Зима (Winter) by Bella Akhmadulina

Winter, to me your gestures are
cold and careful: yes, in
winter there is something
gentle as medicine,

or why else would sickness
put out trusting hands
into that season, from its own
torture and darkness?

Weave your magic then
my love, let the kiss
of one curl of ice
brush over my forehead.

Soon I shall trust any
deception, and look without fear
into the eyes of dogs, as I
press close to the trees:

And forgive, playfully, with a
run, turn and jump; and
after a bout of forgiveness
forgive again,

become like a winter’s day:
empty and oval, though
in comparison to such
presence, always small.

I shall turn to nothing, and
so call over the wall,
not some shadow of myself, but light
I shall not block at all.

by Бе́лла (Изабе́лла) Аха́товна Ахмаду́лина
Белла Әхәт кызы Әхмәдуллина
Bella Akhatovna Akhmadulina
(1950)
translated by Elaine Feinstein

Зима

О жест зимы ко мне,
холодный и прилежный.
Да, что-то есть в зиме
от медицины нежной.

Иначе как же вдруг
из темноты и муки
доверчивый недуг
к ней обращает руки?

О милая, колдуй,
заденет лоб мой снова
целебный поцелуй
колечка ледяного.

И все сильней соблазн
встречать обман доверьем,
смотреть в глаза собак
и приникать, к деревьям.

Прощать, как бы играть,
с разбега, с поворота,
и, завершив прощать,
простить еще кого-то.

Сравняться с зимним днем,
с его пустым овалом,
и быть всегда при нем
его оттенком, малым.

Свести себя на нет,
чтоб вызвать за стеною
не тень мою, а свет,
не заслоненный мною.

A recital of the poem in Russian by Maria Selivanova.

Additional information: Bella (Izabella) Akhatovna Akhmadulina (10 April 1937 – 29 November 2010) was a Soviet and Russian poet, short story writer, and translator, known for her apolitical writing stance. She was part of the Russian New Wave literary movement. She was cited by Joseph Brodsky as the best living poet in the Russian language. She is known in Russia as “the voice of the epoch“.
Despite the aforementioned apolitical stance of her writing, Akhmadulina was often critical of authorities in the Soviet Union, and spoke out in favour of others, including Nobel laureates Boris Pasternak, Andrei Sakharov, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. She was known to international audiences via her travels abroad during the Khrushchev Thaw, during which she made appearances in sold-out stadiums. Upon her death in 2010 at the age of 73, President of Russia Dmitry Medvedev hailed her poetry as a “classic of Russian literature.”

The main themes of Akhmadulina‘s works are friendship, love, and relations between people. She wrote numerous essays about Russian poets and translators, some devoted to her close friend, Bulat Okudzhava. Akhmadulina avoided writing overtly political poems, but took part in political events in her youth, supporting the so-called dissident movement.

Akhmadulina wrote in an apolitical style making use of imagery and humour in her work. She used rhymed quatrains in her early works, which discussed ordinary, yet imaginative occurrences from daily life in language that was full of both archaisms and neologisms. Religion and philosophy became her themes as she aged and she wrote in longer forms.

Of mixed Tartar and Italian descent, Bella Akhmadulina was born in Moscow into a middle-class family. At the age of eighteen she married Yevtushenko, a fellow student at the Gorky Institute of Literature, from which she was expelled. Her second husband was the well-known short-story writer Yuri Nagibin, with whom she collaborated on a film scenario. Her third marriage weas to the playwright and children’s writer Gennadi Mamlin.

Akhmadulina’s first collection, String, was published in 1962 and criticized by the Party as ‘superfluous’, too intimate, etc. It was composed mainly of short lyrics, witty, whimsical, well-turned – strongly influenced by Ahmatova in their sobriety of form and preoccupation with individual emotions. Though Akhmadulina’s work appeared thereafter in magazines and almanacs from time to time, it was not until 1969 that her second collection, Music Lessons, was published. In 1963 a fragment of her long poem ‘A Fairy Tale about the Rain’ was published in Literary Georgia. ‘Rain’ marked a high point and and is still her most ambitious work to date. Since then she appears to have done more translating, especially from Georgian, than original writing, though the indications are that she has again entered a more creative period. Akhmadulina has perhaps major potentialities (Yevtushenko regards her as the foremost woman poet in Russian since the death of Akhmatova). Her work became rapidly more complex after the early short lyrics, and in ‘Rain’ it gained a weight of symbolic meaning that indicates considerable poetic endurance and power. Her subject in this poem, and in many others leading up to it, is nothing less than her relationship to her own poetic inspiration, symbolized by the Rain.

