Гражданская война (Civil War) by Maksimilian Voloshin

Some rose from the underground,
Some from exile, factories, mines,
Poisoned by suspicious freedom
And the bitter smoke of cities.
Others from military ranks,
From noblemen’s ravished nests,
Where to the country churchyard
They carried dead fathers and brothers.
In some even now is not extinguished
The intoxication of immemorial conflagrations;
And the wild free spirit of the steppe,
Of both the Razins and the Kudaiars, lives on.
In others, deprived of all roots, is
The torn fabric and sad discord of our days –
The putrefied spirit of the Neva capital,
Tolstoy and Chekhov, Dostoyevsky.
Some raise on placards
Their ravings about bourgeois evil,
About the radiant pure proletariat,
A Philistine paradise on earth.
In others is all the blossom and rot of empires,
All the gold, all the decay of ideas,
The splendor of all great fetishes,
And of all scientific superstition.
Some go to liberate
Moscow and forge Russia anew,
Others, after unleashing the elements,
Want to remake the entire world.
In these and in others war inspires
Anger, greed, the dark intoxication of wild outbursts –
And in a greedy pack the plunderer
Afterward steals to heroes and leaders
In order to break up and sell out to enemies
The wondrously beautiful might of Russia,
To let rot piles of wheat,
To dishonor her heavens,
To devour her riches, incinerate her forests,
And suck dry her seas and ore.
And the thunder of battles will not cease
Across all the expanses of the southern steppes
Amid the golden splendor
Of harvests trampled by horses.
Both here and there among the ranks
Resounds one and the same voice:
“Who is not with us is against us!”
“No one is indifferent, truth is with us!”
And I stand one among them
In the howling flame and smoke
And with all my strength
I pray for them and for the others.

by Максимилиа́н Алекса́ндрович Воло́шин
(Maksimilian Voloshin)
(22 November 1920)
from the cycle ‘Strife
with Wrangel
Koktebel, Crimea
translated by Albert C. Todd

Гражданская война

Одни восстали из подполий,
Из ссылок, фабрик, рудников,
Отравленные тёмной волей
И горьким дымом городов.

Другие — из рядов военных,
Дворянских разорённых гнёзд,
Где проводили на погост
Отцов и братьев убиенных.

В одних доселе не потух
Хмель незапамятных пожаров,
И жив степной, разгульный дух
И Разиных, и Кудеяров.

В других — лишённых всех корней —
Тлетворный дух столицы Невской:
Толстой и Чехов, Достоевский —
Надрыв и смута наших дней.

Одни возносят на плакатах
Свой бред о буржуазном зле,
О светлых пролетариатах,
Мещанском рае на земле…

В других весь цвет, вся гниль империй,
Всё золото, весь тлен идей,
Блеск всех великих фетишей
И всех научных суеверий.

Одни идут освобождать
Москву и вновь сковать Россию,
Другие, разнуздав стихию,
Хотят весь мир пересоздать.

В тех и в других война вдохнула
Гнев, жадность, мрачный хмель разгула,
А вслед героям и вождям
Крадётся хищник стаей жадной,
Чтоб мощь России неоглядной
Pазмыкать и продать врагам:

Cгноить её пшеницы груды,
Её бесчестить небеса,
Пожрать богатства, сжечь леса
И высосать моря и руды.

И не смолкает грохот битв
По всем просторам южной степи
Средь золотых великолепий
Конями вытоптанных жнитв.

И там и здесь между рядами
Звучит один и тот же глас:
«Кто не за нас — тот против нас.
Нет безразличных: правда с нами».

А я стою один меж них
В ревущем пламени и дыме
И всеми силами своими
Молюсь за тех и за других.

The poem, in it’s original Russian form, recited by Boris Chenitsa.

Addition information: Voloshin‘s poem – published on the centenary (plus one year) of the poem’s creation!

The ‘with Wrangel’ mentioned in the poem’s accreditation I believe refers to Pyotr Wrangel who was a Russian officer of Baltic German origin in the Imperial Russian Army. During the later stages of the Russian Civil War, he was commanding general of the anti-Bolshevik White Army in Southern Russia. After his side lost the civil war in 1920, he left Russia. He was known as one of the most prominent exiled White émigrés and military leader of the South Russia (as commander in chief).

Razin refers to Stepan (Stenka) Razin (ca. 1630 – 1671), a Don Cossack who led a peasant rebellion in 1670 – 1671. Celebrated in folk songs and folktales, he was captured and publicly quartered alive.

According to my book’s notes “Kudaiar refers to a legendary brigand celebrated in folk songs”. However translating it myself from the Russian root Кудеяр it is actually better Latinised/transliterated to Kudeyar regarding a Russian legendary folk hero whose story is told in Nikolay Kostomarov‘s 1875 novel of the same name. It should be noted there were apparently several Cossack robbers who adopted this name. In a letter to tsar Ivan IV a Muscovite boyar, from Crimea, reported that “there is only one brigand left here – the accursed Kudeyar“. The name is apparently Persian, composed of two elements standing for “God” and “man”.

The Neva capital refers to St Petersburg. Its location on the Neva River was the constant feature of the capital, whose name was changing from St Petersburg to Petrograd to Leningrad during the era.

