Cирена (Siren) by Anna Prismanova

In that land we tried to speak
of thirst, unquenchable thirst,
of a mournful cry that pierced us in the dark
and was halted in mid-flight.

But in the silence there reaches out for us
a steamboat’s cry, the crying of its soul,
it pulls us in, inviting and in parting,
as it sails into the age-old twilight.

This high-flown, antediluvian howl,
that the head and insides both absorb,
that even soaks into the legs –
is the union of peace and anxiety.

The steamboat sails off into the darkness and the night.
But it’s as if the siren’s wail died long ago.
As in the time of crusades when knights
were blessed on their way by ringing church bells.

And we, my dear, will leave like this, exactly,
having spent our last small ounce of arrogance,
we’ll leave – moving restlessly into the night,
we’ll have taken little and won’t have weighed the consequences.

The siren awaits us at the end of the earth,
and I know already the torment that she bears:
she wants us all to follow in her footsteps,
and wishes too we’d leave her all alone.

And so the steamboat howls, and howls the darkness.
I’ve not the strength to counteract these howls.
It’s possible that I myself am howling
inside the funnel of just a boat as this.

by Анна Семёновна Присманова (Anna Semyonovna Prismanova)
a.k.a. Анна Симоновна Присман (Anna Simonovna Prisman)
(Date unknown – before 1953)
translated by Bradley Jordan
from the poetry collection Трубы (Trumpets/Tubes/Pipes)

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Additional information: There is a dedication in the Russian version, ‘В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому‘, omitted from the translation. This refers to Vladimir Lvovich Korvin-Piotrovsky (1891 -1966) who was a Russian poet, novelist and playwright.

I am unsure of the exact date of the poem but a Russian website listing the poetry collection it is from has an end note stating “The poem was included in the anthology In the West: An Anthology of Russian Foreign Poetry. Comp. Y.P.Ivask. New York. Ed. Chekhov. 1953. p. 226.” which refers to the book published in 1953, under the title Na zapade; antologiia russkoi zarubezhnoi poezii (In the West; an anthology of the Russian émigré poetry).

Prismanova is considered comparable to her contemporary, the American poet, Louise Bogan and challenged traditional ideas of femininity in her poetry.

Prismanova’s origins and early life are obscure. She appears in emigration in Paris in the mid-1920s, and her first published collection, Ten’ itelo (Shadow and Body) (1937), contains poems beginning in 1929. She and her poet husband, Aleksandr Ginger, remained in Paris during the Nazi occupation. Responding to the wave of patriotic feeling and longing for Russia that appeared among emigres after the war, they both accepted Soviet passports, though they continued to live in Paris.

Prismanova was best known in the emigre world for intimate lyrics that manifest her spiritual searching for real truth in herself, in language, and in literary form. Prismanova’s poem “Vera” (1960), about the heroic, revolutionary populist Vera Figner (1852-1942), amazed readers by its portrait of a figure so unlike the poet and her intimate lyrical themes. Overshadowed by the more vocal figures of emigration, she was nevertheless a highly intelligent, subtle, and sensitive poet.

Biographical information about Prismanova, p.342-343, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

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Cирена

В. Коpвин-Пиотpовcкому
Cтаpалиcь мы cказать на cей земле
о жажде и ее неутоленьи,
о кpике cкоpби, pвущем наc во мгле
и оcтановленном в cвоем cтpемленьи.
Но нам навcтpечу тянетcя в тиши
влекущий наc, пpизывный и пpощальный,
кpик паpоxода, кpик его души,
уже плывущей в cумpак изначальный.
Вбираемый нутpом и головой,
пpоcачивающийcя даже в ноги,
cей выcпpенний и допотопный вой
cлияние покоя и тpевоги.
Во мглу и в ночь уxодит паpоxод.
Но cтон cиpены как бы замеp в оном.
Так pыцаpи в кpеcтовый шли поxод,
напутcтвуемые цеpковным звоном.
И мы, душа моя, вот так, точь-в-точь,
утpатив до конца оcтаток cпеcи,
уйдем – вдвигаяcь неотcтупно в ночь,
немного взяв и ничего не взвеcив.
Cиpена ждет наc на конце земли,
и знаю я – томленье в ней какое:
ей xочетcя и чтоб за нею шли,
и чтоб ее оcтавили в покое…
Так воет паpоxод, и воет тьма.
Пpотиводейcтвовать такому вою
не в cилаx я. Я, может быть, cама
в тpубе такого паpоxода вою.