As Christine Rydel says in her illuminating analysis of Akhmadulina’s symbolic system, ‘The Metapoetical World of Bella Akhmadulina’ (Russian Literature Triquarterly, No.1): ‘Where most poets look to love for inspiration, Akhmudalina looks to inspiration for love.’ Like Tsvetayeva, with whom, as in ‘Music Lessons’ and ‘I Swear’, she identifies explicitly, Akhmadulina is uncomfortable, uneasy in the world. There is a plaintive, complaining tone to all this that can be irritating, but her verbal power, her technical accomplishment, allied to her capacity, by remote control as it were, to enter into and share in the destiny of her distinguished women predecessors, accurately and agonizingly conveys the struggle of creativity in an alienating environment.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.227- 228, Post-War Russian Poetry (1974), ed. Daniel Weissbort , published by Penguin Books Ltd.
‘Bella Akhmadulina: Meeting in the Ostankino Concert Studio’ (1976)‎. It’s about an hour and a half long featuring her doing recitals of her poetry and talking about various subjects. If you have time it’s worth watching (It’s in Russian obviously but the auto-translated subtitles will let you get the gist of many parts).

Among Akhmadulina’s ancestors on her mother’s side were Italians who settled in Russia, including the professional revolutionary Aleksandr Stopani, after whom a street in Moscow was named. On her father’s side were Tatars. In 1955, when her first verses were published in the journal Oktiabr’, it was immediately obvious that a real poet had come on the scene. She entered the Gorky Literary Institute the same year and became its queen. All of the young poets there were in love with her, including the compiler of this anthology who became her first husband. Her talent was also admired by poets of the older generation – Pavel Antokolsky, Mikhail Svetlov and Vladimir Lugovskoi. She encountered Boris Pasternak once while walking down a country path; he recognized her and invited her to visit him the next day when guests were coming, but she was too shy and respectful to come.

After mastering the assonant “Yevtushenko” rhyme, she took a sharp turn in the opposite direction, into whispers, rustling indeterminacy, and, at times, such intimacy as to be incomprehensible. Many of her major poems establish links to the memory on the great Russian poets on the past, especially Marina Tsvetaeva, Osip Mandelstam and Aleksandr Pushkin.

With Anna Akhmatova’s death, Akhmadulina became known as the most brilliant woman poet writing in Russian. She is an absolute sorceress with poetic form, though she has a tendency to spin intricate verbal webs. Probably no one in Russian poetry at the present has such an innate feeling for words. Akhmadulina’s poetry is somewhat private and she has a reputation of being apolitical, as assessment that misses the point. One can discern in such poems as “I Swear”, “St. Bartholomew’s Night,” and “A Fairy Tale About Rain” a social conscience permeated with a hatred for the vile politics that degrades people. Her fragile, gentle hand has signed any and all letters in defense of dissidents or anyone in trouble in the Soviet system. She was unafraid to cross police lines to visit Sakharov while he was in exile.

Akhmadulina writes elegant prose, placing refinement of language above all else, as she does with her poetry. She was awarded the State Prize for literature in 1989 and was the first of her generation to be elected an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

Biographical information about Akhmadulina, p.873 – 874, ‘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.

‘На что мне ночи, полные вина…’ (‘Of What Use To Me…’) by Nina Grachova

Of what use to me are the nights full of wine,
and stars over the rusty rowan bush?
As though by barded wire, I’m fenced in
by the huge Russian Empire.
And among her holy fools and dunces
and among her serfs – I suffer for her.
It is not the whips’ and cannons’ power I revere,
but the anguish of the land.
And this pain, this bliss
which is called my motherland,
grain by grain I put down in my notebook,
so that later I won’t reproach myself
with not having learned by heart
this cart-horse tongue, these dialects
that hide wolfish sadness,
drunken delirium, and human torment…

by Нина Владимировна Грачёва
(Nina Vladimirovna Grachova
a.k.a Nina Vladimirovna Grachyova
a.k.a Nina Vladimirovna Grachiova)
from Строфы века (Stanza of the Century)
(1990)
translated by Nina Kossman

На что мне ночи, полные вина…

На что мне ночи, полные вина,
И звёзды над кустом рябины ржавой?
Как проволокой, я обнесена
Российскою огромною державой, –
И средь юродивых её, и средь шутов,
И средь холопов – всё терзаюсь ею,
И не пред властью пушек и кнутов,
А пред тоской земли благоговею.
И эту кару или благодать,
Что называется моей отчизной,
Я по крупице заношу в тетрадь,
Дабы не говорили с укоризной,
Что я не заучила наизусть
Сей ломовой язык, сии наречья,
В которых затаилась волчья грусть,
Хмельной угар и мука человечья…

Additional information: There is little information about her it seems. Boris Dralyuk recently did a post about her covering her poem Шпионка (Spy) about Mata Hari. A list of her poems is available to view on this Russian poetry site if you are able to read Russian.

