‘I’ll say this in a whisper, in draft’ by Osip Mandelstam

I'll say this in a whisper, in draft,
because it's early yet:
we have to pay
with experience and sweat
to learn the sky's free play.

And under purgatory's temporal sky
we easily forget:
the dome of heaven
is a home
to praise forever, wherever.


by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.
His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)
(1937)
translated by Robert Chandler
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Relearning Solitude [Extract] by Boris Slutsky

Just as I once learned one ancient tongue

enough to read its texts,

and I forgot the aphabet –

I’ve forgotten solitude.

This all must be recalled, recovered, and relearned.

I remember how once I met

a compiler of words

in the ancient tongue that I had learned

and lost.

Turned out, I knew two words: ‘heavens’ and ‘apple’.

I might have recalled the rest –

All beneath the heavens and beside the apples –

But the need wasn’t there.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Marat Grinberg and Judith Pulman

 

Interesting information: Slutsky was a atheist but he didn’t forget his cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. He had to ‘relearn solitude’ due to the death of his wife Tanya in 1977. For the following three months, before he fell into a depressed silence for the last nine years of his life during which he wrote nothing, he produced some of the most highly regarded poems on the themes of love and mourning in the Russian language.


Сорок лет спустя (Forty Years Later) by Vladimir Kornilov

A foundling of the worthless muses

and other brutes,

I languish all the livelong day

at the LitInstitute.

Outside the window, a janitor sweeps

the pavement clean.

 

Slouching, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked,

he’s gloomy, ill.

But to hell with him and all his woes –

I’m full of myself.

 

… And all the while he was the one

whose words the Genius

of Humanity had banished from

the magazines.

 

Thus the writing of that time

grew strangely inept,

while at the LitInstitute the yard

was nicely swept.

 

… My whole life I looked into myself –

at others, rarely.

But all the same, his fate did touch

something in me.

 

Now I’ve become a poet – good,

bad, who knows? –

declining like the century,

sentenced to sweep snow.

 

Who envies either of our lives?

His life was destroyed

by M. tuberculosis, and mine –

by my wretched thyroid.

 

… I bear being outcast unbowed,

I kowtow to none,

but before you I’ll bow down,

Andrey Platonov.

 

And forty years later I pray:

in your distant heaven,

forgive the folly of my youth,

forgive everything –

 

my hubris, hard-heartedness, but mostly

forgive the boredom

with which I gazed through that window

on your torment.

 

 

by Владимир Николаевич Корнилов (Vladimir Nikolayevich Kornilov)

(January 1985)

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.

Regarding his reference to Platonov in this poem: He briefly worked as a street cleaner as an homage to Platonov as there was some ‘Intelligentsia folklore’ that occassionally Platonov would choose to sweep the yard in from of the LitInstitute building where he lived. However he was dismissed after a month on the pretext ‘it is illegal to hire someone of higher education for such duties’. So he probably wasn’t very good at it and just ad a very romanticised view of it.

He considered Gumilyov to be the ‘Kipling of Tsarkoye Selo’ and praised the courae with shich he faced his execution. He also wrote admiringly of Akhmatova who sponsored his admission into the Union of Soviet Writers in 1965.  Also he reflected on the paradox of Lermontov’s fate – that it was a peculiar blend of courage, pain and spite which led him to his last duel and that it’s outcome made him appear an embodiment of love remarking in one poem ‘and boys writing poems at night / hope for a similar fate’

Russian cyrillic original version of the poem:

Подкидыш никудышных муз
И прочей нуди,
Я скукой день-деньской томлюсь
В Литинституте.

И замыслов невпроворот,
И строчек вздорных…
А за окном асфальт метёт
Упорный дворник.

Сутулый, тощий, испитой,
Угрюм он, болен.
Но шут с ним и с его бедой –
Я дурью полон.

…Когда бы знать, что он лишён
Других доходов,
Что от журналов отлучён
Отцом народов,

С того и проза тех времён
Вдруг стала тусклой…
Зато просторный двор метён
Литинститутcкий.

…Всю жизнь гляделся я в себя,
А в ближних – мало.
И всё равно его судьба
Меня достала.

Такой или сякой поэт,
Я кроме смеха
На склоне века, склоне лет –
Уборщик снега.

Кого от нашего житья
Возьмут завидки?
Он от чахотки сник, а я –
От щитовидки.

…Тащу отверженность, не гнусь,
Не бью поклонов,
Но перед вами повинюсь,
Андрей Платонов!

И сорок лет спустя молю:
В своём зените
Простите молодость мою,
За всё простите –

За спесь, и чёрствость, и сполна
Ещё за скуку,
С какой глядел я из окна
На вашу муку.

 

Like, comment, follow or subscribe… please. I just don’t know if anyone actually finds these bilingual posts interesting or it’s just me. Seriously, if you read the two languages, you can really see how much of a difference the translator makes putting their mark on a piece. I’ve once or twice put multiple translations of the same poem on here if you want to look and compare then. Even if you just put it the cyrillic version into Google Translate for a rough translation you see how line orders and everything get affected…

‘City of splendour, city of poor’ by Alexander Pushkin

City of splendour, city of poor,

spirit of grace and servitude,

heaven’s vault of palest lime,

boredom, granite, bitter cold –

still I miss you rather, for

down your streets from time to time

one may spy a tiny foot,

one may glimpse a lock of gold.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1828)

translated by Anthony Wood


Fun fact: Pushkin is most likely alluding to St Petersburg prior to his exile.

‘How bare the countryside! What dearth’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

How bare the countryside! What dearth

How stark the  hamlets’ desolation…

Long-suffering country of my birth,

poor homeland of the Russian nation.

 

Never will the stranger’s gaze

look deeper to perceive or guess

what hidden light there is that plays

and shimmers through your nakedness.

 

In servant’s guise the King of Heaven,

beneath the cross in anguish bent,

has walked the length and breadth of Russia,

blessing her people as he went.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1855)

translated by Avril Pyman


Fun fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev’s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet. Then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved of by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

The Ballad of a Bounder by Idris Davies

He addressed great congregations

And rolled his tongue with grease,

And his belly always flourished,

In times of war or peace.

 

He would talk of distant comrades

And brothers o’er the sea,

And snarl above his liquor

about neighbours two or three.

 

He knew a lot about public money –

More than he liked to say –

And sometimes sat with the paupers

To increase his Extra pay.

 

He could quote from Martin Tupper

and Wilhelmina Stitch,

And creep from chapel to bargain

With the likeliest local bitch.

 

He could swindle and squeal and snivel

And cheat and chant and pray,

and retreat like a famous general

When Truth would bar his way.

 

But God grew sick and tired

Of such a godly soul,

And sent down Death to gather

His body to a hole.

 

But before he died, the Bounder

Said: ‘My children, be at peace;

I know I am going to heaven,

So rub my tongue with grease.’

 

by Idris Davies


Fun facts: Martin Tupper was an English writer, and poet, and the author of Proverbial Philosophy. Wilhelmina Stitch was one of the pen names of Ruth Collie, an English born poet who started her writing career in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

The Kingdom by R. S. Thomas

It’s a long way off but inside it

There are quite different things going on:

Festivals at which the poor man

Is king and the consumptive is

Healed; mirrors in which the blind look

At themelves and love looks at them

Back; and industry is for mending

The bent bones and the minds fractured

By life. It’s a long way off, but to get

There takes no time and admission

Is free, if you will purge yourself

Of desire, and present yourself with

Your need only and the simple offering

Of your faith, green as a leaf.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)