Китайская Прачечная (Chinese Laundry) by Yury Kazarnovsky

Here in the half-darkness of a basement
more musty than melancholy,
more soiled than sorrow,
streams of dirty laundry flowed together,
like ailments towards laboratory doors.
Fallen on tablecloth,
a cream-colored cowboy shirt
lies like a leper in sticky jam,
and Li Yu Chan,
with his salivating pencil,
brings the bill
to the sinners and the redeemed.
He’ll tear their flaxen body to pieces.
A storm of shirt –
he’s their ruthless whip!
May the laundry sparkle
once again in its altered appearance!
In the cauldron of farfetched quantity
layers of clothing
toss and turn gravely,
dreams are boiled out of pillowcases,
and a shirt’s confession circles in the steam.
Kerchiefs swim,
cuddled up to them in fear,
socks with holes
are boiling,
and the bleach is laughing like a satyr
at the bed sheets’ sleepy bosom.
Then with a burn in each hair
the laundry is readied
for new torments,
to be beaten in a fever of cleaning
on the steep board of pain.
And another torture has been foretold:
Margo Ivanova –
Yu Chan’s wife,
durable to the touch and in character,
will iron the laundry at a most hellish pace.
Moaning, she bowed
the enormous, sinking suns
of her breasts
that dragged along like a mountain after the iron,
her breasts, that have been tried in labor and desire.
This wife is a delight,
and a child with slanting eyes sucks
a lollipop at the crossroads of the races.
The laundry has been laundered.
The bedbugs aren’t too big.
It’s time for Yu Chan to sleep at last.
He sleeps.
And a created whiteness,
born with difficulty from the sticky ooze,
descends to him in white-snowed dreams,
in the form of childhood, rice, and jasmine.
And the laundry’s snow whirls out of the dark,
out of the darkest of darks. And the first light, and image of purity,
gratefully kisses the parchment of his brow.

by Юрий Александрович Казарновский (Yury Alexandrovich Kazarnovsky)
a.k.a Юрий Алексеевич Казарновский
(1904 – 1960?)
translated by Bradley Jordan

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Additional information: There is little information about Yuri Kazarnovsky online. Even his date of death, somehow, is uncertain it seems. His patronymic is Alexandrovich but apparently, for a long time, it was mistakenly believed to be Alekseevich – hence why sources might choose to forgo mentioning it.

He was born in Rostov-on-Don. As a student, he was a member of a subversive literary circle called Vremennik and was arrested by the Soviet authorities in 1926/1927. He spent the next four years (1928 to 1932) imprisoned in the Solovki prison camp. His poems of camp life were published in the OGPU-run prison journal “Solovetsky Islands“. He also worked on the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal. In 1936 he published his only book Stikhi (lit. ‘Poems’).

Soon after, in 1937, he was caught up in Stalin’s purges, and spent four years in the Kolyma gulag. (As this was between 1938-1942 he was there at the same time as Varlam Shalamov who had begun serving a five year sentence in 1937. I don’t think there is any suggestion they ever met during their sentences, if ever at all, but I note it because Shalamov’s work instantly comes to mind when hearing of Kolyma. There are others who wrote of their experiences in Kolyma but Shalamov’s Kolyma Tales is probably the best known account of the gulags there). Kazarnovsky was rehabilitated by the state in 1955 and is believed to have died in 1960.

It is speculated that he was one of the last people to have met the poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the gulag in 1938. He also worked in the camp in Mariinsk, Siberia. According to Dmitry Likhachev (who may be the source of the inaccurate patronymic due to either mistake or misquotation) Mandelshtam‘s wife, Nadezhda, tried to extract information about her husband from Kazarnovsky but it was in vain. He spent his later years in poverty and addiction, in Tashkent and in Moscow, where he corresponded with a contemporary, the poet Ilya Selvinsky (1899–1968).

Little information about Kazarnovsky’s life has survived. After his work was published in an anthology of poetry by Ogoniok (1989), the scholar D. S. Likhachev stated that he had met the poet while both were incarcerated in the Solovki Gulag from the fall of 1928 to the fall of 1931. However, the Rostov newspaper Komsomolets reported in 1989 that Likhachev was mistaken. Relatives assert that Kazarnovsky was arrested in 1937 and rehabilitated in 1955. The compiler of this anthology met him briefly to express admiration for his only book, Stikhi (Poems) (1934). Kazarnovsky was surprised that anyone knew his poems and seemed distant, as if the hands of death were already embracing him. His poems are filled with stunning, fresh, unforgettable imagery.

