‘Moscow Who Are You?’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

Moscow, who are you?

Enchantress or enchanted?

Forger of freedom

or fettered lady?

What thought furrows your brow

as you plot your worldwide plot?

Are you a shining window

into another age?

O Moscow, are you femme fatale

or fetter-fated,

fated or fêted?

Does scholarship decree

your crucifixion

beneath the razorblades of clever scholars

frozen over an old book

as pupils stand around their desk?

O daughter of other centuries,

powder keg,

explosion of your fetters.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler

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‘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

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

Civil War [Extract] by Maximilian Voloshin

And from the ranks of both armies –

the same voice the same refrain:

‘He who is not with us is against us.

You must take sides. Justice is ours.’

 

And I stand alone in the midst of them,

Amidst the roar of fire and smoke,

And pray with all my strength for those

who fight on this side , and on that side.

 

by  Макс Волошин (Max Voloshin)

a.k.a. Максимилиан Александрович Кириенко-Волошин

(Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin)

(1919)

translated by Robert Chandler

After Plodding Year After Year by Georgy Ivanov

After plodding year after year

through towns in an alien land,

we have ground enough to despair –

and despair is where we must end.

 

For despair is our final refuge –

as if, in midwinter, we had come

from Vespers in a nearby church,

through Russian snow, to our home.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1958)

translated by Robert Chandler

My Boring Lamp [extract] by Fyodor Sologub

Lord, if I am a poor and feeble

word slave,

sentenced to tedious labour

until the grave,

 

allow me to transcend myself

in one eternal prayer,

to compose eigth lines,

whose flame burns clear

 

by Фёдор Сологуб (Fyodor Sologub)

a.k.a. Фёдор Кузьмич Тетерников (Fyodor Kuzmich Teternikov)

(1898)

translated by Robert Chandler