Отчаянье (Despair) by Andrey Bely

To Z. N. Gippius

Enough’s enough: don’t wait, don’t hope;
My wretched people, scatter!
Fall into space and shatter,
Year upon tormented year.

Beggarly, will-less age.
Permit me, oh my motherland,
To sob in your damp fatuous freedom
To weep amid your empty steppes: –

There along the hunching plain –
Where flocks of lush green oaks stand,
Rippling, raised up in a cone
To the swarthy leaden clouds above.

Where panic snarls across the steppe,
Rising like a one-armed bush,
And whistles loud into the wind
Through its ragged branches.

Where from the night there stare into my soul,
Looming over chains of hills,
The cruel yellow eyes
Of your mindless tavern lights –

Where the angry rut of deaths and plagues
And waves of sickness have passed by –
Hasten thither, Russia, disappear,
Be swallowed up in the abyss.

by Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely)
a.k.a. Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev)
(July 1908)
translated by Bernard Meares

Отчаянье

З. Н. Гиппиус

Довольно: не жди, не надейся –
Рассейся, мой бедный народ!
В пространство пади и разбейся
За годом мучительный год!

Века нищеты и безволья.
Позволь же, о родина мать,
В сырое, в пустое раздолье,
В раздолье твое прорыдать:–

Туда, на равнине горбатой,–
Где стая зеленых дубов
Волнуется купой подъятой,
В косматый свинец облаков,

Где по полю Оторопь рыщет,
Восстав сухоруким кустом,
И в ветер пронзительно свищет
Ветвистым своим лоскутом,

Где в душу мне смотрят из ночи,
Поднявшись над сетью бугров,
Жестокие, желтые очи
Безумных твоих кабаков,–

Туда,– где смертей и болезней
Лихая прошла колея,–
Исчезни в пространство, исчезни,
Россия, Россия моя!

Июль 1908

Additional information: Бори́с Никола́евич Буга́ев (Boris Nikolaevich Bugaev) better known by the pen name Андрей Белый (Andrei Bely or just Biely) was a Russian novelist, Symbolist poet, theorist and literary critic. He was a committed anthroposophist and follower of Rudolf Steiner. His novel Petersburg (1913/1922) was regarded by Vladimir Nabokov as the third-greatest masterpiece of modernist literature. The Andrei Bely Prize (Премия Андрея Белого), one of the most important prizes in Russian literature, was named after him.

The poem is dedicated to Зинаида Николаевна Гиппиус (Zinaida Nikolayevna Gippius). a Russian poet, playwright, novelist, editor and religious thinker, one of the major figures in Russian symbolism. The story of her marriage to Dmitry Merezhkovsky, which lasted 52 years, is described in her unfinished book Dmitry Merezhkovsky (Paris, 1951; Moscow, 1991).

Bely, who changed his name from Bugayev, was a distinguished theorist and a leading writer in the Symbolist movement. The son of a professor of mathematics at Moscow University, he graduated there himself in mathematics in 1903. Bely’s intellectual interests ranged from mathematics to German philosophy and literature, to Dostoyevsky, to music, to the anthroposophy of Rudolph Steiner, to the mystical clash between Western civilization and the occult forced of the East. A disciple of both Nietzsche and the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov, he was the author of the extraordinary, innovative novel Petersburg (which has been translated into many languages), numerous prose works, collections of poems, and a celebrated trilogy of memoirs that is a primary document of the intellectual life of the Silver Age. For his imaginative experimentation with the Russian language he is comparable only to James Joyce in English.

Without the impetuous, contradictory, provocative figure of Bely it would be impossible to imagine the intellectual atmosphere of the pre-Revolution times. Together with Aleksandr Blok he summoned the Revolution as a retribution for the collapsing tsarist regime; when it took place, he first perceived it as the beginning of the spiritual and religious renaissance of all humankind. He possessed an unusually brilliant gift for improvisation and innovation, but this led sometimes to a glibness in his writing. Most of Bely’s verse has not stood the test of time. In his sometimes childlike and naïve outbursts, combined capriciously with profound erudition, Bely was defenselessly sincere and appears like Pushkin’s (echoing Cervantes’s) “knight of sorrowful countenance” in the literature of his time.

Biographical information about Bely, p.89-90, ‘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).

Some Fathers by Peter Gruffydd

They borrowed ten bob, sloped off
to the pub or club, grew potatoes,
caulis, leeks in dead-straight lines,
remembered, I mean, were in, the Second
World War, cracked jokes, jokes about Hitler,
Goebbels, Stalin, even Churchill,
did odd things, odd things, look after
old ladies in their rich incontinence,
or drew cartoons, sketched for small mags,
cartoons, sketched, drew, small mags.

