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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Хмель (Hops) by Boris Pasternak

 Beneath the willow, wound round with ivy,
We take cover from the worst
Of the storm, with a greatcoat round
Our shoulders and my hands around your waist.

I've got it wrong. That isn't ivy
Entwined in the bushes round
The wood, but hops. You intoxicate me!
Let's spread the greatcoat on the ground.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1953)
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

This poem, along with a number of others, was featured in Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago.

Here is a recital of the poem in Russian.

The original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic text.

 Хмель

Под ракитой, обвитой плющем,
От ненастья мы ищем защиты.
Наши плечи покрыты плащем,
Вкруг тебя мои руки обвиты.

Я ошибся. Кусты этих чащ
Не плющем перевиты, а хмелем.
Ну, так лучше давай этот плащ
В ширину под собою расстелим.

Зимнее небо (Winter Sky) by Boris Pasternak

Out of the smoky air now are plucked down
Stars for the past week frozen in flight.
Head over heels reels the skaters' club,
Clinking its rink with the glass of the night.

Slower, slower, skater, step slow-er,
Cutting the curve as you swerve by.
Every turn a constellation
Scraped by the skate into Norway's sky.

Fetters of frozen iron shackle the air.
Hey, skaters! There it's all the same
That night is on earth with its ivory eyes
Snake-patterned like a domino game;

That the moon, like a numb retriever's tongue,
Is freezing to bars as tight as a vice;
That mouths, like forgers' mouths, are filled
Brim-full with lava of breathtaking ice.


By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1914-1916 )
translated by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France

Below is the original Russin version in Cyrillic

 Зимнее небо

Цeльнoю льдинoй из дымнoсти вынутa
Стaвший с нeдeлю звeздный пoтoк.
Клуб кoнькoбeжцeв ввepxу oпpoкинут:
Чoкaeтся сo звoнкoю нoчью кaтoк.

Peжe-peжe-pe-жe ступaй, кoнькoбeжeц,
В бeгe ссeкaя шaг свысoкa.
Нa пoвopoтe сoзвeздьeм вpeжeтся
В нeбo нopвeгии скpeжeт кoнькa.

Вoздуx oкoвaн мepзлым жeлeзoм.
O кoнькoбeжцы! Тaм - всe paвнo,
Чтo, кaк глaзa сo змeиным paзpeзoм,
Нoчь нa зeмлe, и кaк кoсть дoминo;

Чтo языкoм oбoмлeвшeй лeгaвoй
Мeсяц к сeбe пpимepзaeт; чтo pты,
Кaк у фaльшивoмoнeтчикoв, - лaвoй
Дуx зaxвaтившeгo льдa нaлиты.

Пауль Клее (Paul Klee) by Arseny Tarkovsky

Over the meadows, beyond the mountains,
there once lived a painter called Klee,
and he sat on his own on a path
with various bright-coloured crayons.

He drew rectangles and he drew hooks,
an imp in a light-blue shirt,
Africa, stars, a child on a platform,
wild beasts where Sky meets Earth.

He never intended his sketches
to be like passport photos,
with people, horses, cities and lakes
standing up straight like robots.

He wanted these lines and these spots
to converse with one another
as clearly as cicadas in summer,
but then one morning a feather

materialized as he sketched.
A wing, the crown of ahead -
the Angel of Death. It was time
for Klee to part from his friends

and his Muse. He did.He died.
Can anything be more cruel?
Though had Paul Klee been any less wise,
his angel might have touched us all

and we too, along with the artist,
might have left the world behind
while that angel shook up our bones,
but – what help would that have been?

Me, I'd much rather walk through a gallery
than lie in some sad cemetery.
I like to loiter with friends by paintings -
yellow-blue wildlings, follies most serious.


by Арсений Александрович Тарковский
(Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)
(1957)
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.

Paul Klee (18 December 1879 – 29 June 1940) was a Swiss German artist. His highly individual style was influenced by movements in art that included Expressionism, Cubism, and Surrealism. Klee was a natural draftsman who experimented with and eventually deeply explored color theory, writing about it extensively; his lectures Writings on Form and Design Theory (Schriften zur Form und Gestaltungslehre), published in English as the Paul Klee Notebooks, are held to be as important for modern art as Leonardo da Vinci’s A Treatise on Painting for the Renaissance. He and his colleague, Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky, both taught at the Bauhaus school of art, design and architecture. His works reflect his dry humor and his sometimes childlike perspective, his personal moods and beliefs, and his musicality.

