In the cold season, in a locality accustomed to heat more than to cold, to horizontality more than to a mountain, a child was born in a cave in order to save the world; it blew as only in deserts in winter it blows, athwart.
To Him, all things seemed enormous: His mother’s breast, the steam out of the ox’s nostrils, Caspar, Balthazar, Melchior – the team of Magi, their presents heaped by the door, ajar. He was but a dot, and a dot was the star.
Keenly, without blinking, through pallid, stray clouds, upon the child in the manger, from far away – from the depth of the universe, from its opposite end – the star was looking into the cave. And that was the Father’s stare.
By Иосиф Александрович Бродский (Joseph Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky a.k.a. Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky) (December 1987) translated by the author, Brodsky, himself
В холодную пору, в местности, привычной скорей к жаре, чем к холоду, к плоской поверхности более, чем к горе, младенец родился в пещере, чтоб мир спасти: мело, как только в пустыне может зимой мести.
Ему все казалось огромным: грудь матери, желтый пар из воловьих ноздрей, волхвы — Балтазар, Гаспар, Мельхиор; их подарки, втащенные сюда. Он был всего лишь точкой. И точкой была звезда.
Внимательно, не мигая, сквозь редкие облака, на лежащего в яслях ребенка издалека, из глубины Вселенной, с другого ее конца, звезда смотрела в пещеру. И это был взгляд Отца.
Born in Moscow, he was the son of an educated Jewish couple — his father a lawyer, his mother a German-language teacher, and one of his grandfathers was a rabbi. Drafted as a private in July 1941, he fought in World War II before a serious injury led to his demobilization in 1943 as a second lieutenant. That same year, he joined the Communist Party; after the war he attended the Maxim Gorky Literary Institute, graduating in 1948. He translated poetry from Georgian and Lithuanian poets.
Mezhirov was a prominent figure in the Soviet literary establishment, although his allegiances and associations were varied. At some points he was close to fellow Jewish-RussianBoris Yampolsky, Kazakh writer Olzhas Suleimenov, and Russian cultural ultranationalist and critic Vadim Kozhinov. Mezhirov associated with younger writers Yevgeny Yevtushenko, Tatyana Glushkova (known for her nationalist views in the mid-1980s, according to Shrayer) and Evgeny Reyn, who was censored in the Soviet Union until the mid-1980s.
Although Mezhirov had publicly stated that his patriotism for Russia was so intense that, unlike other Russian Jews, he could not emigrate, he suddenly left Russia for the United States in 1992, settling first in New York, then in Portland, Oregon. As of 2007, according to anthologist Maxim D. Shrayer, he had not revisited Russia. In March2009Mezhirov published a collection of new poems, two months before his death. According to the ITAR/TASS news service, his body was to be cremated in the United States, with the ashes to be buried in Peredelkino near Moscow.
Mezhirov was among what has been called a “middle generation” of Soviet poets that ignored themes of communist “world revolution” and instead focused on Soviet and Russian patriotism. Many of them specialized in patriotic lyrics, particularly its military aspects. According to G. S. Smith, Mezhirov and a number of other “middle generation” poets “were genuine poets whose testimony, however well-laundered, to the tribulations of their times will endure at least as long as their generation.” Some of Mezhirov‘s lyrical poems based on his wartime experience belong with the best Russian poetical works created in the Soviet 1950s-1960s.
Laureate of the Vazha-PshavelaPrize of the Independent Joint Venture of Georgia (1999).
In 1994, the President of the United States of America Bill Clinton, at the White House presented him with an award for being “Imbued with the spirit of partnership and mutual assistance, a grateful Nation will never forget your incomparable personal contribution and sacrifice shown in World War II”.
Regarding the reference to Kolpino: With the onset of the Great Patriotic War, Kolpino factory workers formed the Izhora Battalion, part of the militia around 24 August – 4 September, 1941. The front line was held in the immediate vicinity of the plant, which was subjected to heavy enemy shelling. By 1944, only 327 of Kolpino’s 2183 houses remained intact. 140,939 shells and 436 aerial bombs fell in Kolpino’s neighborhoods and boulevards. According to incomplete data for the war, shelling and starvation in the Kolpino district killed 4,600 people, not counting the dead on the front. By 1 January, 1944 Kolpino had only 2196 inhabitants. After the lifting of the siege, people gradually came back from the evacuation and army. On 1 January, 1945 the population was 7404 and by the beginning of the next year numbered 8914 people.
