My Country by Mikhail Lermontov

I love my country, but with a strange love –

stronger than reason!…

Neither the fame that blood can buy,

nor the calm pride of confidence,

nor the time-honoured gifts of ignorant days

can stir my soul with dreams of happiness.

But what I love – for some strange reason –

is the cold silence of her plains,

the swaying branches of her endless forests,

her rivers as wide-spreading as the sea;

galloping in a cart on country tracks

and gazing slowly deep into the dark,

seeing on either side, longing for sleep,

the poor sad villages’ bright windows.

I love the smoke of burning stubble,

the lines of carts crossing the steppe,

and in bright meadows, on a hill,

a pair of birches gleaming white.

I feel a pleasure few can share

seeing the barns piled high with grain,

the hut beneath a roof of thatch

with fretted shutters on the windows;

and on a dewy feast-day evening

I’ll gaze till late into the night

at whistling dancers, stamping feet,

and hear the drunken peasants talk.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Peter France

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. His poetry was often quoted in his son’s films.