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)
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.
Some rose from the underground, Some from exile, factories, mines, Poisoned by suspicious freedom And the bitter smoke of cities. Others from military ranks, From noblemen’s ravished nests, Where to the country churchyard They carried dead fathers and brothers. In some even now is not extinguished The intoxication of immemorial conflagrations; And the wild free spirit of the steppe, Of both the Razins and the Kudaiars, lives on. In others, deprived of all roots, is The torn fabric and sad discord of our days – The putrefied spirit of the Neva capital, Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoyevsky. Some raise on placards Their ravings about bourgeois evil, About the radiant pure proletariat, A Philistine paradise on earth. In others is all the blossom and rot of empires, All the gold, all the decay of ideas, The splendor of all great fetishes, And of all scientific superstition. Some go to liberate Moscow and forge Russia anew, Others, after unleashing the elements, Want to remake the entire world. In these and in others war inspires Anger, greed, the dark intoxication of wild outbursts – And in a greedy pack the plunderer Afterward steals to heroes and leaders In order to break up and sell out to enemies The wondrously beautiful might of Russia, To let rot piles of wheat, To dishonor her heavens, To devour her riches, incinerate her forests, And suck dry her seas and ore. And the thunder of battles will not cease Across all the expanses of the southern steppes Amid the golden splendor Of harvests trampled by horses. Both here and there among the ranks Resounds one and the same voice: “Who is not with us is against us!” “No one is indifferent, truth is with us!” And I stand one among them In the howling flame and smoke And with all my strength I pray for them and for the others.
by Максимилиа́н Алекса́ндрович Воло́шин (Maksimilian Voloshin) (22 November 1920) from the cycle ‘Strife‘ with Wrangel Koktebel, Crimea translated by Albert C. Todd
Одни восстали из подполий, Из ссылок, фабрик, рудников, Отравленные тёмной волей И горьким дымом городов.
Другие — из рядов военных, Дворянских разорённых гнёзд, Где проводили на погост Отцов и братьев убиенных.
В одних доселе не потух Хмель незапамятных пожаров, И жив степной, разгульный дух И Разиных, и Кудеяров.
В других — лишённых всех корней — Тлетворный дух столицы Невской: Толстой и Чехов, Достоевский — Надрыв и смута наших дней.
Одни возносят на плакатах Свой бред о буржуазном зле, О светлых пролетариатах, Мещанском рае на земле…
В других весь цвет, вся гниль империй, Всё золото, весь тлен идей, Блеск всех великих фетишей И всех научных суеверий.
Одни идут освобождать Москву и вновь сковать Россию, Другие, разнуздав стихию, Хотят весь мир пересоздать.
В тех и в других война вдохнула Гнев, жадность, мрачный хмель разгула, А вслед героям и вождям Крадётся хищник стаей жадной, Чтоб мощь России неоглядной Pазмыкать и продать врагам:
Cгноить её пшеницы груды, Её бесчестить небеса, Пожрать богатства, сжечь леса И высосать моря и руды.
И не смолкает грохот битв По всем просторам южной степи Средь золотых великолепий Конями вытоптанных жнитв.
И там и здесь между рядами Звучит один и тот же глас: «Кто не за нас — тот против нас. Нет безразличных: правда с нами».
А я стою один меж них В ревущем пламени и дыме И всеми силами своими Молюсь за тех и за других.
Addition information:Voloshin‘s poem – published on the centenary (plus one year) of the poem’s creation!
The ‘with Wrangel’ mentioned in the poem’s accreditation I believe refers to Pyotr Wrangel who was a Russian officer of Baltic German origin in the Imperial Russian Army. During the later stages of the Russian Civil War, he was commanding general of the anti-BolshevikWhite Army in Southern Russia. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia. He was known as one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés and military leader of the South Russia (as commander in chief).
Razin refers to Stepan (Stenka) Razin (ca. 1630 – 1671), a Don Cossack who led a peasant rebellion in 1670 – 1671. Celebrated in folk songs and folktales, he was captured and publicly quartered alive.
