Январь (January) by Yunna Morits

Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river
We want to turn aside our eyes
As on ikons or at miracles.
Such shrouds, such continents of snow,
To touch a day sets our ears ringing
And people everywhere are blue.
– And you and I, apprentices
of the enchanter, stand and freeze
In the spaces of the studio
Beside the blackboard on the wall,
With dry throats and piercing gaze.
I’ll draw and scan, in arrogance,
Each syllable, each minute’s life,
To my remoteness; and the crammed
Fairbooth, no rag to veil its panes –
And all that was irrelevance
Now shapes our fate, enters our veins,
Stands as prefix to our names.
Accomplices! Our love’s forever,
For all men, to the ruinous grave,
To the torn wound, and to the line
Unfinished: where grass springs, and stands
Above our breasts, above our hands.
Such blueness blazes at our window
From the nearness of the river.

by Юнна Петровна Мориц
(Yunna Petrovna Morits [also spelled ‘Moritz’])
Translated by J. R. Rowland

Январь

У нас такая синева
В окне — от близости реки,
Что хочется скосить зрачки,
Как на иконе, как при чуде.
У нас такие покрова
Снегов — почти материки,
Что день задень — в ушах звонки,
И всюду голубые люди,
И я да ты — ученики
У чародея. Холодея,
Стоим в просторах мастерской
У стенки с аспидной доской.
Зрачками — вглубь. В гортани — сушь.
Вкачу, вчитаю по слогам
В гордыню, в собственную глушь
Ежеминутной жизни гам,
Битком набитый балаган
Без тряпки жалкой на окне.
И все, что прежде было вне,
Теперь судьбу слагает нам,
Родным составом входит в кровь,
Приставкой к личным именам.
Сообщники! У нас-любовь
Ко всем грядущим временам,
Ко всем — до гибельного рва,
До рваной раны, до строки
Оборванной, где прет трава
Поверх груди, поверх руки!
У нас такая синева
В окне от близости реки.

Additional information: Yunna Petrovna Morits (Moritz) is a Soviet and Russian poet, poetry translator and activist. She was born 2 June 1937 in Kiev, USSR (present day Kyiv, Ukraine) into a Jewish family. Her father Pinchas Moritz, was imprisoned under Stalin, she suffered from tuberculosis in her childhood and spent years of hardship in the Urals during World War II.

She has been founding member of several liberal organizations of artistic intelligentia, including the Russian section of International PEN. She is a member of Russian PEN Executive Committee and its Human Rights Commission. She has been awarded several prestigious prizes, including Andrei Sakharov Prize For Writer’s Civic Courage.

After 2014 Morits became a supporter of the Russian occupation of Donbass and Crimea. Some of her recent poetry conveys anti-Ukrainian and anti-Western sentiments, and her invective at perceived anti-Russian campaign by the West.

Moritz was first published in 1954, and her first collection of poetry, Razgovor o schast’e (Conversation About Happiness), came out in 1957. She completed studies at the Gorky Literary Institute in 1961 and, in addition to writing her own poetry, has translated both Hebrew and Lithuanian works. In 1954, when she was not yet eighteen, she announced uncautiously to fellow students in Moscow, including the compiler of this anthology, that “the Revolution has croaked.” She was always then and continues to be rather harsh and uncompromising. Though she may have lost friends, who were unable to withstand her categorical judgements, she has never lost her conscience. A mercilessness is sometimes felt in her poetry – as in the lines “War upon you! Plague upon you! / Butcher…” from the poem in honor of the Georgian poet Titian Tabidze, who was killed in Stalin’s torture chambers. This poem caused a storm of protest when it was published in the journal lunost’ (Youth) in 1961.

Moritz is a masterful poet; where she reaches into her own pain, she does more than just touch us – she conquers. Yet if her adult verse is dominated by dark tones, then her poetry for young people is full of joy of the open-air market. It is as if Moritz does not deem adults worthy of joy and must give it all to children.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.932, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

Yunna Morits born in Kiev. Her first collection of poetry, Talk of Happiness, was published in 1957. In 1964 she published a collection of translations of the Jewish poet M. Toif. With Joseph Brodsky, she was a particular favourite of Akhmatova’s. She has had a hard life: she suffered from tuberculosis, and her husband, a literary critic, committed suicide at the time of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Though regarded by many writers as one of the finest women poets in Russia today, Morits is very little published now, and is scarcely known abroad. She has been much influenced by Pasternak and, like him and Zabolotsky, has an animistic vision of nature. Her powerful, atmospheric poems about the Far North or the South, severe, utterly serious, with intimations of pain, of loss, of separation, are darkly moving. Her verses stir with the slow rhythm of nature. She is a poet of rooted attachments, measuring her love against the forces of nature. She is drawn to those men – hunters, settlers, fishermen – whose business it is to live and contend with these forces. The intensity of her work, its concrete, weighted depiction of the drama of the spiritual life as it is reflected or as it unfolds in nature, places her in the forefront of contemporary Russian poetry.

Biographical information about Moritz, p.241, ‘Post-War Russian Poetry’ (1974), edited by Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.

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…

‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

Борис Пастернак [Boris Pasternak] by Anna Akhmatova

He who compared himself to the eye of a horse,

Peers, looks, sees, recognizes,

And instantly puddles shine, ice

Pines away, like a melting of diamonds.

 

Backyards drowse in lilac haze. Branch-

Line platforms, logs, clouds, leaves…

The engine’s whistle, watermelon’s crunch,

A timid hand in a fragrant kid glove. He’s

 

Ringing, thundering, grinding, up to his breast

In breakers… and suddenly is quiet… This means

He is tiptoeing over pine needles, feaful lest

He should startle space awake from its light sleep.

 

It means he counts the grains in the empty ears,

And it means he has come back

From another funeral, back to Darya’s

Gorge, the tombstone, cursed and black.

 

And burns again, the Moscow tedium,

In the distance death’s sleigh-bell rings…

Who has got lost two steps from home,

Where the snow is waist-deep, an end to everything?

 

Because he compared smoke with Laocoön,

Made songs out of graveyard thistles,

Because he filled the world with a sound no-one

Has heard before, in a new space of mirrored

 

Verses, he has been rewarded with a form

Of eternal childhood, with the stars’ vigilant love,

The whole earth has been passed down to him,

And he has shared it with everyone.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(19 January 1936)

from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

January by R. S. Thomas

The fox drags its wounded belly

Over the snow, the crimson seeds

Of blood burst with a mild explosion,

Soft as excrement, bold as roses.

 

Over the snow that feels no pity,

Whose white hands can give no healing,

The fox drags its wounded belly.

 

by R. S. Thomas

from Song At The Year’s Turning (1955)