‘We’re All Boozers And Floozies Here’ by Anna Akhmatova

We’re all boozers and floozies here,

altogether a joyless crowd!

On the walls, the flowers and birds

yearn for clouds.

 

You sit puffing your black pipe;

smoke is rising; strange and dim.

This tight skirt makes me look

slimmer than slim.

 

The windows boarded up for good –

what’s out there? Lightning? Snow?

Like those of a cautious cat

your eyes glow.

 

What is my heart longing for?

Am I waiting for Death’s knell?

And the woman dancing now

is bound for Hell.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

a.k.a. Anna Gorenko

(1913)

translated by  Margo Shohl Rosen

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My Country by Mikhail Lermontov

I love my country, but with a strange love –

stronger than reason!…

Neither the fame that blood can buy,

nor the calm pride of confidence,

nor the time-honoured gifts of ignorant days

can stir my soul with dreams of happiness.

But what I love – for some strange reason –

is the cold silence of her plains,

the swaying branches of her endless forests,

her rivers as wide-spreading as the sea;

galloping in a cart on country tracks

and gazing slowly deep into the dark,

seeing on either side, longing for sleep,

the poor sad villages’ bright windows.

I love the smoke of burning stubble,

the lines of carts crossing the steppe,

and in bright meadows, on a hill,

a pair of birches gleaming white.

I feel a pleasure few can share

seeing the barns piled high with grain,

the hut beneath a roof of thatch

with fretted shutters on the windows;

and on a dewy feast-day evening

I’ll gaze till late into the night

at whistling dancers, stamping feet,

and hear the drunken peasants talk.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Peter France

‘I Began To Grow Old’ by Alexander Mezhirov

I began to grow old

when I turned forty-four,

and at the eating place on the corner,

I was already taken

for a lonely retiree,

forgotten

by every soul

on earth,

forsaken by his children

and ignored by the rest of his kin.

 

Well, this is the law of life, isn’t it?

Yet I confess

that at first,

Whenever I entered the place

and looked around

for a vacant table,

this circumstance depressed me.

But later

I found in it

the emergency exit in the building called life.

 

Yes, I submerged

into the muffled hubbub of voices

of that place

in almost a cellar,

where my ailing spirit

was strangely healed,

as I carried a pea soup

on a quavering piece of plastic,

a spoon, a fork and a knife,

still dripping,

and a hunk of bread on a plate –

also wet.

 

I came to love

those

crudely panelled

walls,

that line to the counter,

the trays

and the meagre menu card.

‘Blessed are,’

I muttered,

‘Blessed are,

Blessed are,

Blessed are…’

That blessed squalor

I shall never betray.

 

I came to love

the defeat at the game of life,

and the faded traces

of decorations

on old uniforms

and I could now enter

the world of shadows just like another shadow,

without farewell salvos,

solemn faces,

or fuss.

 

by Александр Петрович Межиров (Alexander Petrovich Mezhirov)

a.k.a. Alexandre Petrovitch Mejirov

(1973)

translated by Lev Navrozov

‘You Took Me’ by Olga Berggolts

You took me –

I was sullen, without affection,

with only black thoughts

and convict ravings

and a widow’s unhealed anguish

and a past love that wasn’t past

You took me as a wife –

not for joy’s sake,

not of your own accord

but out of love.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

Here the loveliest of young women fight

for the honour of marrying the hangmen;

here the righteous are tortured at night

and the resolute worn down by hunger

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1928)

translated by Robert Chandler

By The Sea by Semyon Lipkin

The waves crashed under the flicker of the lighthouse

and I, in my ignorance, heard a monotone.

Years later the sea speaks to me and I begin to understand

there are birds and laundresses, sprites and sorcerers,

laments and curses, moans and profanity, white horses

and half breeds who rear up unexpectedly.

There are waves who are salesgirls with buxom hips

who sell foam from the counter, they tremble fluent or airy.

Nature can’t be indifferent, she always mimics us

like a loan, a translation; we’re the blueprint, she’s the copy.

Once upon a time the pebble was different

and so the wave was different.

 

by Семён Израилевич Липкин (Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin)

(1965)

translated by Yvonne Green


Lipkin is renowned as a literary translator and often worked from the regional languages which Stalin tried to obliterate. Lipkin hid a typescript of his friend Vasily Grossman‘s magnum opus, Life and Fate, from the KGB and initiated the process that brought it to the West.

Lipkin’s importance as a poet was achieved once his work became available to the general reading public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the many years prior, he was sustained by the support of his wife, poet Inna Lisnianskaya and close friends such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who thought him a genius and championed his poetry). Lipkin’s verse includes explorations of history and philosophy and exhibits a keen sense of peoples’ diverse destinies. His poems include references to his Jewish heritage and to the Bible. They also draw on a first-hand awareness of the tragedies of Stalin’s Great Purge and World War II. Lipkin’s long-standing inner opposition to the Soviet regime surfaced in 1979-80, when he contributed in the uncensored almanac “Metropol” and then he and Lisnianskaya left the ranks of the official Writer’s Union of the USSR.

They Say We Plough Shallow by Varlam Shalamov

They say we plough shallow,

always tripping and slipping,

but it’s hard to plough boldly

on the soil we’ve been given.

 

We plough in a graveyard

just tickling the topsoil,

afraid our blades may turn up

bones of dead people.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler