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)
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.