‘We’re All Boozers And Floozies Here’ by Anna Akhmatova

We’re all boozers and floozies here,

altogether a joyless crowd!

On the walls, the flowers and birds

yearn for clouds.

 

You sit puffing your black pipe;

smoke is rising; strange and dim.

This tight skirt makes me look

slimmer than slim.

 

The windows boarded up for good –

what’s out there? Lightning? Snow?

Like those of a cautious cat

your eyes glow.

 

What is my heart longing for?

Am I waiting for Death’s knell?

And the woman dancing now

is bound for Hell.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

a.k.a. Anna Gorenko

(1913)

translated by  Margo Shohl Rosen

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‘I Began To Grow Old’ by Alexander Mezhirov

I began to grow old

when I turned forty-four,

and at the eating place on the corner,

I was already taken

for a lonely retiree,

forgotten

by every soul

on earth,

forsaken by his children

and ignored by the rest of his kin.

 

Well, this is the law of life, isn’t it?

Yet I confess

that at first,

Whenever I entered the place

and looked around

for a vacant table,

this circumstance depressed me.

But later

I found in it

the emergency exit in the building called life.

 

Yes, I submerged

into the muffled hubbub of voices

of that place

in almost a cellar,

where my ailing spirit

was strangely healed,

as I carried a pea soup

on a quavering piece of plastic,

a spoon, a fork and a knife,

still dripping,

and a hunk of bread on a plate –

also wet.

 

I came to love

those

crudely panelled

walls,

that line to the counter,

the trays

and the meagre menu card.

‘Blessed are,’

I muttered,

‘Blessed are,

Blessed are,

Blessed are…’

That blessed squalor

I shall never betray.

 

I came to love

the defeat at the game of life,

and the faded traces

of decorations

on old uniforms

and I could now enter

the world of shadows just like another shadow,

without farewell salvos,

solemn faces,

or fuss.

 

by Александр Петрович Межиров (Alexander Petrovich Mezhirov)

a.k.a. Alexandre Petrovitch Mejirov

(1973)

translated by Lev Navrozov

‘Moscow Who Are You?’ by Velimir Khlebnikov

Moscow, who are you?

Enchantress or enchanted?

Forger of freedom

or fettered lady?

What thought furrows your brow

as you plot your worldwide plot?

Are you a shining window

into another age?

O Moscow, are you femme fatale

or fetter-fated,

fated or fêted?

Does scholarship decree

your crucifixion

beneath the razorblades of clever scholars

frozen over an old book

as pupils stand around their desk?

O daughter of other centuries,

powder keg,

explosion of your fetters.

 

by Велимир Хлебников (Velimir Khlebnikov)

a.k.a. Виктор Владимирович Хлебников

(Viktor Vladimirovich Khlebnikov)

(1921)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘You Took Me’ by Olga Berggolts

You took me –

I was sullen, without affection,

with only black thoughts

and convict ravings

and a widow’s unhealed anguish

and a past love that wasn’t past

You took me as a wife –

not for joy’s sake,

not of your own accord

but out of love.

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(1942)

translated by Robert Chandler


A Soviet poet, writer, playwright and journalist. She is most famous for her work on the Leningrad radio during the city’s blockade, when she became the symbol of city’s strength and determination.

Epigram by Anna Akhmatova

Here the loveliest of young women fight

for the honour of marrying the hangmen;

here the righteous are tortured at night

and the resolute worn down by hunger

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1928)

translated by Robert Chandler

They Say We Plough Shallow by Varlam Shalamov

They say we plough shallow,

always tripping and slipping,

but it’s hard to plough boldly

on the soil we’ve been given.

 

We plough in a graveyard

just tickling the topsoil,

afraid our blades may turn up

bones of dead people.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1955?)

translated by Robert Chandler

Civil War [Extract] by Maximilian Voloshin

And from the ranks of both armies –

the same voice the same refrain:

‘He who is not with us is against us.

You must take sides. Justice is ours.’

 

And I stand alone in the midst of them,

Amidst the roar of fire and smoke,

And pray with all my strength for those

who fight on this side , and on that side.

 

by  Макс Волошин (Max Voloshin)

a.k.a. Максимилиан Александрович Кириенко-Волошин

(Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin)

(1919)

translated by Robert Chandler