Biographical information about Kazarnovsky, p.477, ‘Twentieth Century Russian Poetry’ (1993), compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko (ed. Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward) , published by Fourth Estate Limited by arrangement with Doubleday of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group Inc.

For anyone looking for more of Kazarnovsky‘s poems here are translations by Boris Dralyuk of The Stroll and The Tram.

Beneath is the original Russian version of the poem in Cyrillic.

Китайская Прачечная

Здесь в полумглу подвального жилья,
Душней тоски, заношенней, чем горе,
Стеклись потоки грязного белья,
Как недруги к дверям амбулатории.
Упав на скатерть, кремовый апаш
Лежит в проказе липкого варенья.
И Ли Ю-Чан. слюнявя карандаш,
Подводит счет грехам и искупленьям!
Льняное тело будет он терзать,
Гроза рубах, он беспощадный бич их:
Пускай белье сумеет засверкать
Опять в переиначенных обличьях!
В котле надуманной величины
Пласты белья ворочаются тяжко.
Из наволочек выкинет он сны.
И паром вьется исповедь рубашки.
Плывут платки, прижавшись в страхе к ним,
Кипят носки, заношены до дырок,
И заспанную груду простыни
Высмеивает щелок, как сатира.
Потом с ожогом в каждом волоске
Белье идет на новые мученья,
Чтоб на крутой и ранящей доске
Забиться в лихорадке очищенья.
Затем иная мука суждена:
Его погладит в самом адском такте
Марго Ивановна — Ю-Чанова жена —
Добротная на ощупь и характер.
На жаркий стол она, кряхтя, склонила
Бредущие горой за утюгом
Огромные закатные светила
Грудей, испытанных восторгом и трудом.
Жена отрадна и раскос сынишка,
На перекрестке рас сосущий леденец.
Белье бело, клопы крупны не слишком,
Пора уснуть Ю-Чану, наконец,
Он спит. И созданная белизна,
Рожденная трудом из липкой тины,
К нему исходит в белоснежных снах:
В обличьях детства, риса и жасмина.
И снег белья кружит из темноты.
Из темноты нестирано угарной.
И первый свет, как образ Чистоты,
Пергамент лба целует благодарно.

Кошка (Cat) by Inna Lisnianskaya

Where is your cat, walking
On its own,
Lapping the milky mist
Amid September?

Where its leopard tread,
Its phosphorescence,
Where is your cat and your truth
Where on this earth?

Where is the cat, still not found,
Where the roof and the leak in it?
Where is the hoarse speech
Broken by the speed of sound?

Where is your clairvoyant autumn
and corn-bins of dreams?
Where is your phosphorescent cat
and you yourself?

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)
(1983)
from В пригороде Содома (In the Suburb of Sodom) / Вдали от Содома (Far from Sodom)
translated by Daniel Weissbort

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Кошка

Где кошка твоя, гуляющая
Сама по себе,
Молочный туман лакающая
В густом сентябре?

Где поступь её леопардовая
И фосфор во мгле,
Где кошка твоя и где правда твоя
На этой земле?

Где кошка, ещё не отловленная,
Где крыша и течь?
Где скоростью звука надломленная
Охриплая речь?

Где осень твоя ясновидческая
И снов закрома?
Где кошка твоя фосфорическая
И где ты сама?

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Additional information: Inna Lisnianskaya was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband initially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.


She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.

Август (August) by Boris Pasternak

As it promised without deception
the sun burst through early in the morning
with a slanting saffron strip
from the curtain to the divan.

It covered with a hot ochre
the neighbouring forest, the houses of the village,
my bed, the damp pillow
and the edge of the wall behind the book shelf.

I remembered why
the pillow was damp.
I dreamed that you came one after
the other through the forest to see me off.

You walked in a crowd, separately and in pairs,
suddenly somebody remembered that today
is the sixth of August Old Style,
the Transfiguration of the Lord.

Usually a light without a flame
comes out on that day from Mount Tabor,
and the autumn, clear as a sign,
rivets gazes to itself.

And you went through the thin, beggarly,
naked, trembling alder thicket
into the ginger-red cemetery copse
which glowed like a honey cake.

