Ordeal [Extract] by Olga Berggolts

[…] And once again

you will have the strength

to see and recognize

how all you have ever loved

will begin to torment you.

And at once, like a werewolf,

a friend will appear

before you and slander you,

and another will push you away.

And the temptations will start:

‘Renounce! Disavow! Forswear!’

And your soul will writhe

in the grip of anguish and fear.

And you will have the strength,

once again, to repeat one thing:

‘I forswear nothing – nothing –

of all I have lived my life by.’

And once again, remembering

these days, you will have the strength

to cry out to all you have loved:

‘Come back! Come back to me!’

 

by Ольга Фёдоровна Берггольц (Olga Fyodorovna Berggolts)

a.k.a. Olga Fyodorovna Bergholz

(January 1939, Cell 33)

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.

In December 1938 she was imprisoned for several months and was only released after suffering a miscarriage from being beaten during interrogations. The above extract is from one of her prison poems.

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When A Man Dies by Anna Akhmatova

When a man dies

His portraits change.

His eyes look at you

Differently and his lips smile

A different smile. I noticed this

Returning from a poet’s funeral.

Since then I have seen it verified

Often and my theory is true.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940

– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)

– translation by D. M. Thomas

Do You Forgive Me These November Days? by Anna Akhmatova

Do you forgive me these November days?

In canals around the Neva fires fragment.

Scant is tragic autumn’s finery.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

November 1913, St Petersburg

from Четки (Rosary, Beads)

translation by D. M. Thomas

Hay Square, 6 p.m. by Nikolay Alexeyevich

Hay Square, 6 p.m.;

a woman was being whipped.

Young, and a peasant woman.

Not a sound from her lips.

 

Not a whisper anywhere

but this whip and its whistle.

I said to my Muse,

‘Your sister!’

 

by Николай Алексеевич Некрасов (Nikolay Alexeyevich Nekrasov)

(1848)

translated by Robert Chandler

Farewell, Dear Friend, Farewell by Sergey Yesenin

Farewell, dear friend, farewell –

you’re present in my heart.

We’ll meet again, the stars foretell,

though now we have to part.

 

Goodbye for now, goodbye, dear friend –

no handshake, words or grief.

To die is nothing new – but then,

what new is there in life?

 

by Сергей Александрович Есенин (Sergei Alexandrovich Yesenin)

a.k.a. Sergey Yesenin / Esenin

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler and Anthony Rudolf

Not so fun facts about the poem’s composition: On 28 of December in 1925 Yesenin was found dead in the room in the Hotel Angleterre in St Petersburg. His last poem Goodbye my friend, goodbye (До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья) according to Wolf Ehrlich was written by him the day before he died. Yesenin complained that there was no ink in the room, and he was forced to write with his blood. According to the consensus among academic researchers of Yesenin’s life, the poet was in a state of depression a week after he escaped from a mental clinic and committed suicide by hanging. A theory exists that Yesenin’s death was actually a murder by OGPU agents who staged it to look like suicide.


Original Russian version:

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья

До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья.
Милый мой, ты у меня в груди.
Предназначенное расставанье
Обещает встречу впереди.
До свиданья, друг мой, без руки, без слова,
Не грусти и не печаль бровей,-
В этой жизни умирать не ново,
Но и жить, конечно, не новей.

We Had Thought We Were Beggars by Anna Akhmatova

We had thought we were beggars,

with nothing at all,

but as loss followed loss

and each day

became a day of memorial,

we began to make songs

about the Lord’s generosity

and our bygone wealth.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

a.k.a. Anna Gorenko

(1915, St Petersburg, Trinity Bridge)

translated by Robert Chandler