Mezhirov is one of the finest poets of the World War II generation. His father, who was both a lawyer and physician, took great pains to ensure his son’s broad education. As a soldier in World War II, Mezhirov took part in the defense of Leningrad, where he was seriously wounded and discharged. He wrote poetry as a schoolboy and began to publish in 1941; from 1943 to 1948 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute. His first collection, Doroga dalioka (The Road Is Long) (1947), spoke with youthful passion of the war and of the suffering and triumphs it entailed; the poetry was criticized for being “too personal.” His romantic poem “Kommunisty vperyod” (Forward Communists) was for several years the most widely read work in the Soviet Union, both from the stage and over the radio. However, the finest things he has written have always been emphatically independent and nonpartisan. Mezhirov’s poetry was criticized throughout his career, but he never bowed to the pressure; as a result of his steadfastness, the quality of his verse never suffered.
Mezhirov spent considerable time in Georgia and has translated much Georgian poetry. A highly sophisticated connoisseur of Russian poetry, his more recent work speaks out against the negative influences and lack of spirituality in the modern world, especially the tendencies to destruction and isolation he perceives in the young. Not only a great poet, Mezhirov is also the teacher of many younger poets, including the compiler of this anthology.
Biographical information about Mezhirov, p.721, ‘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. (transcribed as found in the original text).
Clouds – whole valleys-sides covered in berries ripe and ready for the picking, a steep rock-face with overgrown heather, a flock of black sheep running to be rounded up and sheared by the wind: water with its roots in the sky.
Rain – the drizzly seeds of droplets sown, the slanting sea-strewn westerlies which turn clothing into blotting paper, the aching storms which gravel into bones, making you shrink and cower.
Valleys – scooped and scoured out by laws, people cleared away like shanty-dwellers bossed by bulldozers, memories left to night-writers, to bells tolled by feeding streams and rivers, to drought and dereliction exposed.
Reservoirs – acid funnels of the conifers press down soil to stop it slipping; to trippers they seem like mirrors, but they balance water on scales tapping mountains for its wealth.
Pipelines – over the border, moving like a train with trucks of coal, like iron and steel liquid and molten, like the feet of all those who had to leave muttering ‘Money, money…’ forced against the gradient, longing for sea.
Chemicals – a layer of aluminium the surface sheen, the weight of lead its depths and those substances meant to purify unseen in a clear glass, lurking like radiation.
Houses – the old person whose grasp of time runs through knotted fingers and down the drain, children whose minds become stagnant; families knowing when it’s cut off water’s precious as air when they choke on the stench of their own cack, as germs breed with cockroaches and rats.
Dŵr – they’ve stolen the word, those safe-lock faces, mispronounced it ‘Door’, reinforced and vaulted below reservoirs where they’ve counted profits from broken bones of village walls, from a thirst which opens mouths in fledging questions to the clouds.
By Mike Jenkins from This Houses, My Ghetto
Additional information: Dŵr is the Welsh word for water. The line referring to it being mispronounced as ‘door’ regards a common mistake people make when first learning how to say it if unfamiliar with Welsh pronunciation. the elongated ‘oo’ sound of dŵr is ‘oohr’ not ‘or’. To approximate the pronunciation think of the word sounding like ‘dew-er’ but don’t stress the second syllable so it becomes ‘dewr’.
Since I’m speaking about Welsh pronunciation I might as well note how amusing it is to read in every Russian-English dictionary the explanation that the Cyrillic letter ‘Ч’ “… sounds like the ‘ch’ in the Scottish word ‘loch’…” since that sound exists in the Brythonic language of Welsh e.g. Chwarae (ch-wah-rye) which means ‘play’ as in the popular Welsh phrase ‘chwarae teg‘ (teg = ‘teh-guh’) meaning ‘fair play’.