The imposing sky neighboured
the treetops that had fallen silent,
and the distance echoed and called with the long
drawn out voices of the cocks.

In the forest like a public land surveyor
death stood in the middle of the graveyard,
looking at my dead pale face
so as to dig a grave the right length.

Everyone physically sensed
a quiet voice close by.
It was my former prophetic voice
that resounded untouched by decay.

‘Farewell, azure of the Transfiguration,
and gold of the second Salvation.
Soften with a woman’s final caress
the bitterness of my fateful hour.

Farewell, years of hardship,
we will say farewell to the woman throwing
down a challenge to the abyss of humiliation!
I am your battlefield.

Farewell, spread out sweep of the wing,
free stubbornness of flight,
and the image of the world, presented in the word,
and creation, and miracle-working.’

By Бори́с Леони́дович Пастерна́к
(Boris Leonidovich Pasternak)
(1953)
from До́ктор Жива́го
(Doctor Zhivago)
translated by Richard McKane

Additional information: The poem is featured in the novel До́ктор Жива́го (Doctor Zhivago) as if written by it’s protagonist Yuri Zhivago.

The poem read by Александр Феклистов (Aleksandr Fleklistov).

Август

Как обещало, не обманывая,
Проникло солнце утром рано
Косою полосой шафрановою
От занавеси до дивана.

Оно покрыло жаркой охрою
Соседний лес, дома поселка,
Мою постель, подушку мокрую,
И край стены за книжной полкой.

Я вспомнил, по какому поводу
Слегка увлажнена подушка.
Мне снилось, что ко мне на проводы
Шли по лесу вы друг за дружкой.

Вы шли толпою, врозь и парами,
Вдруг кто-то вспомнил, что сегодня
Шестое августа по старому,
Преображение Господне.

Обыкновенно свет без пламени
Исходит в этот день с Фавора,
И осень, ясная, как знаменье,
К себе приковывает взоры.

И вы прошли сквозь мелкий, нищенский,
Нагой, трепещущий ольшаник
В имбирно-красный лес кладбищенский,
Горевший, как печатный пряник.

С притихшими его вершинами
Соседствовало небо важно,
И голосами петушиными
Перекликалась даль протяжно.

В лесу казенной землемершею
Стояла смерть среди погоста,
Смотря в лицо мое умершее,
Чтоб вырыть яму мне по росту.

Был всеми ощутим физически
Спокойный голос чей-то рядом.
То прежний голос мой провидческий
Звучал, не тронутый распадом:

«Прощай, лазурь преображенская
И золото второго Спаса
Смягчи последней лаской женскою
Мне горечь рокового часа.

Прощайте, годы безвременщины,
Простимся, бездне унижений
Бросающая вызов женщина!
Я – поле твоего сражения.

Прощай, размах крыла расправленный,
Полета вольное упорство,
И образ мира, в слове явленный,
И творчество, и чудотворство».

1953 г.

A 1954 recording of Boris Pasternak himself reading the poem.

Мы, русские, на мифы падки… (Myth has us Russians in thrall…) by Inna Lisnianskaya

Myth has us Russians in thrall,
Whether down on our luck or high.
We are all hostages to our soul,
That wondrous entity.

We stroke the snake of history,
But however you bend our words,
We love ourselves to the point of loathing
And loathe ourselves to the point of love.

Raising our cups in a general toast,
We curse our everlasting fate for now –
What has been allotted hurts,
Like a fresh brand mark on the brow.

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by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)
(2000-2001)
translated by Daniel Weissbort

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Мы, русские, на мифы падки…

Мы, русские, на мифы падки.
Хоть землю ешь, хоть спирт глуши,
Мы все — заложники загадки
Своей же собственной души.

Змею истории голубим,
Но как словами ни криви,
Себя до ненависти любим
И ненавидим до любви.

Заздравные вздымая чаши,
Клянем извечную судьбу, —
Болит избранничество наше,
Как свежее клеймо во лбу.

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Additional information: Inna Lisnianskaya was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly after his death. There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband initially and work from there for biographical details. However one collection of her poetic works titled ‘Far from Sodom‘ is available in English should you wish to read more of her writing.
She was born in Baku and published her first collection in 1957 then moved to Moscow three years later. In 1979 she and her husband resigned from the Union of Soviet Writers in protest to the expulsion of Viktor Yerofeyev and Yevgeny Popov from it. The following seven years her works were only published abroad though from 1986 she was able to publish regularly and was awarded several important prizes.