Roncesvalles by Varlam Shalamov

I was captivated straight away,

tired of the lies all around me,

by that proud, tragic tale

of a warrior’s death in the mountains.

 

And it may have been Roland’s horn

that called me, like Charlemagne,

to a silent pass where the boldest

of many bold fighters lay slain.

 

I saw a sword lying shattered

after long combat with stone –

a witness to forgotten battles

recorded by stone alone.

 

And those bitter splinters of steel

have dazzled me many a time.

That tale of helpless defeat

can’t help but overwhelm.

 

I have held that horn to my lips

and tried more than once to blow,

but I cannot call up the power

of that ballad from long ago.

 

There may be some skill I’m lacking –

or else I’m not bold enough

to blow in my shy anguish

on Roland’s rust-eaten horn.

 

by Варлам Тихонович Шаламов (Varlam Tikhonovich Shalamov)

(1950?)

translated by Robert Chandler


Fun facts: Shalamov references one of his favourite poems by Marina Tsvetaeva by mentioning Roland’s Horn calling to him.

Roncesvalles is famous in history and legend for the defeat of Charlemagne and the death of Roland in 778, during the battle of Roncevaux Pass, when Charlemagne‘s rear guard was destroyed by Basque tribes. Among those killed in the battle was a relatively obscure Frankish commander, Roland, whose death elevated him and the paladins, the foremost warriors of Charlemagne’s court, into legend, becoming the quintessential role model for knights and also greatly influencing the code of chivalry in the Middle Ages. There are numerous written works about the battle, some of which change and exaggerate events. The battle is recounted in the 11th century The Song of Roland, the oldest surviving major work of French literature, and in Orlando Furioso, one of the most celebrated works of Italian literature.

‘Perechin sat on a thumbtack…’ by Daniil Kharms

Perechin sat on a thumbtack, and from that moment his life changed drastically. Ordinarily a thoughtful, quiet person, Perechin transformed into a typical scoundrel. He grew out his mustache and from that point onwards trimmed them with exceptional clumsiness, so that one of his mustaches was always longer than the other. And, generally speaking, his mustache grew a bit crooked. It became impossible to even look at Perechin. Adding to that, he got in the habit of winking and jerking his jowl in the most loathsome manner. For a while, Perechin limited himself to petty baseness: he gossiped, he ratted, and he cheated tram conductors by paying them in the smallest bronze coins and always underpaying by two or even three kopecks.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(Wednesday, 14 October 1940)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich

‘Help me, O Lord, through this night’ by Osip Mandelstam

Help me, O Lord, through this night.

I fear for life, your slave.

To live in Peter’s city is to sleep in a grave.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1931)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘To read only children’s tales…’ by Osip Mandelstam

To read only children’s tales

and look through a child’s eye;

to rise from grief and wave

big things goodbye.

 

Life has tired me to death;

life has no more to offer.

But I love my poor earth

since I know no other.

 

I swung in a faraway garden

on a plain plank swing;

I remember tall dark firs

in a feverish blur.

 

by Осип Эмильевич Мандельштам (Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam. His surname is commonly latinised as Mandelstam)

(1908)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘A Man Once Walked Out Of His House’ by Daniil Kharms

A man once walked out of his house

with a walking stick and a sack,

and on he went,

and on he went:

he never did turn back.

 

He walked as far as he could see:

he saw what lay ahead.

He never drank,

he never slept,

nor slept nor drank nor ate.

 

Then once upon a morning

he entered a dark wood

and on that day,

and on that day

he disappeared for good.

 

If anywhere by any chance

you meet him in his travels,

then hurry please

then hurry please,

then hurry please and tell us.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(1937)

translated by Matvei Yankelevich and Eugene Ostashevsky

The Four-Legged Crow by Daniil Kharms

There once lived a four-legged crow. Properly speaking, it had five legs, but this isn’t worth talking about.

So once this four-legged crow brought itself some coffee and thought, “OK, so I bought coffee, what I am supposed to do with it now?”

Just then, unfortunately, a fox was running by. The fox saw the crow and shouted. “Hey,” it shouted, “you crow!”

And the crow shouted back: “Crow yourself!”

And the fox shouted to the crow: “You’re a pig, crow, that’s what you are!”