Here is a reading of the poem in Russian set to music featuring one of Klee’s artworks.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem.

Пауль Клее

Жил да был художник Пауль Клее
Где-то за горами, над лугами.
Он сидел себе один в аллее
С разноцветными карандашами,

Рисовал квадраты и крючочки,
Африку, ребенка на перроне,
Дьяволенка в голубой сорочке,
Звезды и зверей на небосклоне.

Не хотел он, чтоб его рисунки
Были честным паспортом природы,
Где послушно строятся по струнке
Люди, кони, города и воды.

Он хотел, чтоб линии и пятна,
Как кузнечики в июльском звоне,
Говорили слитно и понятно.
И однажды утром на картоне

Проступили крылышко и темя:
Ангел смерти стал обозначаться.
Понял Клее, что настало время
С Музой и знакомыми прощаться.

Попрощался и скончался Клее.
Ничего не может быть печальней.
Если б Клее был немного злее,
Ангел смерти был бы натуральней.

И тогда с художником все вместе
Мы бы тоже сгинули со света,
Порастряс бы ангел наши кости.
Но скажите мне: на что нам это?

На погосте хуже, чем в музее,
Где порой слоняются живые,
И висят рядком картины Клее -
Голубые, желтые, блажные…

Приморский сонет (Seaside Sonnet) by Anna Akhmatova

Everything here will outlive me,

Even the houses of the stare

And this air I breathe, the spring air,

Ending its flight across the sea.

 

Unearthly invincibility…

The voice of eternity is calling,

And the light moon’s light is falling

Over the blossoming cherry-tree.

 

It doesn’t seem a difficult road,

White, in the chalice of emerald,

Where it’s leading I won’t say…

There between the trunks, a streak

Of light reminds one of the walk

By the pond at Tsarkoye.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1958, Komarovo)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas


Fun Facts: Here is a blog account, with photos, of the walk along the shores of the great pond in Tsarskoye.

Akhmatova reciting her poem:

Original Russian cyrillic version of the poem:

Приморский сонет

Здесь все меня переживет,
Все, даже ветхие скворешни
И этот воздух, воздух вешний,
Морской свершивший перелет.

И голос вечности зовет
С неодолимостью нездешней,
И над цветущею черешней
Сиянье легкий месяц льет.

И кажется такой нетрудной,
Белея в чаще изумрудной,
Дорога не скажу куда…

Там средь стволов еще светлее,
И все похоже на аллею
У царскосельского пруда.

1958
Комарово

Три стихотворения (Three Poems) [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

The poet was right: once again –

lantern, side-street, drugstore,

silence, the Neva and its granite…

A monument to our century’s

first years, there he stands, as when,

waving goodbye to Pushkin House,

he drank a mortal weariness –

as if such peace

were more than he deserved.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: This poem is an homage to Alexander Blok, whose last poem is addressed to Pushkin House in St Petersburg.


Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Он прав — опять фонарь, аптека,
Нева, безмолвие, гранит…
Как памятник началу века,
Там этот человек стоит —
Когда он Пушкинскому Дому,
Прощаясь, помахал рукой
И принял смертную истому
Как незаслуженный покой.

Музыка (Music) by Anna Akhmatova

for D. D. Sh.

Something miraculous burns brightly;

its facets form before my eyes.

And it alone can speak to me

when no one will stand by my side.

 

When my last friends had turned and gone

from where I lay, it remained close –

burst into blossom, into song,

like a first storm, like speaking flowers.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1958)

translation by Boris Dralyuk


Fun facts: the D. D. Sh. this poem is dedicated to is the famous composer Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich (Дмитрий Дмитриевич Шостакович) whose music she liked though they held opposing views. Anna Akhmatova and Dmitry Shostakovich met before the war. They met quite often at various cultural events, although they did not get along with each other. According to one version, Shostakovich did not share the poet’s views on dissidence, believing that it wasn’t worthwhile to help Russian writers abroad, since they openly opposed Soviet power. Akhmatova, in turn, was convinced that the country should know its heroes, and went as far as to even solicit, before her friends, the editors of magazines to begin publishing the works of emigrants.


Akhmatova reciting her poem:


Original Cyrillic text:

Музыка

Д. Д. Ш.

В ней что-то чудотворное горит,
И на глазах ее края гранятся.
Она одна со мною говорит,
Когда другие подойти боятся.
Когда последний друг отвел глаза,
Она была со мной одна в могиле
И пела словно первая гроза
Иль будто все цветы заговорили.