Black Cat by Bulat Okudzhava

There’s a courtyard in our building,

that’s where you’ll find the back door,

and behind it lives a Black Cat –

ensconced here like some lord.

 

There’s a smirk behind his whiskers,

darkness shields him like a wall,

and this Black Cat remains quiet

while all others caterwaul.

 

He keeps smirking in his whiskers,

hasn’t caught a mouse of late,

catches us on our loose lips,

on a bit of tempting bait.

 

He does not request or order –

when his yellow eye burns bright,

every one of us forks over,

thanking him with all our might.

 

He won’t meow and he won’t purr –

he just gorges, drinks and gloats.

And he paws at dirty floorboards

like he’s clawing at our throats.

 

This is why the place we live in

is so dark and dreary still,

we should really hang a light bulb –

but can’t seem to foot the bill.

 

by ბულატ ოკუჯავა

a.k.a. Булат Шалвович Окуджава

a.k.a. Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava

(1957 – 1959)

translated by Maria Bloshteyn


Here is the song, often believed to be about Stalin, being performed by Bulat Okudzhava:

 

Bulat Shalvovich Okudzhava (Russian: Булат Шалвович Окуджава; Georgian: ბულატ ოკუჯავა) (May 9, 1924 – June 12, 1997) was a Soviet and Russian poet, writer, musician, novelist, and singer-songwriter of Georgian-Armenian ancestry. He was one of the founders of the Soviet genre called “author song” (авторская песня), or “guitar song”, and the author of about 200 songs, set to his own poetry. His songs are a mixture of Russian poetic and folksong traditions and the French chansonnier style represented by such contemporaries of Okudzhava as Georges Brassens. Though his songs were never overtly political (in contrast to those of some of his fellow Soviet bards), the freshness and independence of Okudzhava‘s artistic voice presented a subtle challenge to Soviet cultural authorities, who were thus hesitant for many years to give official recognition to Okudzhava.

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In A Restaurant by Alexander Blok

Will I ever forget it, that mythical night:

in the blaze of the setting sun

an abyss divided the sky in two

and the street lamps came on one by one.

 

I sat in a crowd by the window while somewhere

an orchestra sang about love;

I sent you a rose in a glass of champagne

as gold as the heavens above.

 

Returning your arrogant look with a mixture

of pride and confusion, I bowed;

with studied disdain you turned to your escort:

‘That one, too, is in love with me now.’

 

All at once the ecstatic strings thundered out

in response… But still I could see

from your show of contempt, from the tremor that shook

your hand, that your thoughts were with me.

 

You jumped up from your place with the speed of a bird

that’s been startled; your languid perfume,

the swirl of your dress as you passed, died away

like a vision that’s over too soon.

 

But out of its depths a mirror reflected

your glance as you cried: ‘Now’s your chance!’

And a gypsy, jangled her beads, sang of love

to the dawn and started to dance.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1910)

translated by Stephen Capus

By The Fireplace by Afanasy Fet

The embers fade. A lucid flame

flickers in the half-light,

like a butterfly’s azure wing

on a scarlet poppy.

 

A scattering of motley visions

soothes my tired eyes.

Faces I can’t quite distinguish

gaze from the grey ash.

 

Past happiness and sadness rise –

a friendly, tender pair;

the soul pretends it can get by

without all it held so dear.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

(1856)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

The Sugar Angel by Alexander Blok

Through the closed nursery doors, the sugar angel

stares through the chink to see

the children playing at the Christmas party,

the brightly candled tree.

 

Nana is making up the crackling fire,

a blaze for Christmas Day.

Only the sugar angel – he is German –

wastes, warm and sweet, away.

 

First comes the softening of his little feathers,

the melting of his feet,

the tiny head falls back, he makes a puddle,

minute and warm and sweet.

 

And then the puddle dries away. The mistress

looks everywhere in vain,

while old deaf Nana, who remembers nothing,

grumbles and looks again.

 

You fragile creatures of our dearest daydreams!

Break, melt and vanish away

in the bright-burning blaze of hourly happenings,

the clatter of everyday.

 

Only a little mischevious girl, recalling

the breath of days departed,

will weep for you in secret for a moment.

A child is tender-hearted.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1909)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman

Spring by Afanasy Fet

I come again with greetings new,

to tell you day is well begun;

to say the leaves are fresh with dew

and dappled in the early sun;

 

to tell you how the forest stirs

in every branch of every brake,

and what an April thirst is hers,

with every whistling bird awake;

 

to say, as yesterday, once more,

with love as passionate and true,

my heart is ready as before

for serving happiness and you;

 

to tell how over every thing

delight is blowing on the air –

I know not yet what I shall sing;

I only know the song is there.

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

(1843)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman

The Sunlight On The Garden by Louis MacNeice

The sunlight on the garden

Hardens and grows cold,

We cannot cage the minute

Within its nets of gold,

When all is told

We cannot beg for pardon.

 

Our freedom as free lances

Advances towards its end;

The earth compels, upon it

Sonnets and birds descend;

And soon, my friend,

We shall have no time for dances.

 

The sky was good for flying

Defying the church bells

And every evil iron

Siren and what it tells:

The earth compels,

We are dying, Egypt, dying

 

And not expecting pardon,

Hardened in heart anew,

But glad to have sat under

Thunder and rain with you,

And grateful too

For sunlight on the garden.

 

by Louis MacNeice (1907 – 1963)