‘Farewell Forever, Unwashed Russia!’ by Mikhail Lermontov

Farewell forever, unwashed Russia!

O land of slaves, of masters cruel!

And you, blue-uniformed oppressors!

And you, meek nation whom they rule!

 

Beyond the Caucasus’ high ridges,

I may be safe from your viziers –

far from those eyes – unseen, all-seeing –

and far from their all-hearing ears.

 

by Михаил Юрьевич Лермонтов (Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov)

(1841)

translated by Guy Daniels, revised by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: This poem wasn’t published until 1887 – over 40 years after Lermontov’s death (caused by being shot through the heart during a duel on 27 July 1841) during his second exile. It is possible he wrote this upon being told of his exile when he was ordered to leave St Petersburg within 48 hours. The ‘blue uniformed oppressors’ in the poem were the tsarist police of the time who wore distinctly coloured uniforms and would have played their part in ensuring he followed the exile order.

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‘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.

Путем зерна (The Grain’s Path) by Vladislav Khodasevich

The sower walks down the even furrows;

his fathers all furrowed the path he follows.

 

The young seed glitters gold in his hand,

but it must fall into the black ground.

 

There, amid the tunnels of the blind worm,

it will die on its due day – and grow again.

 

So now my soul treads the path of the grain –

down into darkness – and spring’s return.

 

And you, my people, and you, my native land,

you will die and live, when the dark months end,

 

for we have been granted only this one truth:

whatever lives must follow the grain’s path.

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

(1917)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Led By What Is Shining…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Led by what is shining,

the sleepwalker looks into a blank,

black is the death beneath him

and there’s no knowing

where the moon’s thin ledge

will slide him.

 

The innocent are executed

in a universal night –

look the other way.

Look into cold nothing

and let its moonshine take you

beyond all understanding.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1948)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘Where Can I Look, Where Can I Go…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Where can I look, where can I go,

to find that almost Alpine snow,

all sacrificed so life can grow,

all turned by May to splash and flow,

to breath of dandelion and rose,

to mighty wave or shining billow –

into that foolish question posed

by François Villon long ago?

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1951)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: François Villon was born in Paris in 1431, disappeared from view in 1463 and is the best known French poet of the late Middle Ages. A ne’er-do-well who was involved in criminal behavior, had multiple encounters with law enforcement authorities and so wrote about some of these experiences in his poems.

‘Nothing, Nothing Will Be Returned…’ by Georgy Ivanov

Nothing, nothing will be returned;

love, forgiveness – unearned, unlearned;

though we can never learn to forget.

 

Sweet is the sleep of an alien land.

We sense spring, hear the sea’s even sound

in this world of eternal torment.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1949)

translated by Robert Chandler

We Pronounced by Olga Berggolts

We pronounced

the simplest, poorest words

as if they had never been said.

We were saying

sun, light, grass

as people pronounce

life, love, strength.

 

Remembered how we cleared

that eternal, accursed glacier

from the city streets – and an old man

stamped his foot against the pavement,

shouting, ‘Asphalt, friends, asphault!’

 

As if he were a sailor long ago,

calling out ‘Land, land!’

 

by

Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1945)

translated by Robert Chandler