Мы под Колпиным скопом стоим… (We Are Huddled In A Crowd…) by Aleksandr Mezhirov

We are huddled in a crowd before Kolpino.
Under the fire of our own artillery.

It’s probably because our reconnaissance
Gave the wrong bearings.

Falling short, overshooting, falling short again…
Our own artillery is shooting us.

It wasn’t for nothing we took an oath,
Blew up the bridges behind us.

No one will escape from these trenches.
Our own artillery is shooting at us.

We’re lying in a heap before Kolpino.
We’re trembling, saturated with smoke.
They should be shooting at the enemy,
But instead they’re shooting at their own.

The commanders want to console us.
They say the motherland loves us.
The artillery is thrashing its own
They’re not making an omelette, but they’re breaking eggs.

by Александр Петрович Межиров
(Alexandr Petrovich Mezhirov)
translated by Deming Brown

Мы под Колпиным скопом стоим…

Мы под Колпином скопом стоим,
Артиллерия бьет по своим.
Это наша разведка, наверно,
Ориентир указала неверно.

Недолет. Перелет. Недолет.
По своим артиллерия бьет.

Мы недаром присягу давали.
За собою мосты подрывали,-
Из окопов никто не уйдет.
Недолет. Перелет. Недолет.

Мы под Колпиным скопом лежим
И дрожим, прокопченные дымом.
Надо все-таки бить по чужим,
А она — по своим, по родимым.

Нас комбаты утешить хотят,
Нас, десантников, армия любит…
По своим артиллерия лупит,-
Лес не рубят, а щепки летят.

Recited by the Soviet and Russian actor Вениамин Борисович Смехов (Venyamin Borisovich Smekhov).

Additional information: Alexander Petrovich Mezhirov (Александр Петрович Межиров)(26 September 1923 – 22 May 2009) was a Soviet and Russian poet, translator and critic.

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-Russian Boris Yampolsky, Kazakh writer Olzhas Suleimenov, and Russian cultural ultranationalist and critic Vadim Kozhinov. Mezhirov associated with younger writers Yevgeny YevtushenkoTatyana 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 March 2009 Mezhirov 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.

Mezhirov had a “special gift” for absorbing the voices of his contemporaries and his predecessors from the 1900s–1930s, according to Maxim D. Shrayer, who notes the influences in Mezhirov‘s writing of Eduard BagritskyErich Maria RemarqueAnna AkhmatovaAleksandr BlokVladislav KhodasevichMikhail KuzminVladimir LugovskoyDavid Samoylov and Arseny Tarkovsky.

He was presented with the following awards (taken from the Russian language Wikipedia page):

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).

Китайская Прачечная (Chinese Laundry) by Yury Kazarnovsky

Here in the half-darkness of a basement
more musty than melancholy,
more soiled than sorrow,
streams of dirty laundry flowed together,
like ailments towards laboratory doors.
Fallen on tablecloth,
a cream-colored cowboy shirt
lies like a leper in sticky jam,
and Li Yu Chan,
with his salivating pencil,
brings the bill
to the sinners and the redeemed.
He’ll tear their flaxen body to pieces.
A storm of shirt –
he’s their ruthless whip!
May the laundry sparkle
once again in its altered appearance!
In the cauldron of farfetched quantity
layers of clothing
toss and turn gravely,
dreams are boiled out of pillowcases,
and a shirt’s confession circles in the steam.
Kerchiefs swim,
cuddled up to them in fear,
socks with holes
are boiling,
and the bleach is laughing like a satyr
at the bed sheets’ sleepy bosom.
Then with a burn in each hair
the laundry is readied
for new torments,
to be beaten in a fever of cleaning
on the steep board of pain.
And another torture has been foretold:
Margo Ivanova –
Yu Chan’s wife,
durable to the touch and in character,
will iron the laundry at a most hellish pace.
Moaning, she bowed
the enormous, sinking suns
of her breasts
that dragged along like a mountain after the iron,
her breasts, that have been tried in labor and desire.
This wife is a delight,
and a child with slanting eyes sucks
a lollipop at the crossroads of the races.
The laundry has been laundered.
The bedbugs aren’t too big.
It’s time for Yu Chan to sleep at last.
He sleeps.
And a created whiteness,
born with difficulty from the sticky ooze,
descends to him in white-snowed dreams,
in the form of childhood, rice, and jasmine.
And the laundry’s snow whirls out of the dark,
out of the darkest of darks. And the first light, and image of purity,
gratefully kisses the parchment of his brow.

