‘Perechin sat on a thumbtack…’ by Daniil Kharms

Perechin sat on a thumbtack, and from that moment his life changed drastically. Ordinarily a thoughtful, quiet person, Perechin transformed into a typical scoundrel. He grew out his mustache and from that point onwards trimmed them with exceptional clumsiness, so that one of his mustaches was always longer than the other. And, generally speaking, his mustache grew a bit crooked. It became impossible to even look at Perechin. Adding to that, he got in the habit of winking and jerking his jowl in the most loathsome manner. For a while, Perechin limited himself to petty baseness: he gossiped, he ratted, and he cheated tram conductors by paying them in the smallest bronze coins and always underpaying by two or even three kopecks.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(Wednesday, 14 October 1940)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

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Эпиграмма (Epigram) by Alexander Pushkin

Part Black Sea merchant, part milord,

a half-baked sage and halfwit fool,

a semi-scoundrel – but there’s hope

his scoundrelhood may soon be full.

 

by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)

a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin

(1824)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The subject of this epigram poem is Count Mikhail Vorontsov (1782-1856) the Governor General of ‘New Russia and of Bessarabia’, which consisted of most of southern Russia. Vorontsov was Pushkin’s boss during much of his southern exile.

The Lay Preacher Ponders by Idris Davies

‘Isn’t the violet a dear little flower? And the daisy, too.

What nice little thoughts arise from a daisy!

If I were a poet now – but no, not a poet,

For a poet is a wild and blasphemous man;

He talks about wine and women too much for me

And he makes mad songs about old pagans, look you.

Poets are dangerous men to have in chapel,

And it is bad enough in chapel as it is

with all the quarelling over the organ and the deacons;

The deacons are not too nice to saintly young men like me.

(Look at Jenkins John Jones, the old damn scoundrel!)

They know I can pray for hours and hours,

They know what a righteous young man I am,

They know how my Bible is always in my pocket

And Abraham and Jonah like brothers to me,

But they prefer the proper preacher with his collar turned around;

They say he is more cultured than I am,

And what is culture but palaver and swank?

I turn up my nose at culture.

I stand up for faith, and very simple faith,

And knowledge I hate because it is poison.

Think of this devilish thing they call science,

It is Satan’s new trick to poison men’s minds.

When I shall be local councillor and a famous man –

I  look forward to the day when I shall be mayor –

I will put my foot down on clever palaver,

And show what a righteous young man I am.

And they ought to know I am that already,

For I give all my spare cash to the chapel

And all my spare time to God.’

 

by Idris Davies

The Beetle by Nikolay Oleynikov

In a beaker sits a beetle,

sits and sucks his tawny leg.

He’s been caught. He has been sentenced,

and for ruth he does not beg.

He casts glances at the sofa,

in his sorrow half-alive;

there he sees the vivisectors,

honing axes, whetting knives.

An efficient young assistant

boils the scalpel on the heater,

at the same time gently whistling

something from the early Beatles.

He can whistle, brainless monkey,

licensed butcher from the dregs!

And the beetle in the beaker

sits and sucks his tawny legs.

He observes the surgeons closely,

and his eyes begin to roll…

He would not have been so frightened

had he known there is a soul.

But we’ve learned from modern scholars

that the soul is not at issue:

fat and kidneys, blood and choler

are the soul’s immortal tissue.

All that makes us hustle-bustle

are some ligaments and muscles.

This is science. Facts are stubborn

but are easy to apply.

And he wrings his arms (the beetle),

he is ready, he will die.

Now the resident approaches,

the MD who cuts and rips;

on the beetle he discovers

what he needs between the ribs.

And he throws and sticks the patient,

as he might have stuck a boar,

then he bares his teeth and, beastlike,

fills the workroom with his roar.

Whereupon the vivisectors

grab the beetle’s carcass, and

some explore his chest with pincers,

some dismember him by hand.

And they kicked him, flicked him, pricked him,

and they tore to death their victim.

Lacerated by that thug,

dies of injuries the bug.

He is cold. His eyes don’t tremble…

Then the brigands stopped their pranks

and retreated, somewhat sobered,

stepping back in serried ranks.

Torture, anguish – all is over.

There is nothing more to lose.

The remaining subsoil waters

from his body slowly ooze.

In a chink, inside the closet,

waits his son and hums a song –

‘Daddy, Daddy, where’re you, Daddy?

Pauvre garçon!

He will never see this father,

who could not have travelled farther.

There he stands, his vivisector,

bending over with the lads –

ugly, shaggy, grinning bravely,

with his pincers and his adze.

You elitist, sexist mugger,

scoundrel, scholarly and smug!

Read my lips: this little bugger

is a martyr, not a bug.

Soon the window will be opened

by the coarse, unfeeling guard,

and he’ll find himself, our darling,

on the driveway in the yard.

Near the porch, amid the garbage,

he will not rot (his body hacked,

with his legs all pointed upward)

and await the final act.

Neither rain nor sun will quicken

him who thus unburied lies.

And a chicken – yes, a chicken –

will peck out his beady eyes.

by Николай Макарович Олейников (Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov)

a.k.a. Nikolai Makarovich Oleinikov

(1934)

translated by Anatoly Liberman


Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov ( Никола́й Мака́рович Оле́йников; born 5 August 1898, d. 24 November 1937) was a Russian editor, avant-garde poet and playwright who was arrested and executed by the Soviets for subversive writing. During his writing career, he also used the pen names Makar Svirepy, Nikolai Makarov, Sergey Kravtsov, NI chief engineer of the mausoleums, Kamensky and Peter Shortsighted.

In ‘The Beetle’ Oleynikov continues a fable begun by Captain Lebyadkin the mad poet from Dostoevsky’s The Demons.