They seemed to have lots of patience,
except when opening time loomed
over some petty duty, like work.
Mine had a second childhood, a red
scooter which he regularly came off,
half-pissed back from a country pub,
mistook a bush for a turning home.
He carried on until Mother nagged
him into giving-up his latecome
burn-ups, so went sketching no more.

I’m a father now, think my sons could
sometime achieve this state, make tea
like tar, maybe keep allotments, worry
about their kids, trudge to some bloody
boring jobs to feed the family’s faces,
swear with cronies, be hurt when kids
call them old fart, stupid sod, or worse,
wonder where they too went wrong,

Pray there’s no war to haunt their nights,
make them keep graveyard horrors at bay,
with favourite ales, quips and long tales,
Nuclear families, bowed with labels, stagger
on, sperm-count falling day by day,
Still I remember those fathers, leaning on
sticks, pint in hand, know they had a sense
of what it’s all about, a cod-code to keep
and a smile for outrageous stupidity
because it was to be expected.

by Peter Gruffydd

Further information: There is a PDF help-sheet discussing the poem line by line produced by Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW. The following is the biography provided at the start of that document.

Peter Gruffydd was born in Liverpool in 1935. He first moved to Wales at the age of five, following his evacuation in early 1941 (due to the Second World War). Having already learned Welsh, he then began studying English at Bangor University. His time living in Wales was brief, and he has spent most of his life in England, living in Liverpool, the West Midlands, and Bristol. Gruffydd was a member of Plaid Cymru and a Welsh nationalist (his movement into Welsh politics mirrors that of the Welsh intellectual Saunders Lewis, an ardent nationalist who was born in Liverpool). Gruffydd’s nationalist politics is evident in some of his poetry, such as ‘The Small Nation’, which Matthew Jarvis suggests ‘is substantially a lament for a Wales that the poem’s speaker sees as having lost courage’, and which foresees ‘The slow funeral of a small nation’.

Before he became known by the surname with which he appears in the Poetry 1900-2000 anthology, Gruffydd published under the name Peter M. Griffith (the English-spelling, but pronounced in a similar same way). In 1993, Gruffydd became a founder member of the Welsh Branch of PEN International (now Wales PEN Cymru), an organisation which advocates on behalf of writers across the world.

Although his poems have appeared in several poetry magazines, Gruffydd has one solitary collection to his name, 1972’s The Shivering Seed. His earliest significant poetry publication was in Triad, with two other notable Welsh ‘Second Flowering’ poets, Harri Webb and Meic Stephens.

Dr Jamie Harris (Aberystwyth University, August 2019) for CREW

Нас хоронила артиллерия… (Artillery Was Burying Us…) by Konstantin Levin

Artillery was burying us.
At first it killed us.
But, with blatant hypocrisy,
Now swears that it loved us.

It broke open its muzzles,
But with all the charred nerves
In the overworked hands of the medics.
We didn’t readily believe it.

We could trust only morphine,
In the very last resort – bromide.
But those of us who were dead
Trusted the earth, and no one else.

Here everyone still crawls, laying mines
And receiving counterattacks.
But there – already illumining,
They draft memoirs…

And there, away from the destruction zone,
They scrape and polish parquet.
The Bolshoi Theater lofted on a quadrangle
Follows the celebration skyrocket.

Soldiers lay about. At night the mint showers
Them with regalia from time to time.
But machine guns belch them out
With explosive vomit.

One of them, accidentally surviving,
Came to Moscow in autumn.
He shuffled along the boulevard like a drunk,
And passed among the living like an echo.

With his artificial leg
He got in someone’s way in the trolley.
By a string of petty absurdities
He approached the Mausoleum.

He recalled the eroded hillocks,
Scraps of plywood along the roadways,
The soldier’s eyes, opened forever,
Shown in calm reproach.

Pilots fell down on them from the sky,
Bogged down in clouds of bones.
But courage does not grow scarce,
As sky doesn’t let one grow obsolete.

And the soldier knew that, for the Motherland,
Those who were swallowed by the war,
Are the equals of those who lie here buried
In the wall itself or beneath the wall.

by Константин Ильич Левин
(Konstantin Illyich Levin)
(1946)
translated by Albert C. Todd

Нас хоронила артиллерия…

Нас хоронила артиллерия.
Сначала нас она убила,
Но, не гнушаясь лицемерия,
Теперь клялась, что нас любила.

Она выламывалась жерлами,
Но мы не верили ей дружно
Всеми обрубленными нервами
В натруженных руках медслужбы.