The Crow was so insulted it scattered the coffee. And the fox ran off. And the crow climbed down and went on its four, or to be more precise, five legs to its lousy house.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

a.k.a. Даниил Иванович Ювачёв (Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachov)

(13 February, 1938)

translated by Eugene Ostashevsky

A Concrete Salesman Always Seals The Deal

Once there was a meeting of townsfolk people with many concerns. Each came to the meeting looking for answers but alas the town council had no answers. They too had given up hope unlike a bland looking man in a bland grey suit with bland well-worn grey shoes entered from the rear of the town hall. Oh what a marvel, oh what a wonder, he had an answer to all the town’s woes. And so began his pitch:

Ladies and gentlemen, fear not for I have the answer! Step right up and I will solve your issues with this wonder substance! I’ve heard it all before and I have the answer in this bucket of dust!

‘There’s a hole in my wall but I can’t afford to rebuild it’ – Why not seal it with cheap affordable concrete?
‘My garden is overgrown’ – Cover it over with concrete and you will have an all year round useable surface. Why not park your car on it?

‘I’ve lost my teeth’ – why not use concrete to grind down your food and drink the remains like a thick soup? (Do not take our product orally).

‘My dead pet, child, lover, mother and/or significant other smells’ – why not dig a hole in the ground and cover it in concrete? That will stop the smell and preserve your beloved for the ages.

‘I fear fire’ – why not create a fireproof yurt made from non-flammable concrete. Guaranteed to last for years to come rain or shine surviving multiple arson attempts!

‘I’m colour blind’ – No fear! Concrete is one colour fits all! And even if you have the colour perception of a dog you are seeing concrete at its full colour range like everyone else so no fear of embarrassment calling grey grey! Don’t like the all-natural colour? Then why not paint it any colour you like! The sky’s the limit!

‘My fruit floats on top of the water, I think it might have gone off’ – Well that can be solved by a few hours submerged in concrete. With a fine few inches of concrete applied to the exterior anything will sink to the bottom of the ocean… why even that guy across the road you don’t like who you know is a stool pigeon who ratted you out to the cops about your illegal gambling den in the garden shed! Got gambling debts? It’ll get rid of them too! (Not that we here representing the Concrete Union of Nationalised Tradesmen Society endorse such actions).

‘I’m cold’ – Another wonder cure through the application of concrete! Lo with just a jacket of concrete you will never have to worry about the temperature being too high or low every again during the rest of your life!

‘I’m tired’ – why not make yourself a fine heat retaining bench slab of concrete and lounge like a lizard taking in the sun. Don’t like the sun? Build a cover with our multipurpose product! It is just the versatile!

‘My car is constantly being stolen’ – Why not put the wheels in a protective casing of concrete! It’ll ensure no one will take you precious vehicle anywhere ever again! Put all your valuables in concrete! Hide them from prying eyes and ensure their safety! Security guaranteed!

‘I have no friends’ – Why not make one? Why just like the golem of Prague you too can make a lifelong friend with your own hands! Why it will be even longer lasting that that old clay golem! Fed up of life? Just pour it down your throat and immortalise yourself with the piece of artwork it produces mapping out the network of your digestive and respiratory system!
‘I’m lazy, I don’t want to be cleaning things constantly’ – Our product needs no upkeep! As soon as it’s in use it keeps on trucking by itself no hands on assistance or maintenance necessary!

Stops weeds, stops sunburn, preserves food hides unsightly blemishes and loved ones for a lifetime! It does it all ladies and gentlemen – Just add water! You can swim in it, sleep in it, Live in it, laugh in it, love in it – it is the miracle substance of our era!

Now whether you think the salesman made a killing or was run out of town is up to you… Personally I reckon he’s out there right now, laying down the same pitch, seeing what comes of it, like many an ornery wandering merchant selling his wares out there on the open roads and nothing going to stop him until it’s all gone. Last I heard of the troubled town it all got flattened to the ground, paved over and turned into an industrial park supplying construction tradesmen across the nation.


I do have reviews to post but it is just getting put off… so here is a filler vignette.

This was conceived and written in one sitting. It either sinks or swims as a story idea. As ever with these vignettes I don’t feel I should be polishing them if I am posting them and people can read them for free (or steal them). It was a nice idea though. Thanks for reading if you took the time.

