What Have We Done To It? by Zinaida Gippius

Our grandad’s outlandish dream,

the prison years of our heroes,

our hope and our heartfelt lament,

our prayer we hardly dared utter –

our dis-membered

dis-constituted,

dis-banded

Constituent Assembly.

 

by Зинаида Николаевна Гиппиус (Zinaida Nikolayevna Gippius)

(12 November 1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

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How It Was by Arseny Tarkovsky

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)

(1977)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky.

‘Behind The Lake…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Behind the lake the moon’s not stirred

And seems to be a window through

Into a silent, well-lit house,

Where something unpleasant has occurred.

 

Has the master been brought home dead,

The mistress run off with a lover,

Or has a little girl gone missing,

And her shoes found by the creek-bed…

 

We can’t see. But feel some awful thing,

And  we don’t want to talk.

Doleful, the cry of eagle-owls, and hot

In the garden the wind is blustering.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1922)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Everything Is Looted…’ by Anna Akhmatova

Everything is looted, spoiled, despoiled,

Death flickering his black wing,

Anguish, hunger – then why this

Lightness overlaying everything?

 

By day, cherry-scent from an unknown

Wood near the town. July

Holding new constellations, deep

At night in the transparent sky –

 

Nearer to filthy ruined houses

Flies the miraculous…

Nobody has ever known it,

This, always so dear to us.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921)

– from Anno Domini MCMXXI translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Why Is Our Century Worse Than Any Other? …’ by Anna Akhmatova

Why is our century worse than any other?

Is it that in the stupor of fear and grief

It has plunged its fingers in the blackest ulcer,

Yet cannot bring relief?

 

Westward the sun is dropping,

And the roofs of towns are shining in its light.

Already death is chalking doors with crosses

And calling the ravens and the ravens are in flight.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1919)

– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas