Flies Like Thoughts by Innokenty Annensky

Flies, like black thoughts, have not quit me all day…

A. N. Apukhtin (1840 – 93)

 

I’ve grown weary of sleeplessness, dreams.

Locks of hair hang over my eyes:

I would like, with the poison of rhymes,

to drug thoughts I cannot abide.

 

I would like to unravel these knots…

Or is the whole thing a mistake?

In late autumn the flies are such pests –

their cold wings so horribly sticky.

 

Fly-thoughts crawl about, as in dreams,

they cover the paper in black…

Oh, how dead, and how dreadful they seem…

Tear them up, burn them up – quick!

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1904)

translated by Boris Dralyuk

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Коршун (The Kite) by Alexander Blok

Over the empty fields a black kite hovers,

and circle after circle smoothly weaves.

In the poor hut, over her son in a cradle

a mother grieves:

‘There suck my breast: there, grow and take our bread,

and learn to bear your cross and bow your head.’

 

Time passes. War returns. Rebellion rages.

The farms and villages go up in flame,

and Russia in her ancient tear-stained beauty,

is yet the same,

unchanged through all the ages. How long will

the mother grieve and the kite circle still?

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(22 March 1916)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


Fun fact: As you can tell from the date this was written into the lead up to the Russian Revolution. To be more exact, during the early months of 1916, there were increasing food and fuel shortages and increasingly high prices. Thus the Progressive Bloc was formed. Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort was still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict caused starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blamed the incompetence of the Tsar and his government. This lead, later in the year, to increasing strikes which are supported by the military who declare they won’t protect the Tsar from a revolution – which would be successful in October 1917 after many further events and internal conflicts.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

The original Russian text in Cyrillic:

Чертя за кругом плавный круг,
Над сонным лугом коршун кружит
И смотрит на пустынный луг. —
В избушке мать над сыном тужит:
«На́ хлеба, на́, на́ грудь, соси,
Расти, покорствуй, крест неси».

Идут века, шумит война,
Встаёт мятеж, горят деревни,
А ты всё та ж, моя страна,
В красе заплаканной и древней. —
Доколе матери тужить?
Доколе коршуну кружить?

Dances of Death [Excerpt] by Alexander Blok

Night, lantern, side street, drugstore,

a mindless, pallid light.

Live on for twenty years or more –

it’ll be the same; there’s no way out.

 

Try being reborn – start life anew.

All’s still as boring and banal.

Lantern, side street, drugstore, a few

shivering ripples on the canal.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1912)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘June Would Be Clammy, January Crisp’ by Boris Slutsky

June would be clammy, January crisp;

and concrete solid, sand unstable.

For there was order. Real order.

 

People got up and went to work.

And then they watched The Happy Fellas

at cinemas. For there was order.

 

In pedigrees and in parades,

political police, and apparatus,

even in parodies – there was order.

 

People made fun, and were afraid,

only of those they were supposed to,

for there was order, real order.

 

An order of the bent and bashed.

In hours, in minutes, and in seconds,

in years as well, there was real order.

 

It would have gone on without end,

but then a certain person fell,

and all this order went to hell.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by G. S. Smith


Fun facts: Obviously the ‘certain person’ was Stalin and his era of terror where indeed there was order, compared to the era of thaw, but I was surprised to find actually ‘The Happy Fellas’ actually does exist! It is the 1934 film Веселые ребята a.k.a. ‘Jolly Fellows’ or ‘Funny Boys’ depending on how you choose to translate the title.

Jolly Fellows (Russian: Весёлые ребята Vesyolye rebyata), also translated as Happy-Go-Lucky Guys, Moscow Laughs and Jazz Comedy, is a 1934 Soviet musical film, directed by Grigori Aleksandrov and starring his wife Lyubov Orlova, a gifted singer and the first recognized star of Soviet cinema.

The script was written by Aleksandrov, Vladimir Mass, and Nikolai Erdman (whose father briefly appears on screen as a German music teacher). It features several songs which instantly became classics across the Soviet Union. The most famous song — “Kak mnogo devushek khoroshikh” (Such a lot of nice girls) — enjoyed international fame, covered as “Serdtse” (Heart) by Pyotr Leshchenko. Music was by Isaak Dunayevsky, the lyrics were written by the Soviet poet Vasily Lebedev-Kumach.

Both Orlova and her co-star, the jazz singer and comic actor Leonid Utyosov, were propelled to stardom after this movie.

Slutsky, of course, is mocking how the film is sacchrine, state sanctioned, sanitised humorous entertainment with no challenging elements or anything that might make the audience think about their social hardships they are living through during Stalin’s era of non-conforming people being made to ‘disappear’ for speaking or acting out, gulags and starvation. Everything is fine citizen, watch the film and feel good about life… everything is in order. No one deviates, no one transgresses, no one thinks or acts differently. There is order – or else!

Маки (Poppies) by Innokenty Annensky

The gay day flames. The grass is still.

Like greedy impotence, poppies rise,

like lips that lust and poison fill,

like wings of scarlet butteflies.

 

The gay day flames… The garden now

is empty. Lust and feast are done.

Like heads of hags, the poppies bow

beneath the bright cup of the sun.

 

by Иннокентий Фёдорович Анненский (Innokenty Fyodorovich Annensky)

(1910)

translated by C. M. Bowra


 

Fun extra: Here is the poem performed in Russian.

‘I Love A Despairing Peace…’ by Georgy Ivanov

I love a despairing peace:

chrysanthemum blossoms in fall,

lights adrift in a river of mist,

a sunset that has turned pale,

nameless graves, all the clichés

of a Symbolist ‘wordless romance’ –

what Annensky loved with such greed

and Gumilyov couldn’t stand.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1954)

translated by Robert Chandler

To Osip Mandelstam by Marina Tsvetaeva

Nothing’s been taken away!

We’re apart – I’m delighted by this!

Across the hundreds of miles

that divide us, I send you my kiss.

 

Our gifts, I know, are unequal.

For the first time my voice is still.

What, my young Derzhavin, do

you make of my doggrel?

 

For your terrible flight I baptized you –

young eagle, it’s time to take wing!

You endured the sun without blinking,

but my gaze – that’s a different thing!

 

None ever watched your departure

more tenderly than this

or more finally. Across hundreds

of summers, I send you my kiss.

 

by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)

(1916)

translated by Peter Oram


 

Fun fact: Her referring to Mandelstam as ‘my young Derzhavin’ references Gavriil (Gavrila) Romanovich Derzhavin (Гавриил (Гаврила) Романович Державин), who was one of the most highly esteemed Russian poets before Alexander Pushkin, as well as a statesman. Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.