‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

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‘Could Beatrice Write With Dante’s Passion’ by Anna Akhmatova

Could Beatrice write with Dante’s passion,

Or Laura have glorified love’s pain?

Women poets – I set the fashion…

Lord, how to shut them up again!

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)

translation by D. M. Thomas

‘Еще раз, еще раз’ (‘Once More, Once More’) by Velimir Khlebnikov

Once more, once more,

I am

your star.

Woe to the sailor who takes

a wrong bearing

between his boat and a star.

He will smash against rock

or sandbar.

Woe to you all, who take

a wrong bearing

between your heart and me.

You will smash against rock

and be rock-mocked

as you

once

mocked me.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(May 1922)

translated by Robert Chandler


Russian reading of the poem:

Original Russian text:

Еше раз, еще раз,
Я для вас
Звезда.
Горе моряку, взявшему
Неверный угол своей ладьи
И звезды:
Он разобьется о камни,
О подводные мели.
Горе и Вам, взявшим
Неверный угол сердца ко мне:
Вы разобьетесь о камни,
И камни будут надсмехаться
Над Вами,
Как вы надсмехались
Надо мной.

‘People, Years and Nations’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

People, years and nations

run away forever

like a flowing river.

In nature’s supple mirror

We’re the fish,

dark’s ghosts are gods,

and the constellations

knot night’s nets.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1915)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This was written shortly before the centenary of Derzhavin’s death, continuing the theme’s of his last poem.

On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>

Шепот, робкое дыханье (Whispers) by Afanasy Fet

Whispers, timid breathing,

trills of a nightingale,

the silver and the shiver

of a sleepy rill.

 

Pale light and nighttime shadows,

shadows without end,

all the magic transformations

of eyes and lips and brows.

 

In smoky clouds, a rose’s purple,

the shine of amber beads,

and the kisses, and the tears,

and the dawn, the dawn!

 

by Афанасий Афанасьевич Фет (Afanasy Afanasyevich Fet)

a.k.a. Шеншин (Shenshin)

(1850)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

‘Not In Our Power To Foretell’ by Fyodor Tyutchev

Not in our power to foretell

what response our words will meet.

Fellow feeling, heaven’s grace –

mysteries we can’t predict.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1869)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun Fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev‘s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.