‘I Spent All Day At The Meeting’ by Olga Berggolts

I spent all day at the meeting,

either lying or voting.

I’m surprised I didn’t go grey

or die of shame.

I wandered about the streets,

where I could be myself again.

I had a smoke with a yardman –

then a drink in a cheap kiosk

along with two amputees,

who had fought at Krasny Bor.

Their complaints were something else –

their conversation was real.

One memory led to abother,

as we stirred the ash in our hearts:

penal battalions sent on reconnaissance

straight across minefields.

One man would return bemedalled;

others would lie down for ever,

their trumped-up sins now redeemed

with daredevil blood.

And I said in a drunken rage,

barely able to string thoughts together,

‘Oh how I hate our righteous ones,

Oh how I love our sinners!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1948-9)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun fact: The reference to Kransy Bor refers to the military action during the Seige of Leningrad of the Second World War (or ‘Great Patriotic War’ to Russians): “The Battle of Krasny Bor was part of the Soviet offensive Operation Polyarnaya Zvezda. It called for a pincer attack near Leningrad, to build on the success of Operation Iskra and completely lift the Siege of Leningrad, encircling a substantial part of the German 18th Army. The offensive near Krasny Bor, formed the western arm of the pincer. The Soviet offensive began on Wednesday, 10 February 1943. It produced noticeable gains on the first day, but rapidly turned into a stalemate. The strong defense of the 250th (Spanish) Infantry Division led by General Emilio Esteban Infantes and the 4th SS Police Division gave the German forces time to reinforce their positions. By February 13, the Soviet forces had stopped their offensive in this sector. In Spain, February 10 became known as “Black Wednesday”, due to the heavy losses of the Spanish Division, which lost over 70% of the men engaged in the action. It was the most costly battle for the Spanish volunteers during their time on the Eastern Front.”

To put the poem in context: remember that the men served in a penal battallion during the Stalinist era and therefore were probably falsely accussed of something or other by the authorities of the time. As the two men were in a penal battallion they were made to take part in more risky military manoeuvres in, what we would call, a suicide squad. Hence Olga’s reaction, after attending a Party meeting, where she had to lie about her real opinions or voted the entire time, drunkenly decrying the ‘righteous’, who were corrupt bureaucrats and staunch members of the Party, abusing their authoritive power to crush anything but complete compliance to their will, instead of practising any humanity towards their fellow man and those left behind broken by their leadership.

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Jealousy by Inna Lisnianskaya

I look out the window at the retreating back.

Your jealousy is both touching and comical.

Can’t you see I am old and scary, a witch,

and apart from you no one needs me at all!

 

Well, what’s so touching and funny in that?

Jealous, you’re keen to send all of them packing

away from our home, with it’s roof’s mossy coat,

and our life which consists entirely of sacking.

 

But they do not desist, out of kindness of sorts –

from scraping away the moss, checking a rafter,

and they bring flowers as well, to thank me

for your still being alive and so well looked after.

 

And they stay away with something else, a notion

of how to survive as the years advance

and still be loved, and, with time running out,

to listen to eulogies, fresher than the news.

 

And my attachment, the truth of my love, no less,

they envy. So keep your jealousy buttoned up!

In this world, with its surfeit of painful loss,

let me open the door with a smile on my lips.

 

by Инна Львовна Лиснянская (Inna Lvovna Lisnyanskaya)

(2001)

translated by Daniel Weissbort


She was the wife of Semyon Lipkin. The above poem was written shortly before his death.

There isn’t much about her in English so if you want to know more you may have to research her husband intially 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.