'Rest a while,'
says the muse,
but I press on
losing myself between
the dictionary and the blank
page. Wisdom advises,
'Call ber bluff and
she'll come cringing.'
But I am all nerves,
through my fingers, faster
and faster. And somewhere
before me is
the great poem, wrapped
in its stillness, that
I fool myself into
thinking I will overtake soon
by putting on speed.
by R. S. Thomas
from Unpublished Poems
And I knew a destructive pleasure
in trampling what's sacred and good,
a delirium exceeding all measure -
this absinthe that poisons my blood!
by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
translated by Stephen Capus
A foundling of the worthless muses
and other brutes,
I languish all the livelong day
at the LitInstitute.
Outside the window, a janitor sweeps
the pavement clean.
Slouching, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked,
he’s gloomy, ill.
But to hell with him and all his woes –
I’m full of myself.
… And all the while he was the one
whose words the Genius
of Humanity had banished from
Thus the writing of that time
grew strangely inept,
while at the LitInstitute the yard
was nicely swept.
… My whole life I looked into myself –
at others, rarely.
But all the same, his fate did touch
something in me.
Now I’ve become a poet – good,
bad, who knows? –
declining like the century,
sentenced to sweep snow.
Who envies either of our lives?
His life was destroyed
by M. tuberculosis, and mine –
by my wretched thyroid.
… I bear being outcast unbowed,
I kowtow to none,
but before you I’ll bow down,
And forty years later I pray:
in your distant heaven,
forgive the folly of my youth,
forgive everything –
my hubris, hard-heartedness, but mostly
forgive the boredom
with which I gazed through that window
on your torment.
by Владимир Николаевич Корнилов (Vladimir Nikolayevich Kornilov)
translated by Katherine E. Young
Fun facts: Here is my rough effort to translate the Russian language Wikipedia article page on him as there is no English page available and most of the results for his name will lead you to information about the historical naval figure.
Vladimir Nikolaevich Kornilov ( June 29, 1928 , Dnepropetrovsk – January 8, 2002 , Moscow ) was a Soviet Russian poet, writer, and literary critic. He was heavily censored throughout the Soviet era for his, to the Soviet authorities, ideologically troubling works.
He was born into a family of civil engineers. When the Great Patriotic War began (i.e. World War II), he was evacuated to Novokuznetsk ( Siberia ), then moved to Moscow . In 1945 – 1950 he studied at the Gorky Literary Institute (i.e. the LitInstitute mentioned in this poem) , which he was he was expelled from three times for absenteeism and “ideologically vicious verses”.
Kornilov’s first poems were published in 1953 . However, his works were rarely published, and even then only after ‘corrections’ had been made by censors. In 1957, his collection of poems “Agenda from the military registration and enlistment office” was rejected. Only in 1964 his first book of poems, The Pier, was published by the Soviet Writer Publishing House, and in 1965, on the recommendation of Anna Akhmatova , Kornilov was successfully admitted to the Union of Writers of the USSR.
A hard time awaited the prose works of Kornilov. His first and second novels – “Without arms, without legs”, completed in 1965 , and “Girls and ladies”, written in October 1968 he tried to get published for a long time unsuccessfully in the Soviet Union . The former was not printed and although the latter was accepted for publication in December 1971 but immediately thereafter rejected or banned.
By his third and largest prose work – the novel “Demobilization” – Kornilov no longer even tried to be publish in his homeland and instead sent his works to the west, where, from 1974 onwards, they were in print.
[he has two books in English I could find after a very brief search: Girls to the Front (1984) and Building a Prison (1985) so it’s possible the others were in German and other languages or have different titles in other languages. By all means comment on this post if you find others available in English.]
Being published in samizdat and in foreign Russian-language publications, as well as Kornilov’s speeches in support of Julius Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky ( 1966 ), displeased the Soviet authorities.
In 1975 he was made a member of the Soviet section of Amnesty International and on the recommendation of G. Böll, he was accepted also into the French Pen Club.
Kornilov signed a letter to “heads of state and government” with a request to protect academician Andrei Sakharov , and in March 1977 he was expelled from the Union of Writers of the USSR (he was initially accepted in 1965, and while expelled his membership was eventually restored in 1988 ). His books were removed from their libraries and sold in 1979. He began to publish his works again in the USSR from 1986 onwards.
Kornilov died from a bone tumor on January 8, 2002 .
… hopefully that is helpful to anyone wanting a little information about the poet.
Regarding his reference to Platonov in this poem: He briefly worked as a street cleaner as an homage to Platonov as there was some ‘Intelligentsia folklore’ that occassionally Platonov would choose to sweep the yard in from of the LitInstitute building where he lived. However he was dismissed after a month on the pretext ‘it is illegal to hire someone of higher education for such duties’. So he probably wasn’t very good at it and just ad a very romanticised view of it.