According to my book’s notes “Kudaiar refers to a legendary brigand celebrated in folk songs”. However translating it myself from the Russian root Кудеяр it is actually better Latinised/transliterated to Kudeyar regarding a Russian legendary folk hero whose story is told in Nikolay Kostomarov‘s 1875 novel of the same name. It should be noted there were apparently several Cossack robbers who adopted this name. In a letter to tsar Ivan IV a Muscovite boyar, from Crimea, reported that “there is only one brigand left here – the accursed Kudeyar“. The name is apparently Persian, composed of two elements standing for “God” and “man”.
The Neva capital refers to St Petersburg. Its location on the Neva River was the constant feature of the capital, whose name was changing from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad during the era.
Koktebel is an urban-type settlement and one of the most popular resort townlets in South-Eastern Crimea. It is situated on the shore of the Black Sea about halfway between Feodosia and Sudak and is subordinated to the Feodosia Municipality. It is best known for its literary associations as Voloshin made it his residence, where he entertained many distinguished guests, including Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, and Andrey Bely (who died there). They all wrote remarkable poems in Koktebel. Another prominent literary resident of Koktebel was Ilya Ehrenburg who lived there circa 1919 while escaping from anti-Semitic riots in Kiev.
Voloshin, whose real surname was Kirilenko-Voloshin, was born into a noble family that included Zaporozhskie Cossacks and Germans Russified in the seventeenth century. He studied law at Moscow University, though he was unable to complete a degree because of his participation in student protests in 1898. He continued to study extensively in Paris from 1903 to 1917 and traveled throughout Europe and Russia. Voloshin settled in Russia for good in 1917, just before the February Revolution, and spent the rest of his years in Koktebel in the Crimea.
Voloshin always stood alone against literary currents and intrigues. The hospitality of his home in Koktebel, which has been turned into a museum, was open to all; during the Civil War both a Red leader and a White officer found refuge in it. Voloshin’s position was neutral but not indifferent, for he condemned but the excesses of the Red Terror and the bloody actions of the White Guards. His response to the Revolution, however, never slipped into spite or petty argument or pessimism, as did the opinions of many of his literary colleagues. His response was much like Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” (see page 71), in which a white apparition of Christ rises above the Red Guards marching through a blizzard.
Voloshin based his writing to a large extent on French poetic models, but in his best works – particularly in the Civil War period – he freed himself from literariness and plunged into the maelstrom of Russian events. In these poems he tried hard to stand above the conflict, “praying for the one side as much as for the other”. Nevertheless, his sympathies were not on the side of obsolete tsarism but with the future of Russia, its people, and its culture. His celebrated poem “Holy Russia” was misinterpreted by Proletkult critics as anti-Bolshevik; its lines “You yielded to passion’s beckoning call / And gave yourself to bandit and to thief” refer not only to the Bolsheviks but to the gangs of anarchist-bandits who roamed through Russia. Voloshin’s interpretation of Russian history is controversial, subjective, and sometimes mystical, but it always conveys an undoubting faith that Russia will emerge from its fiery baptism purified and renewed.
By the time of his return to Russia from Paris in 1917, Voloshin had become a sophisticated European intellectual, more philosophical, and more socially and historically minded. Enormous intellectual and artistic daring was needed for him to call Peter the Great the “first Bolshevik.” After his return, his poetry became viewed by Soviet critics with dogmatic narrowness and in the latter years of his life went unpublished. A single-volume Soviet edition of Voloshin’s work in 1977 unfortunately made him appear an aesthete, not the chronicler of the civil war of Russia. Yet it was in the latter role that he grew into a great poet; indeed, a series of definitions from his poem “Russia” could serve as a philosophic textbook for the study of the nation’s history. Voloshin made himself a great poet by never succumbing to indifference, by his understanding of the historical laws of a social explosion, and by his courage to bless and not to curse.
Biographical information about Voloshin, p.33 – 34, ‘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.