translated by Robert Chandler

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‘Not To Set Fire To Myself’ by Varlam Shalamov

Not to set fire to myself

or be burned like Avvakum,

I do what I can

to chase away thought.

 

I now orbit the earth

in low-level flight,

life’s burdens and vanities

far out of sight.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1981)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Referenced in this poem is Avvakum Petrov (Аввакум Петров) a Russian protopope of the Kazan Cathedral on Red Square who led the opposition to Patriarch Nikon’s reforms of the Russian Orthodox Church. For his opposition to the reforms, Avvakum was repeatedly imprisoned. For the last fourteen years of his life, he was imprisoned in a pit or dugout (a sunken, log-framed hut) at Pustozyorsk above the Arctic Circle. He was finally executed by being burned at the stake. The spot where he was burned has been commemorated by an ornate wooden cross. His autobiography and letters to the tsar, Boyarynya Morozova, and other Old Believers are considered masterpieces of 17th-century Russian literature.

‘I Thought They Would Make Us the Heroes’ by Varlam Shalamov

I thought they would make us the heroes

of cantantas, posters, books of all kinds;

that hats would be flung in the air

and streets go out of their minds.

 

We had returned.

We were unbowed.

We had stayed true.

 

But the city had thoughts of its own;

it just muttered a word or two.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1961)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Alive Not By Bread Alone’ by Varlam Shalamov

Alive not by bread alone,

I dip a crust of sky,

in the morning chill,

in the stream flowing by.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955)

translated by Robert Chandler

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

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