by Юрий Александрович Казарновский (Yury Alexandrovich Kazarnovsky)
a.k.a Юрий Алексеевич Казарновский
(1904 – 1960?)
translated by Bradley Jordan

Китайская Прачечная

Здесь в полумглу подвального жилья,
Душней тоски, заношенней, чем горе,
Стеклись потоки грязного белья,
Как недруги к дверям амбулатории.
Упав на скатерть, кремовый апаш
Лежит в проказе липкого варенья.
И Ли Ю-Чан. слюнявя карандаш,
Подводит счет грехам и искупленьям!
Льняное тело будет он терзать,
Гроза рубах, он беспощадный бич их:
Пускай белье сумеет засверкать
Опять в переиначенных обличьях!
В котле надуманной величины
Пласты белья ворочаются тяжко.
Из наволочек выкинет он сны.
И паром вьется исповедь рубашки.
Плывут платки, прижавшись в страхе к ним,
Кипят носки, заношены до дырок,
И заспанную груду простыни
Высмеивает щелок, как сатира.
Потом с ожогом в каждом волоске
Белье идет на новые мученья,
Чтоб на крутой и ранящей доске
Забиться в лихорадке очищенья.
Затем иная мука суждена:
Его погладит в самом адском такте
Марго Ивановна — Ю-Чанова жена —
Добротная на ощупь и характер.
На жаркий стол она, кряхтя, склонила
Бредущие горой за утюгом
Огромные закатные светила
Грудей, испытанных восторгом и трудом.
Жена отрадна и раскос сынишка,
На перекрестке рас сосущий леденец.
Белье бело, клопы крупны не слишком,
Пора уснуть Ю-Чану, наконец,
Он спит. И созданная белизна,
Рожденная трудом из липкой тины,
К нему исходит в белоснежных снах:
В обличьях детства, риса и жасмина.
И снег белья кружит из темноты.
Из темноты нестирано угарной.
И первый свет, как образ Чистоты,
Пергамент лба целует благодарно.

Additional information: There is little information about Yuri Kazarnovsky online. Even his date of death, somehow, is uncertain it seems. His patronymic is Alexandrovich but apparently, for a long time, it was mistakenly believed to be Alekseevich – hence why sources might choose to forgo mentioning it.

He was born in Rostov-on-Don. As a student, he was a member of a subversive literary circle called Vremennik and was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1926/1927. He spent the next four years (1928 to 1932) imprisoned in the Solovki prison camp. His poems of camp life were published in the OGPU-run prison journal “Solovetsky Islands“. He also worked on the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. In 1936 he published his only book Stikhi (lit. ‘Poems’).

Soon after, in 1937, he was caught up in Stalin’s purges, and spent four years in the Kolyma gulag. (As this was between 1938-1942 he was there at the same time as Varlam Shalamov who had begun serving a five year sentence in 1937. I don’t think there is any suggestion they ever met during their sentences, if ever at all, but I note it because Shalamov’s work instantly comes to mind when hearing of Kolyma. There are others who wrote of their experiences in Kolyma but Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is probably the best known account of the gulags there). Kazarnovsky was rehabilitated by the state in 1955 and is believed to have died in 1960.

It is speculated that he was one of the last people to have met the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the gulag in 1938. He also worked in the camp in Mariinsk, Siberia. According to Dmitry Likhachev (who may be the source of the inaccurate patronymic due to either mistake or misquotation) Mandelshtam‘s wife, Nadezhda, tried to extract information about her husband from Kazarnovsky but it was in vain. He spent his later years in poverty and addiction, in Tashkent and in Moscow, where he corresponded with a contemporary, the poet Ilya Selvinsky (1899–1968).

Little information about Kazarnovsky’s life has survived. After his work was published in an anthology of poetry by Ogoniok (1989), the scholar D. S. Likhachev stated that he had met the poet while both were incarcerated in the Solovki Gulag from the fall of 1928 to the fall of 1931. However, the Rostov newspaper Komsomolets reported in 1989 that Likhachev was mistaken. Relatives assert that Kazarnovsky was arrested in 1937 and rehabilitated in 1955. The compiler of this anthology met him briefly to express admiration for his only book, Stikhi (Poems) (1934). Kazarnovsky was surprised that anyone knew his poems and seemed distant, as if the hands of death were already embracing him. His poems are filled with stunning, fresh, unforgettable imagery.

Biographical information about Kazarnovsky, p.477, ‘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.

For anyone looking for more of Kazarnovsky‘s poems here are translations by Boris Dralyuk of The Stroll and The Tram.

Август (August) by Boris Pasternak

As it promised without deception
the sun burst through early in the morning
with a slanting saffron strip
from the curtain to the divan.