He considered Gumilyov to be the ‘Kipling of Tsarkoye Selo’ and praised the courae with shich he faced his execution. He also wrote admiringly of Akhmatova who sponsored his admission into the Union of Soviet Writers in 1965. Also he reflected on the paradox of Lermontov’s fate – that it was a peculiar blend of courage, pain and spite which led him to his last duel and that it’s outcome made him appear an embodiment of love remarking in one poem ‘and boys writing poems at night / hope for a similar fate’
Russian cyrillic original version of the poem:
Подкидыш никудышных муз
И прочей нуди,
Я скукой день-деньской томлюсь
И замыслов невпроворот,
И строчек вздорных…
А за окном асфальт метёт
Сутулый, тощий, испитой,
Угрюм он, болен.
Но шут с ним и с его бедой –
Я дурью полон.
…Когда бы знать, что он лишён
Что от журналов отлучён
С того и проза тех времён
Вдруг стала тусклой…
Зато просторный двор метён
…Всю жизнь гляделся я в себя,
А в ближних – мало.
И всё равно его судьба
Такой или сякой поэт,
Я кроме смеха
На склоне века, склоне лет –
Кого от нашего житья
Он от чахотки сник, а я –
…Тащу отверженность, не гнусь,
Не бью поклонов,
Но перед вами повинюсь,
И сорок лет спустя молю:
В своём зените
Простите молодость мою,
За всё простите –
За спесь, и чёрствость, и сполна
Ещё за скуку,
С какой глядел я из окна
На вашу муку.
Like, comment, follow or subscribe… please. I just don’t know if anyone actually finds these bilingual posts interesting or it’s just me. Seriously, if you read the two languages, you can really see how much of a difference the translator makes putting their mark on a piece. I’ve once or twice put multiple translations of the same poem on here if you want to look and compare then. Even if you just put it the cyrillic version into Google Translate for a rough translation you see how line orders and everything get affected…
for Osip Mandelstam
All the town’s gripped in an icy fist.
Trees and walls and snow are set in glass.
I pick my timid way across the crystal.
Unsteadily the painted sledges pass.
Flocks of crows above St Peter’s, wheeling.
The dome amongst the poplars, green and pale in
subdued and dusty winter sunlight, and
echoes of ancient battles that come stealing
out across the proud, victorious land.
All of a sudden, overhead, the poplars
rattle, like glasses ringing in a toast,
as if a thousand guests were raising tumblers
to celebrate the marriage of their host.
But in the exiled poet’s hideaway
the muse and terror fight their endless fight
throughout the night.
So dark a night will never see the day.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1936)
translation by Peter Oram
A different translation of the Воронеж (Voronzh) poem. The alternative on this site is translated by D. M Thomas and is also titled Воронеж (Voronzh).
The poet Osip Mandelstam who was living in the city of Voronezh when Akhmatova visited him in February 1936. Peter the Great built a flotilla here and the Field of Kulikovo, where the Tartars were defeated in 1380 isn’t far away.
Your work that my inward sight still comes,
Fruit of your graced labours:
The gold of always-autumnal limes,
The blue of today-created water-
Simply to think of it, the faintest drowse
Already has led me into your parks
Where, fearful of everything turning, I lose
Consciousness in a trance, seeking your tracks.
Shall I go under this vault, transfigured by
The movement of your hand into a sky,
To cool my shameful heat?
There shall I become forever blessed,
There my burning eyelids will find rest,
And I’ll regain a gift I’ve lost-to weep.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)
translation by D. M. Thomas
When at night I wait for her to come,
Life, it seems, hangs by a single strand.
What are glory, youth, freedom, in comparison
With the dear welcome guest, a flute in hand?
She enters now. Pushing her veil aside,
She stares through me with her attentiveness.
I question her: ‘And were you Dante’s guide,
Dictating the Inferno?’ She answers: ‘Yes.’
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1924)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Nowhere anything for eating,
all of Russia fading, freezing,
selling gramophones and blankets,
hats and chairs and anything
in exchange for wheat and millet
in the year nineteen-nineteen.
Elder brother killed already,
and my dad already blind,
all our furniture long bartered,
home was like an empty tomb,
yet we lived, we still had water,
bread we baked from angry nettles.
Mama was all hunched and aged,
all grey-haired though only forty,
nothing but a beggar’s rags
clinging to her skinny body.
When she slept, I kept on checking:
was she breathing, was she not?
Guests were few and far between
in the year nineteen-nineteen.
Sick at heart, our poor old neighbours,
just like little birds in cages,
tiny birds on whithered perches,
lived like we did, lived in hell.
Then one of these poor old neighbours
bought a gift – rotten potato.
‘Think what riches,’ she began.
‘once belonged even to beggars!
See how Russia’s being chastised
for Rasputin and his doings!’
Evening came. ‘Eat!’ said Mama,
holding out a splendid flatbread.
And the Muse dressed all in rose,
came to me all of a sudden,
hoping she could make me sleepless,
hoping I’d be hers for ever.
So I wrote my primal poem,
sang how Mama on a Sunday
baked a flatbread from potato.
So I had my first encounter
with poetic inspiration
in the year nineteen-nineteen
by Арсений Александрович Тарковский (Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun fact: Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.