Comment, like, follow – all are welcome!

The Businessman and the Artist: A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time there lived a very poor artist on the roadside from the country to the city. Everyday a very rich businessman would pass him by as her went to work from his country home to his city office.

The car would drive past noisily each day and the fumes from the exhaust would dirty the air outside the roadside shack where the artist lived and worked every day.

One day the businessman stopped and looked at the artist’s wares.

“How much do these cost?” asked the businessman.
“They are free to whomsoever wants them” said the artist.
“I’ll take them all then!” said the businessman.

The next day the businessman came again and again there were pieces on display outside the artist’s home.
“How much will these cost?” he asked again.
“Free to whomsoever wants them” said the artist.
So again the businessman took the lot.

Each day the businessman would take the artist’s works for free and every day the artist would make more because he believed in art for art’s sake.

Every day the businessman, without the artist’s knowledge, would promote the artworks and impress upon people that they were worth something and ensured them one day they would be worth more. He would sell them for lots and lots of money but he never gave the artist a penny. Each day the artist would create more pieces just for the sake of art itself for people to enjoy but never ask for payment not even a penny.

Each and every day this continued for a long, long time. The businessman would arrive in his car and ask “How much do these cost?” and each and every day the artist would reply “Free to whomsoever wants them” before the businessman would take the lot.

The businessman got more and more rich and more and more greedy. The artist got more and more poor ad more and more sick. More and more people wanted the artworks so the businessman sold them more and more and not one penny did he give the artist.

One day the businessman approached the artist and asked “How much will it cost for you to produce more?”
“I can only produce so much a day” said the artist.
“But people want more so you must make more!” demanded the businessman.
“I cannot do that”, replied the artist, “each piece takes the time it takes to make. I can make no more than I already do.”
“But you must” insisted the businessman. “People want these artworks. I can give them so you need not leave your home”.
The artist considered this and accepted what the business man said.

So the artist made more and more art each and every day for free while the businessman made more and more money selling them for more and more money. More and more the artist struggled to keep up with demand and more and more the businessman pushed the artist to produce even more and more art pieces for him to sell.

One day the businessman arrived in his car and saw no artwork. He looked at the road and there were no artworks. He looked in the doorway of the roadside shack where the artist resided and found no artworks. He looked behind the curtain that separated the bed of the artist from the rest of the room and found no artworks.

What he did find was the artist. The artist was dead. Dead from overwork. Dead from exhaustion. Dead because he could not keep up with the demand the businessman placed on him.

The businessman was very sad. What would he do? The source of the artwork was gone. What could he do? If someone found out the artist was dead they would tell the people who owned the artworks he had sold them? What should he do? He went and made sure to collect everything the poor artist owned and hid it away so no one would find it.

So the artist was dead. The businessman told everyone he knew the artist was dead. They were all very sad too that the artist was dead.

Then the businessman told everyone he knew that he had the last works of the artist. He showed them to his investors, he showed them to those who bought the others and he showed them to important people in order to impress them with how cultured he was. He showed them to whomsoever wanted to look and admire them. But they could not have them!

No, because these were the last works of the artist and so very, very, precious they were! They were, after all, the pension investment the businessman now had made for his retirement! He would keep them for himself and no one would ever, ever, own them except him as long as they became more and more valuable over time.

When he was very, very, old he would take them out of the dark, cold, lonely vault where he had stored them and he would sell them. By then they would be very, very, valuable and only then would he sell them to whomsoever wanted them, if they could afford them, and he would live happily ever after.

The end.


😦

An Edward Gorey kind of story…

A cautionary tale to not give away your talent for free as people will not appreciate it and only expect more of you. The artist paid for his artistry with his life and the businessman paid for his business acumen with his humanity. A rather dark, if realistic, morality lesson then. More akin to the German Marchen (wonder tale) albeit without any fantastical elements present. A morality tale perhaps is the most astute term to use. or an Aesop like fable… It’s a vignette… let’s leave it at that.

I did not edit it very well and went overboard with the repetition we nowadays expect in classic fairy tales.
I dreamt this up years ago but only now have I bothered to write it down. This is the first and likely only draft of this story.

Opinions? Comments? More than welcome.