Ленинград (Leningrad) by Osip Mandelstam

I returned to my city, familiar as tears,
As veins, as mumps from childhood years.

You’ve returned here, so swallow as quick as you can
The fish oil of Leningrad’s riverside lamps.

Recognize when you can December’s brief day,
Egg yolk folded into its ominous tar.

Petersburg! I still don’t want to die:
You have the numbers of my telephones.

Petersburg! I still have addresses,
By which I can find the voices of the dead.
I live on the back stairs and the doorbell buzz

And all night long I wait for the dear guests,
Rattling, like manacles, the chains on the doors.

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам
(Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam.)
His surname is commonly Latinised as Mandelstam)
(December 1930)
translated by Bernard Meares (revised)

The poem recited by Konstanin Raikin who is a Russian actor, theatre director and the head of the Moscow Satyricon Theatre (since 1988)

Ленинград

Я вернулся в мой город, знакомый до слез,
До прожилок, до детских припухлых желез.

Ты вернулся сюда, — так глотай же скорей
Рыбий жир ленинградских речных фонарей.

Узнавай же скорее декабрьский денек,
Где к зловещему дегтю подмешан желток.

Петербург, я еще не хочу умирать:
У тебя телефонов моих номера.

Петербург, у меня еще есть адреса,
По которым найду мертвецов голоса.

Я на лестнице черной живу, и в висок
Ударяет мне вырванный с мясом звонок.

И всю ночь напролет жду гостей дорогих,
Шевеля кандалами цепочек дверных.

Additional information: Leningrad was the name of St Petersburg during the Soviet era. The poem was written in 1930 when Mandelstam had just returned from the Caucasus to his hometown of St. Petersburg (Leningrad). ‘Dear guests‘ was a euphemism for the political police who now patrolled the city upon his return.

Basic breakdown of the poem: In the poem, the speaker happily announces his return home, but at the same time has a slight anxiety due to a new government having appeared in St. Petersburg. He compares the atmosphere of the city with tar but still tries to find something bright and pleasant in everything. He admits that Leningrad remains his hometown (where Mandelstam grew up when his family moved there soon after his birth) because of the addresses he has of friends and relatives there. A man very much wants to see his loved ones, so he lives on the stairs consumed with hope. However, despite all this each doorbell reminds him of a blow to the temple and the door chains remind him of heavy and unpleasant shackles.

The poem reads as an elegy in which Mandelstam mourns the changes he sees in the city he has returned to. He wants to show that it is not the best of times when a new government comes to the city. Also he reveals the anxiety felt by people during this period of change. He talks about how dear his hometown is to him but, despite his remaining connections, he does not feel safe there anymore.

The main theme is that he feels disaster is gradually approaching the city and, for him, St. Petersburg has already changed in his absence although he finds links to his past remain. Overall, the poem demonstrates Mandelstam’s pain and despair as if there is a tragic denouement regarding everything familiar he encounters but has grown hostile and anxiety inducing to him.

Измена (Infidelity) by Olga Berggolts

Not waking, in my dreams, my dreams,
I saw you – you were alive.
You had endured all and come to me,
crossing the last frontier.

You were earth already, ashes, you
were my glory, my punishment.
But, in spite of life,
of death,
you rose from your thousand
graves.

You passed through war hell, concentration camp,
through furnace, drunk with the flames,
through your own death you entered Leningrad,
came out of love for me.

You found my house, but I live now
not in our house, in another;
and a new husband shares my waking hours…
O how could you not have known?!

Like the master of the house, proudly you crossed
the threshold, stood there lovingly.
And I murmured: ‘God will rise again’,
and made the sign of the cross
over you – the unbeliever’s cross, the cross
of despair, as black as pitch,
the cross that was made over each house
that winter, that winter in which

you died.
O my friend, forgive me
as I sigh. How long have I not known
where waking ends and the dream begins…

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)
a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz
(1946)
translated by Daniel Weissbort

Recited by Veronika Nesterov with some additional music

Измена

Не наяву, но во сне, во сне
я увидала тебя: ты жив.
Ты вынес все и пришел ко мне,
пересек последние рубежи.

Ты был землею уже, золой,
славой и казнью моею был.
Но, смерти назло
и жизни назло,
ты встал из тысяч
своих могил.

Ты шел сквозь битвы, Майданек, ад,
сквозь печи, пьяные от огня,
сквозь смерть свою ты шел в Ленинград,
дошел, потому что любил меня.

Ты дом нашел мой, а я живу
не в нашем доме теперь, в другом,
и новый муж у меня — наяву…
О, как ты не догадался о нем?!

Хозяином переступил порог,
гордым и радостным встал, любя.
А я бормочу: «Да воскреснет бог»,
а я закрещиваю тебя
крестом неверующих, крестом
отчаянья, где не видать ни зги,
которым закрещен был каждый дом
в ту зиму, в ту зиму, как ты погиб…

О друг,— прости мне невольный стон:
давно не знаю, где явь, где сон …

Imitation of the Armenian by Anna Akhmatova

I shall come to you in a dream,

a black ewe that can barely stand;

I’ll stagger up to you and I’ll bleat,

‘Shah of Shahs, have you dined well?

You are protected by Allah’s will,

the world is a bead in your hand…

And did my son’s flesh taste sweet?

Did your children enjoy their lamb?

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1937?)

from around the time of Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book) but left unpublished

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: This poem refers to the arrest of Akhmatova’s son by the authorities during the Stalinist era.

An alternative translation of the same poem was done by D. M. Thomas.

Три стихотворения (Three Poems) [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

The poet was right: once again –

lantern, side-street, drugstore,

silence, the Neva and its granite…

A monument to our century’s

first years, there he stands, as when,

waving goodbye to Pushkin House,

he drank a mortal weariness –

as if such peace

were more than he deserved.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: This poem is an homage to Alexander Blok, whose last poem is addressed to Pushkin House in St Petersburg.


Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Он прав — опять фонарь, аптека,
Нева, безмолвие, гранит…
Как памятник началу века,
Там этот человек стоит —
Когда он Пушкинскому Дому,
Прощаясь, помахал рукой
И принял смертную истому
Как незаслуженный покой.

Prayer by Anna Akhmatova

Grant me years of sickness and fever;

make me sleepless for months at a time.

Take away my child and my lover

and the mysterious gift of rhyme.

As the air grows ever more sultry,

this is the prayer I recite:

and may the storm cloud over my country

be shot through with rays of light.

 

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(11 May 1915, Day of the Holy Spirit), St Petersburg

translation by Robert Chandler