An interesting thing I noticed is that the ‘Twentieth-Century Russian Poetry’ anthology, compiled by Yevgeny Yevtushenko and printed in 1993, I referenced gives her date of birth as 1971 when the few other source I’ve found give it as 1969. In the anthology’s brief biography of her it states “Grachova was discovered by the editor E. C. Lashkin, a great connoisseur of poetry whose efforts sometime earlier had succeeded in the printing of Bulgakov’s great novel The Master and Margarita. Even at age fifteen it was already clear that Grachova possessed a divine gift. Her poems are uniquely religious, with a faith that incorporates nature, personal feeling, and poetry“.

А вы могли бы? (What about You?) by Vladimir Mayakovsky

I splintered the landscape of midday

by splashing colours from a tumbler.

I charted on a tray of aspic

the slanting cheekbones of Atlantis.

Upon the scales of an iron turbot,

I found ladies’ lips, aloof.

And you, could you have played a nocturne

using a drainpipe for a flute?

.

by Владимир Владимирович Маяковский
Vladimir Vladimirovich Mayakovsky
(1913)
translation by Maria Enzensberger

Mayakovsky’s poem recited by Veniamin Borisovich Smekhov

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

А вы могли бы?

Я сразу смазал карту будня,
плеснувши краску из стакана;
я показал на блюде студня
косые скулы океана.
На чешуе жестяной рыбы
прочел я зовы новых губ.
А вы
ноктюрн сыграть
могли бы
на флейте водосточных труб?

Бог (God) by Boris Slutsky

We all walked in god’s shadow
we were there at his very side.
He lived in no far-off heaven
and appeared in the flesh sometimes.
On the top of the Mausoleum.
More clever and evil he was
than the god he’d deposed
named Jehovah, whom he had dashed
down, murdered, turned into ash;
though later he raised him up
and gave him some corner table.
We all walked in god’s shadow
we were there at his very side.
I was walking down Arbat once, when
god was out in his five cars, and
bent double with fear, his guards
in their miserable mousey coats
were trembling there at his side.
Too late or too early: it was
turning grey. Into morning light.
His gaze was cruel and wise.
All-seeing the glance of his eyes.
We all walked in god’s shadow.
We were almost there at his side.

.

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий
(Boris Abramovich Slutsky)
(19??)
translated by Elaine Feinstein

The first stanza is recited from 1.11 onwards by Alla Demidova.

.

Additional information: The poem is about the image of Lenin and mentions his mausoleum which still entombed him to this day just outside the walls of the Kremlin in Moscow.

The Arbat is is a pedestrian street about one kilometer long in the historical centre of Moscow, Russia since at least the 15th century, which makes it one of the oldest surviving streets of the Russian capital. It forms the heart of the Arbat District of Moscow.

.

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

Бог

Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Он жил не в небесной дали,
Его иногда видали
Живого. На Мавзолее.
Он был умнее и злее
Того — иного, другого,
По имени Иегова…
Мы все ходили под богом.
У бога под самым боком.
Однажды я шел Арбатом,
Бог ехал в пяти машинах.
От страха почти горбата
В своих пальтишках мышиных
Рядом дрожала охрана.
Было поздно и рано.
Серело. Брезжило утро.
Он глянул жестоко, — мудро
Своим всевидящим оком,
Всепроницающим взглядом.

Мы все ходили под богом.
С богом почти что рядом.
И срам, и ужас
От ужаса, а не от страха,
от срама, а не от стыда
насквозь взмокала вдруг рубаха,
шло пятнами лицо тогда.
А страх и стыд привычны оба.
Они вошли и в кровь, и в плоть.
Их даже
дня
умеет
злоба
преодолеть и побороть.
И жизнь являет, поднатужась,
бесстрашным нам,
бесстыдным нам
не страх какой-нибудь, а ужас,
не стыд какой-нибудь, а срам.

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.