‘What did they do’ by Boris Slutsky

What did they do

with the relatives of Christ?

What did they do with them?

No written source

will tell you a damned thing –

nothing but crossings out, emptiness.

What the hell did they do with them?

 

What did they do

with those simple people,

simple craftsmen, men who worked on the land?

Were all marched off to some nearby wilderness,

lined up and machine-gunned?

 

Whatever happened then, two centuries later

there were no demands for compensation or calls for revenge?

Total posthumous rehabilitation of Jesus

led to no rehabilitation of kin.

 

And now flowers are growing from the relatives of Christ.

Below them lie depths, above them rise heights,

yet world history had found no place

for those relatives of Christ.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(1977)

translated by Robert Chandler

 

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Молчание (Silentium) by Fyodor Tyutchev

Be silent, hide away and let

your thoughts and longings rise and set

in the deep places of your heart.

 

Let dreams move silently as stars,

in wonder more than you can tell.

Let them fulfil you – and be still.

 

What heart can ever speak its mind?

How can some other understand

the hidden pole that turns your life?

A thought, once spoken, is a lie.

Don’t cloud the water in your well;

drink from this wellspring – and be still.

 

Live in yourself. There is a whole

deep world of being in your soul,

burdened with mystery and thought.

The noise outside will snuff it out.

Day’s clear light can break the spell.

Hear your own singing – and be still.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1829 – early 1830s)

translated by Robert Chandler


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.

A recital of the poem in the original Russian:

The original Russian Cyrillic text:

Молчи, скрывайся и таи
И чувства и мечты свои –
Пускай в душевной глубине
И всходят и зайдут оне
Как звезды ясные в ночи-
Любуйся ими – и молчи.

Как сердцу высказать себя?
Другому как понять тебя?
Поймёт ли он, чем ты живёшь?
Мысль изречённая есть ложь.
Взрывая, возмутишь ключи,-
Питайся ими – и молчи.

Лишь жить в себе самом умей –
Есть целый мир в душе твоей
Таинственно-волшебных дум;
Их заглушит наружный шум,
Дневные ослепят лучи,-
Внимай их пенью – и молчи!..

An English recital of the poem in an alternate translation:

‘Newly Reaped Ears Of Early Wheat’ by Osip Mandelstam

Newly reaped ears of early wheat

lie in level rows;

fingertips tremble, pressed against

fingers fragile as themselves.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1909)

translated by James Greene

‘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.

This by Fernando Pessoa

They say I pretend or lie

All I write. No such thing.

It simply is that I

Feel by imagining.

I don’t use the heart-string.

 

All that I dream or lose,

That falls short or dies on me.

Is like a terrace which looks

On another thing beyond.

It’s that thing leads me on.

 

And so I write in the middle

Of things not next one’s feet,

Free from my own muddle,

Concerned for what is not.

Feel? Let the reader feel!

 

by Fernando Pessoa

(1888-1935), Portugal

translated by Jonathon Griffin after the Portuguese of Fernando Pessoa

Naked Thoughts Live Unembellished by Inna Lisnianskaya

Naked thoughts live unembellished.

That saying’s a lie, you can’t

twice and so forth, whatever it is.

A thousandth time I enter the same river.

 

And I see the same grey stones on the bottom,

the same carp with its gristly fins,

the same sun in the blue patch of sky

washes the yellow spot for ages.

 

In the same river the willow weeps,

the same waters ripple tunefully,

no day passes but into the same river

I enter, the very same life.

 

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)

(2003)

translated by Daniel Weissbort


 

She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly after his death.

There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband intially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.

She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.