It covered with a hot ochre
the neighbouring forest, the houses of the village,
my bed, the damp pillow
and the edge of the wall behind the book shelf.

I remembered why
the pillow was damp.
I dreamed that you came one after
the other through the forest to see me off.

You walked in a crowd, separately and in pairs,
suddenly somebody remembered that today
is the sixth of August Old Style,
the Transfiguration of the Lord.

Usually a light without a flame
comes out on that day from Mount Tabor,
and the autumn, clear as a sign,
rivets gazes to itself.

And you went through the thin, beggarly,
naked, trembling alder thicket
into the ginger-red cemetery copse
which glowed like a honey cake.

The imposing sky neighboured
the treetops that had fallen silent,
and the distance echoed and called with the long
drawn out voices of the cocks.

In the forest like a public land surveyor
death stood in the middle of the graveyard,
looking at my dead pale face
so as to dig a grave the right length.

Everyone physically sensed
a quiet voice close by.
It was my former prophetic voice
that resounded untouched by decay.

‘Farewell, azure of the Transfiguration,
and gold of the second Salvation.
Soften with a woman’s final caress
the bitterness of my fateful hour.

Farewell, years of hardship,
we will say farewell to the woman throwing
down a challenge to the abyss of humiliation!
I am your battlefield.

Farewell, spread out sweep of the wing,
free stubbornness of flight,
and the image of the world, presented in the word,
and creation, and miracle-working.’

By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1953)
from До́ктор Жива́го
(Doctor Zhivago)
translated by Richard McKane

Additional information: The poem is featured in the novel До́ктор Жива́го (Doctor Zhivago) as if written by it’s protagonist Yuri Zhivago.

The poem read by Александр Феклистов (Aleksandr Fleklistov).

Август

Как обещало, не обманывая,
Проникло солнце утром рано
Косою полосой шафрановою
От занавеси до дивана.

Оно покрыло жаркой охрою
Соседний лес, дома поселка,
Мою постель, подушку мокрую,
И край стены за книжной полкой.

Я вспомнил, по какому поводу
Слегка увлажнена подушка.
Мне снилось, что ко мне на проводы
Шли по лесу вы друг за дружкой.

Вы шли толпою, врозь и парами,
Вдруг кто-то вспомнил, что сегодня
Шестое августа по старому,
Преображение Господне.

Обыкновенно свет без пламени
Исходит в этот день с Фавора,
И осень, ясная, как знаменье,
К себе приковывает взоры.

И вы прошли сквозь мелкий, нищенский,
Нагой, трепещущий ольшаник
В имбирно-красный лес кладбищенский,
Горевший, как печатный пряник.

С притихшими его вершинами
Соседствовало небо важно,
И голосами петушиными
Перекликалась даль протяжно.

В лесу казенной землемершею
Стояла смерть среди погоста,
Смотря в лицо мое умершее,
Чтоб вырыть яму мне по росту.

Был всеми ощутим физически
Спокойный голос чей-то рядом.
То прежний голос мой провидческий
Звучал, не тронутый распадом:

«Прощай, лазурь преображенская
И золото второго Спаса
Смягчи последней лаской женскою
Мне горечь рокового часа.

Прощайте, годы безвременщины,
Простимся, бездне унижений
Бросающая вызов женщина!
Я – поле твоего сражения.

Прощай, размах крыла расправленный,
Полета вольное упорство,
И образ мира, в слове явленный,
И творчество, и чудотворство».

1953 г.

A 1954 recording of Boris Pasternak himself reading the poem.

Woman on Wheels by Mike Jenkins

Don’t look down on me!
I’m a remarkable invention:
half-vehicle and half-human!

Don’t joke about such things?
Well, what is there left?
God’s deserted me,
or I’ve ignored him…
whatever, it’s neither blame nor salvation.

Don’t look away or speak slowly,
I only grin stupidly
when I’ve taken too much gin.

Later, in the morning,
messages from my brain
jam in my throat.
My spine’s a street
I can only walk in sleep
or in those photos once placed
in a case too high to reach.

Running on smoke not steam,
I become the mechanic
as I take my leg from the cupboard
to put on as you would make-up.
I prefer to numb myself
in poison-clouds of my making,
rather than face a sun
shining like instruments of operation.

You think I’m not like you?
It’s true the world is full
of stairs and people climbing,
while I remain below
locked into pavement, gazing
as the building saunters away.
Yet I know some who are paralysed within,
so all they’ve achieved
becomes a throbbing, an ache
from a lost limb.

By Mike Jenkins
from A Dissident Voice