Бог (God) by Boris Slutsky

 Once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side,
He didn't dwell in the sky,
we'd see him from time to time
alive, on the mausoleum.
He was much more clever and evil
than that other God, the old one,
known to the world as Jehovah,
whom he overthrew with a crash
and reduced to a heap of ash,
then subsequently restored
and recruited to serve the cause.
For once we all used to abide
together with God, side by side.

One day as I wandered around in
the Arbat, I met God on parade
with five limousines and surrounded
by guards wearing mousy grey
overcoats, hunched in dread.
It was early and late – overhead
the grey light of morning was showing
as he grazed with his cruel, all-knowing
eyes through the hearts of men,
unmasking deviants and traitors.

For we lived in an era when
God himself was our neighbour.


by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(1955)
translated by Stephen Capus
A recital of the poem in Russian by Alla Demidova (from 1:11 onwards after she briefly introduces it).

Here is the poem in the original Cyrillic Russian.

 Бог


Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Он жил не в небесной дали,
Его иногда видали
Живого. На мавзолее.
Он был умнее и злее
Того — иного, другого,
По имени Иегова,
Которого он низринул,
Извел, пережег на уголь,
А после из бездны вынул
И дал ему стол и угол.

Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Однажды я шел Арбатом.
Бог ехал в пяти машинах.
От страха почти горбата,
В своих пальтишках мышиных
Рядом дрожала охрана.
Было поздно и рано.
Серело. Брезжило утро.
Он глянул жестоко, мудро
Своим всевидящим оком,
Всепроницающим взглядом.

Мы все ходили под богом.
С богом почти что рядом.

Additional information: Slutsky was an atheist but he didn’t forget his Jewish cultural roots regarding not only Yiddish but also the Hebrew he had learned as a child which remained important to him even if only as deeply felt absences. This poem can be read as Slutsky reflecting on how the cult of persona arose in the Soviet era. Communist iconography of Lenin replaced Imperial Russia’s religious iconography in the day to day lives of Russian citizens in Moscow’s historical Arbat street and the surrounding area. Then he reflects, in the second part of the poem, how imagery of Stalin eventually replaced Lenin’s image and he was even worse than him.

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Боярыня Морозова (Boyarynya Morozova) [Excerpt] by Varlam Shalamov

Not love, but rabid fury, has led
God's servant to the truth. Her pride
is justified - first high-born lady
to seek a convict's fate.

Gripping her Old Believer's cross
tight as a whip between her hands,
she thunders out her final curses;
the sleigh slips out of sight.

So this is how God's saints are born...
Her hate more ardent than her love,
she runs dry fingers through her dry,
already frost-chilled hair.


by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)
(1950)
translated by Robert Chandler

The poem refers to Feodosia Prokopiyevna Morozova (Russian: Феодо́сия Проко́пьевна Моро́зова) (21 May 1632 – 1 December 1675) was one of the best-known partisans of the Old Believer movement. She was perceived as a martyr after she was arrested and died in prison.

She became a household name after being discussed by important Russian writers and depicted by Vasily Surikov. She was also taken as a heroine by some radical groups, who saw her as a symbol of resistance to state power. The People’s Will revolutionary movement promoted her, and her virtues were praised by writers of the Soviet era such as Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Shalamov and Fazil Iskander, who “symbolically enlisted her in their own causes of resistance”.

Below is the full Russian version in Cyrillic.

 Боярыня Морозова

Попрощаться с сонною Москвою
Женщина выходит на крыльцо.
Бердыши тюремного конвоя
Отражают хмурое лицо.

И широким знаменьем двуперстным
Осеняет шапки и платки.
Впереди – несчитанные версты,
И снега – светлы и глубоки.

Перед ней склоняются иконы,
Люди – перед силой прямоты
Неземной – земные бьют поклоны
И рисуют в воздухе кресты.

С той землей она не будет в мире,
Первая из русских героинь,
Знатная начетчица Псалтыри,
Сторож исторических руин.

Возвышаясь над толпой порабощенной,
Далеко и сказочно видна,
Непрощающей и непрощеной
Покидает торжище она.

Это – веку новому на диво
Показала крепость старина,
Чтобы верил даже юродивый
В то, за что умрет она.

Не любовь, а бешеная ярость
Водит к правде Божию рабу.
Ей гордиться – первой из боярынь
Встретить арестантскую судьбу.

Точно бич, раскольничье распятье
В разъяренных стиснуто руках,
И гремят последние проклятья
С удаляющегося возка.

Так вот и рождаются святые,
Ненавидя жарче, чем любя,
Ледяные волосы сухие
Пальцами сухими теребя.

На берегу (On the Bank) by Arseny Tarkovsky

He was sitting by the river, among reeds

that peasants had been scything for their thatch.

And it was quiet there, and in his soul

it was quieter and stiller still.

He kicked off his boots and put

his feet into the water, and the water

began talking to him, not knowing

he didn't know its language.

He had thought that water is deaf-mute,

that the home of sleepy fish is without words,

that blue dragonflies hover over water

and catch mosquitoes or horseflies,

that you wash if you want to wash, and drink

if you want to drink, and that's all there is

to water. But in all truth

the water's language was a wonder,

a story of some kind about some thing,

some unchanging thing that seemed

like starlight, like the swift flash of mica,

like a divination of disaster.

And in it was something from childhood,

from not being used to counting life in years,

from what is nameless

and comes at night before you dream,

from the terrible, vegetable

sense of self

of your first season.


That's how the water was that day,

and its speech was without rhyme or reason.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1954)
translated by Robert Chandler

Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.

Beneath is the original version of the poem.

На берегу

Он у реки сидел на камыше,
Накошенном крестьянами на крыши,
И тихо было там, а на душе
Еще того спокойнее и тише.
И сапоги он скинул. И когда
Он в воду ноги опустил, вода
Заговорила с ним, не понимая,
Что он не знает языка ее.
Он думал, что вода - глухонемая
И бессловесно сонных рыб жилье,
Что реют над водою коромысла
И ловят комаров или слепней,
Что хочешь мыться - мойся, хочешь -
пей,
И что в воде другого нету смысла.

И вправду чуден был язык воды,
Рассказ какой-то про одно и то же,
На свет звезды, на беглый блеск слюды,
На предсказание беды похожий.
И что-то было в ней от детских лет,
От непривычки мерить жизнь годами,
И от того, чему названья нет,
Что по ночам приходит перед снами,
От грозного, как в ранние года,
Растительного самоощущенья.

Вот какова была в тот день вода
И речь ее - без смысла и значенья.