Мы доверяли только морфию,
По самой крайней мере — брому.
А те из нас, что были мертвыми, —
Земле, и никому другому.

Тут всё ещё ползут, минируют
И принимают контрудары.
А там — уже иллюминируют,
Набрасывают мемуары…

И там, вдали от зоны гибельной,
Циклюют и вощат паркеты.
Большой театр квадригой вздыбленной
Следит салютную ракету.

И там, по мановенью Файеров,
Взлетают стаи Лепешинских,
И фары плавят плечи фраеров
И шубки женские в пушинках.

Бойцы лежат. Им льет регалии
Монетный двор порой ночною.
Но пулеметы обрыгали их
Блевотиною разрывною!

Но тех, кто получил полсажени,
Кого отпели суховеи,
Не надо путать с персонажами
Ремарка и Хемингуэя.

Один из них, случайно выживший,
В Москву осеннюю приехал.
Он по бульвару брел как выпивший
И средь живых прошел как эхо.

Кому-то он мешал в троллейбусе
Искусственной ногой своею.
Сквозь эти мелкие нелепости
Он приближался к Мавзолею.

Он вспомнил холмики размытые,
Куски фанеры по дорогам,
Глаза солдат, навек открытые,
Спокойным светятся упреком.

На них пилоты с неба рушатся,
Костями в тучах застревают…
Но не оскудевает мужество,
Как небо не устаревает.

И знал солдат, равны для Родины
Те, что заглотаны войною,
И те, что тут лежат, схоронены
В самой стене и под стеною.

Read by Лаврентий Анатольевич Сорокин (Lavrenty Anatolyevich Sorokin) who was an Honored Artist of Russia and actor at the Globus theatre.

Included in the recital there is the following passage, as the third stanza, which is omitted from other versions I have sourced. Possibly it is due to the ‘improved’ version Yevtushenko states he requested be made by Levin briefly prior to his passing.

За нас молились леди Англии
И маркитантки полковые.
Нас интервьюировали б ангелы,
Когда бы были таковые.

Translated it reads as:

Ladies of England prayed for us.
And regimental vivandieres.
We’d be interviewed by angels
If they existed.

Additional information: It goes without saying but if you look up Konstanin Levin‘s name, for further information, in English you will probably come across page after page about the character of Konstantin ‘Kostya’ Levin from Lev Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina. For those who can read Russian or are willing to use Google translate there is the poet Levin‘s Wikipedia page but for everyone else I will share this biography from the Yad Vashem page about the poet and his wartime service they compiled as part of their ‘Jews in the Red Army, 1941–1945′ research project:

Konstantin Levin was born in 1924 in Ekaterinoslav (now Dnipro), Ukraine to a medical family. In 1941, following the family tradition, he entered a medical institute (medical university). A short time later, his institute was evacuated to Western Siberia. Having finished the first semester, Levin was drafted into the Red Army and sent to the Rostov School of Artillery (RSA), which specialized in anti-tank artillery. In 1942 the RSA was located not in Rostov-on-Don, which at this time was occupied by the enemy, but in the Urals. In the fall of 1943 Levin graduated from the RSA as a second lieutenant and was appointed the commander of a platoon of 45-mm cannons. These cannons were the most dangerous kind of artillery to operate: being ineffective against enemy tanks, after their first shot they became a good target for the enemy. Levin succeeded in surviving at the front for less than half a year.

In February 1944, while fighting in Ukraine, Levin was wounded for the first time, in the head. On April 29, 1944, participating in the battle of Târgu Frumos, in eastern Romania, Levin was hit by an enemy shell and he lost a leg. His former RSA comrade and a participant in the same operation Moisei Dorman noted: “At the end of April 1944, near Iaşi, a German tank crushed his cannon. A shell fragment cut Kostia’s leg right at the knee. The leg was hanging on by the tendons. Levin tried to cut it off with a penknife, but he was bleeding and did not have enough strength…. Almost fainting, he managed to get to his own side by crawling.” After this battle, Levin was awarded the Order of Patriotic War, 2nd Class. After his release from the Red Army, he was recommended for the Order of Patriotic War, 1st Class – for his fighting in Ukraine.

In 1945 after the war, Konstantin Levin entered the Literary Institute in Moscow. Although the admission committee found his poems depressing, he was admitted because he was a disabled veteran who had earned two military orders. He was a good student. Levin walked with a prosthesis, never using a cane or crutches. In 1946, after he wrote the poem “Artillery Buried Us,” he was almost expelled from the Institute. In the following year, he wrote a poem about himself, in which he let the reader know that he had been not simply a soldier, but a Jewish one. After that, poem Levin was, in fact, expelled from the Institute, and only the intervention of the Russian poet Aleksei Surkov helped him receive his diploma.

