‘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.

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H’m by R. S. Thomas

and one said

speak to us of love

and the preacher opened

his mouth and the word God

fell out so they tried

again speak to us

of God then but the preacher

was silent reaching

his arms out but the little

children the ones with

big bellies and bow

legs that were like

a razor shell

were too weak to come

 

by R. S. Thomas

from H’m (1972)

Our Meeting by Inna Lisnianskaya

The woodpecker chips at the bark – easy route to the worm?

I take my time waking you, though I rose at dawn.

Your war is over – to each his own frost.

You skated on the Volga, iced Ladoga kissed,

but my frost was the morgue: from orphan to orderly,

so as not to starve, I pulled funeral trolleys.

There’s a sacred meaning in this meeting of fate and fate –

it was to unfreeze life that you and I met.

 

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)

(2001)

translated by Daniel Weissbort


 

She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly before 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.

‘To Fall Ill As One Should…’ by Anna Akhmatova

To fall ill as one should, deliriously

Hot, meet everyone again,

To stroll broad avenues in the seashore garden

Full of the wind and the sun.

 

Even the dead, today, have agreed to come,

And the exiles, into my house.

Lead the child to me by the hand.

Long I have missed him.

 

I shall eat blue grapes with those who are dead,

Drink the iced

Wine, and watch the grey waterfall pour

On to the damp flint bed.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘I Came To Him As A Guest…’ by Anna Akhmatova

For Alexander Blok

 

I came to him as a guest.

Precisely at noon. Sunday.

In the large room there was quiet,

And beyond the window, frost

 

And a sun like raspberry

Over the bluish-grey smoke-tangles.

How the reticent master

Concentrates as he looks!

 

His eyes are of the kind that

Nobody can forget. I’d

Better look out, better

Not look at them at all.

 

But I remember our talk,

Smoky noon of a Sunday,

In the poet’s high grey house

By the sea-gates of the Neva.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (January, 1914)

– from Четки (Rosary, 1914), translation by D. M. Thomas