Farewell, Captain… by Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky

Farewell, Captain. In bygone days,
Your features suddenly transformed,
You’d whirl away on that mad steed.
Wherever the four winds blew.
You’ll not return. Near a kiosk now,
Chewing on tobacco whiskers,
In a raincoat soiled to the shine,
You silently check your watch.
But time, violating its term,
Runs on like a mountain stream,
And it seems that a giant hand
Blends the clouds with water.
And it seems a crazed horse
Or Pegasus, caught in raging rapids,
Breaking its carriage into kindling,
Looks on, half-strangled by its trace,
Looks on mockingly at us.

By Владимир Львович Корвин-Пиотровский
(Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky)
(1891-1966)
translated by Bradley Jordan

Additional information: Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovskii (Владимир Львович Корвин-Пиотровский) was born 15 May 1891 in Kiev and died on April 2 1966. His place of birth is sometimes identified as Bila Tserkva, Ukraine, where he spent much of his childhood. During World War I, he served as an artillery officer in the White Army. After being taken prisoner and barely escaping execution, he crossed through Poland and made his way to Berlin around 1920.

In Berlin, he became active in the Russian emigre literary community. There he met Yuri Ofrosimov and Vladimir Nabokov (during the period he used the pen name Vladimir Sirin). He also became involved with the Berlin Poets’ Club, a group of Russian emigre poets founded by Mikhail Gorlin. In addition to Ofrosimov, Korvin-Piotrovskii and Sirin, members included Raisa Blokh, Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia (née Kaplun), Vera Nabokov, and Sofia Pregel.

Vladimir and his wife left Germany before World War II began. Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia worked at the French embassy in Berlin, and they were able to travel to Paris with embassy staff. During World War II, Korvin-Piotrovskii was active in the French Resistance movement. He was arrested and imprisoned for approximately eight months in 1944. His fellow prisoners included the French writer André Frossard, whose memoir La maison des otages documents this time period. Vladimir and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskii were close friends with Italo and Leila Griselli and visited them many times in Italy. Italo Griselli, a sculptor, made busts of both Vladimir and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskii.

In 1961 the family moved to Los Angeles, California, where Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovskii died on April 2, 1966 and Nina Korvin-Piotrovskaia died in 1975.

Korvin-Piotrovsky was descended from ancient Russian aristocracy and Hungarian kings. In the Civil War he served as an artillery officer in the White Army. As an émigré in Berlin, he worked as a chauffer while heading the poetry department for the journal Spolokhi (Nothern Lights). He published under the name P.V. In 1939 he moved to Paris, where he took part in the Resistance, and spent almost a year imprisoned by the Gestapo. His poems and essays from prison were published in the book Vozdushnyi zmei (Aerial Serpents) under his real name. A two-volume collection of his work, Pozdnii gost’ (Late Guest), was published in Washington in 1969.
While his early lyrics were often unrhymed, Korvin-Piotrovsky’s later verse returned to classical forms of rhymed iambic tetrameter. The content often turned from contemporary events to bygone centuries, to pictures of night, fog, autumn, and winter, continuing a tradition of Russian romanticism. He was both a poet and a playwright who left a heterogeneous legacy, a unique poetic testimony to Russia’s fate and his own.

Biographical information about Korvin-Piotrovsky p.224, ‘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.

I was unable to source the Russian version of the poem unfortunately. If anyone knows where to find it online please leave a comment or link.

‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.