For the rest of his life Konstantin Levin earned his living by routine literary work. He died in 1984. The first collection of his poems was published posthumously in 1989.

https://www.yadvashem.org/research/research-projects/soldiers/konstantin-levin.html

The poem therefore appears to be autobiographical though Levin uses the third person when recounting the events of it when referring to himself as “one of them, accidentally surviving/…/with his artificial leg”.

Levin’s renowned poem “Artillery was burying us…” passed from hand to hand throughout literary Moscow in the years following World War II, along with Naum Korzhavin’s poems against Stalin. Levin worked as a literary consultant and never tried to publish his poetry. Just prior to his death the compiler of this anthology persuaded him to make a new, even better version of his masterpiece. Boris Slutsky considered him one of the finest poets in the front-line generation.

Biographical information about Levin, p.736, ‘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).

Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians want war?) by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Do Russian people stand for war?
Go, ask the calm on plain and shore
The wide expanse of field and lea,
The birches and poplar tree.

The soldiers who once fought abreast,
And near the birches lie at rest,
Their sons will answer by the score,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are,
Ask them if Russians are for war.

Not only for their country’s life
Did soldiers perish in their strife –
But that all human creatures might
Sleep always peacefully at night.

Ask those that fearful battles knew,
Who on the Elbe joined with you,
We keep these memories evermore –
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are,
And ask if Russians are for war.

Yes, We know how to fight,
But we don’t want again
For soldiers to fall
On their bitter land.

Ask the mothers,
Ask my wife,
And then you should understand
If the Russians,
If the Russians,
If the Russians want war.

The working people of each land
Will come, for sure, to understand
Throughout the world on sea and shore –
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are,
If Russian people are for war.

by Евгений Александрович Евтушенко
(Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko)
(1962)
English lyrics translation by Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko)

Sung by Mark Naumovich Bernes who was a Soviet actor and singer of Jewish ancestry, who performed some of the most poignant songs to come out of World War II including “Dark Night” and “Cranes”.

Хотят ли русские войны?

Хотят ли русские войны?
Спросите вы у тишины
Над ширью пашен и полей,
И у берез, и тополей.

Спросите вы у тех солдат,
Что под березами лежат,
И вам ответят их сыны:
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Не только за свою страну
Солдаты гибли в ту войну,
А чтобы люди всей земли
Спокойно ночью спать могли.

Спросите тех, кто воевал,
Кто нас на Эльбе обнимал.
Мы этой памяти верны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Да, мы умеем воевать,
Но не хотим, чтобы опять
Солдаты падали в бою
На землю горькую свою.

Спросите вы у матерей,
Спросите у жены моей,
И вы тогда понять должны,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские,
Хотят ли русские войны?

Performed by Ансамбль Александрова (the Alexandrov Ensemble) using the 1970s (?) translated lyrics of Ольга Моисеенко (Olga Moisseyenko). Although she titles it ‘Do the Russian people stand for war’ a translation along the lines of ‘Do the Russian want war?’ is more common.

Additional information: Хотят ли русские войны? (Do the Russians Want War?) is a 1961 anti-war song lyric written by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and set to music by Eduard Kolmanovski.


Yevtushenko later said he wrote the song in response to conversations he had with foreigners while travelling in western Europe and the United States. The lyrics evoke the peaceful Russian countryside, the memory of the millions of lives lost in the Second World War, and the friendly meeting of U.S. and Soviet soldiers on Elbe Day.


The poem was cited by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in his address to the Russian people immediately prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine during the 2021-2022 Russo-Ukrainian crisis.

On Thursday 24 February 2022 Russian citizens were heard singing the song at protests held in St Petersburg and Moscow. After these protests were broken up, by authorities in riot gear, it was apparently remarked by civilians “в России запрещено говорить, что русские не хотят войны…” (“In Russia it is forbidden to say Russians do not want war…”)

No civilians anywhere want war.

Alive by R. S. Thomas

It is alive. It is you,

God. Looking out I can see,

no death. The earth moves, the

sea moves, the wind goes

on its exuberant

journeys. Many creatures

reflect you, the flowers

your colour, the tides the precision

of your calculations. There

is nothing too ample

for you to overflow, nothing

so small that your workmanship

is not revealed. I listen

and it is you speaking.

I find the place where you lay

warm. At night, if I waken,

there are the sleepless conurbations

of the stars. The darkness

is the deepening shadow

of your presence; the silence a

process in the metabolism

of the being of love.

.

.

by R. S. Thomas

from Laboratories of the Spirit

(1975)