Хозяин (The Master) by Boris Slutsky

My master – he disliked me from the start.
He never knew me, never saw or heard me,
but all the same he feared me like the plague
and hated me with all his dreary heart.
When I bowed my head before him,
it seemed to him I hid a smile.
When he made me cry, he thought
my tears were crocodile.
And all my life I worked my heart out for him,
each night I lay down late, and got up early.
I loved him and was wounded for his sake.
But nothing I could do would ever take.
I took his portrait everywhere I went,
I hung it up in every hut and tent,
I looked and looked, and kept on looking,
and slowly, as the years went past,
his hatred hurt me less and less.
And nowadays it hardly seems to matter:
the age-old truth is men like me
are always hated by their master.

.

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий
(Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(1954)
translated by Margo Shohl Rosen

Slutsky’s poem recited by the actor Veniamin Smekhov

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

Хозяин

А мой хозяин не любил меня —
Не знал меня, не слышал и не видел,
А всё-таки боялся, как огня,
И сумрачно, угрюмо ненавидел.

Когда меня он плакать заставлял,
Ему казалось: я притворно плачу.
Когда пред ним я голову склонял,
Ему казалось: я усмешку прячу.

А я всю жизнь работал на него,
Ложился поздно, поднимался рано,
Любил его. И за него был ранен.
Но мне не помогало ничего.

А я возил с собой его портрет.
В землянке вешал и в палатке вешал —
Смотрел, смотрел, не уставал смотреть.
И с каждым годом мне всё реже, реже

Обидною казалась нелюбовь.
И ныне настроенья мне не губит
Тот явный факт, что испокон веков
Таких, как я, хозяева не любят.

Баллада о немецком цензоре (The Ballad of a German Censor) by David Samoylov

In Germany once lived a censor

of lowly rank and title.

He blotted, struck and cancelled

and knew no other no other calling.

 

He sniffed out harmful diction

and smeared it with Indian ink.

He guarded minds from infection

and his bosses valued his work.

 

On a winter day in forty-three

he was dispatched ‘nach Osten’.

And he stared from the train car’s window

at fields, graveyards, snowstorms.

 

It was cold without a fur coat.

He saw hamlets without homes or people.

Only charred chimneys were left,

creeping by, like lizards or camels.

 

And it seemed to him that Russia

was all steppe, Mongoloid, bare.

And he thought he was feeling ‘nostalgia’,

but it was really just the chill and fear.

 

He arrived at his field post office:

such-and-such region and number.

Table, chair, iron cot and mattress,

three walls – in the fourth, a window.

 

Russia’s short on Gemütlichkeit!

He had to climb over snowdrifts.

And the work? No shortage of that:

cutting, deleting, smearing.

 

Before him lay piles of letters,

lines and lines – some straight, some wavy.

Generals wrote to their comrades,

soldiers wrote to their families.

 

There were letters, messages, queries

from the living, from those who’d been killed.

There were words he judged ‘non-Aryan’,

but it was really just fear and chill.

 

He would read nearly all day round,

forgetting to eat or shave.

And inside his tired mind

something strange began to take place.

 

Words he’d blotted and excised

would come and torment him at night,

and, like some eerie circus,

would parade there before his eyes…

 

Lines, killed by black ink,

turned tyrannical, like a tirade:

‘In the East, the East, the East,

we will not, will not be spared…’

 

The text was composed of black mosaics;

each word clung fast to the next.

Not the greatest master of prose

could have come up with such a text.

 

Long thoughts, like wagon trains,

shook the joints and ridges

of his tired and weakened brain;

battered its fragile bridges.

 

He turned unfriendly to all his friends

and grew brusque, unsociable, sad.

He was brilliant for a few days

and then broke down and went bad.

 

He awoke, from the fear and chill…

with a wild, choking feeling.

The dark was impenetrable –

the window blacked out with ink.

 

He realised that bravado leads nowhere,

that existence is fragile,

and the black truth invaded his soul

and wiped away the white lie.

 

The poor censor was born a pedant.

He reached for a small notebook

and truthfully – that is, with talent –

set everything down, in order.

 

The next morning he took up, with seal,

his… No – a different task:

he underlined all that was real

and crossed out everything else.

 

Poor censor, he’d lost his mind!

Little man, like a grain of millet!

He informed on himself in a day

and was taken away that minute…

 

There once lived a censor in Germany.

His rank and title were low.

He died and was promptly buried,

and his grave fell under the plough.

 

by Давид Самойлов (David Samoylov)

pseudonym of Давид Самуилович Кауфман (David Samuilovich Kaufman)

(1961)

translated by Boris Dralyuk


Additional information: David Samoylov (Давид Самойлов), pseudonym of David Samuilovich Kaufman ( Давид Самуилович Кауфман; 1 June 1920 in Moscow — 23 February 1990 in Tallinn) was a notable poet of the War generation of Russian poets, considered one of the most important Russian poets of the post-World War II era as well.