Koktebel is an urban-type settlement and one of the most popular resort townlets in South-Eastern Crimea. It is situated on the shore of the Black Sea about halfway between Feodosia and Sudak and is subordinated to the Feodosia Municipality. It is best known for its literary associations as Voloshin made it his residence, where he entertained many distinguished guests, including Marina Tsvetayeva, Osip Mandelshtam, and Andrey Bely (who died there). They all wrote remarkable poems in Koktebel. Another prominent literary resident of Koktebel was Ilya Ehrenburg who lived there circa 1919 while escaping from anti-Semitic riots in Kiev.

Voloshin, whose real surname was Kirilenko-Voloshin, was born into a noble family that included Zaporozhskie Cossacks and Germans Russified in the seventeenth century. He studied law at Moscow University, though he was unable to complete a degree because of his participation in student protests in 1898. He continued to study extensively in Paris from 1903 to 1917 and traveled throughout Europe and Russia. Voloshin settled in Russia for good in 1917, just before the February Revolution, and spent the rest of his years in Koktebel in the Crimea.

Voloshin always stood alone against literary currents and intrigues. The hospitality of his home in Koktebel, which has been turned into a museum, was open to all; during the Civil War both a Red leader and a White officer found refuge in it. Voloshin’s position was neutral but not indifferent, for he condemned but the excesses of the Red Terror and the bloody actions of the White Guards. His response to the Revolution, however, never slipped into spite or petty argument or pessimism, as did the opinions of many of his literary colleagues. His response was much like Aleksandr Blok’s poem “The Twelve” (see page 71), in which a white apparition of Christ rises above the Red Guards marching through a blizzard.

Voloshin based his writing to a large extent on French poetic models, but in his best works – particularly in the Civil War period – he freed himself from literariness and plunged into the maelstrom of Russian events. In these poems he tried hard to stand above the conflict, “praying for the one side as much as for the other”. Nevertheless, his sympathies were not on the side of obsolete tsarism but with the future of Russia, its people, and its culture. His celebrated poem “Holy Russia” was misinterpreted by Proletkult critics as anti-Bolshevik; its lines “You yielded to passion’s beckoning call / And gave yourself to bandit and to thief” refer not only to the Bolsheviks but to the gangs of anarchist-bandits who roamed through Russia. Voloshin’s interpretation of Russian history is controversial, subjective, and sometimes mystical, but it always conveys an undoubting faith that Russia will emerge from its fiery baptism purified and renewed.

By the time of his return to Russia from Paris in 1917, Voloshin had become a sophisticated European intellectual, more philosophical, and more socially and historically minded. Enormous intellectual and artistic daring was needed for him to call Peter the Great the “first Bolshevik.” After his return, his poetry became viewed by Soviet critics with dogmatic narrowness and in the latter years of his life went unpublished. A single-volume Soviet edition of Voloshin’s work in 1977 unfortunately made him appear an aesthete, not the chronicler of the civil war of Russia. Yet it was in the latter role that he grew into a great poet; indeed, a series of definitions from his poem “Russia” could serve as a philosophic textbook for the study of the nation’s history. Voloshin made himself a great poet by never succumbing to indifference, by his understanding of the historical laws of a social explosion, and by his courage to bless and not to curse.

Biographical information about Voloshin, p.33 – 34, ‘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.
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De Profundis by Fyodor Tyutchev

When again the earth shall return to chaos,

and all that men have wrought

be hidden beneath the waters –

the waters will again reflect the face of God.

 

by Фёдор Иванович Тютчев (Fyodor Ivanovich Tyutchev)

(1829)

translated by John Cournos


 

Fun Fact: Counted amongst the admirers of Tyutchev‘s works were Dostoevsky and Tolstoy along with Nekrasov and Fet then later Osip Mandelstam who, in a passage approved by Shalamov, believed that a Russian poet should not have copy of Tyutchev in his personal library – he should know all of Tyutchev off by heart.

Wolves by A. K. Tolstoy

When the streets empty out

and the singing dies down

and a white fog covers

the swamps and the town,

from the forests in silence

one after another

the wolves come out and go hunting.

 

Seven wolves walk on bravely;

in front of them walks

an eighth with white fur;

while bringing up the rear

is a ninth, who is lame:

with a heel that is bloody

he completes their mysterious procession.

 

Nothing frightens or scares them.

If they walk through the town

not a dog will bark at them,

while a man will not dare

even to breathe if he sees them.

He becomes pale with fear

and quietly  utters a prayer.

 

The wolves circle the church

carefully all around;

into the parson’s yard they enter,

with tails sweeping the ground;

near the tavern they listen

pricking their ears

for any words being said that are sinful.

 

All their eyes are like candles,

sharp as needles their teeth.

Go and take thirteen bullets,

with goat’s fur plug them in,

and then fire at them bravely.

The white wolf will fall first;

after him, the rest will fall also.

 

When dawn comes and the townsmen

are awoken by the cock,

you will find nine old women

lying dead on the ground.

In front, a grey-haired one,

in back, a lame one,

all in blood… may the Lord be with us!

 

by Алексей Константинович Толстой (Aleksey Konstantinovich Tolstoy)

(1840s)

translated by Ilya Bernstein

Russian Short Stories To Read Over The New Year and Christmas Period

Happy New Year to you all! Blwyddyn Newydd Dda! С новым годом!

New Year’s Day and, to a lesser extent, Christmas Day are a major holiday period in Russia so of course some of her greatest writers wrote stories set during this time of year.

You may wonder why I titled this entry with New Year preceding Christmas. The answer is quite simple: In Russia the Eastern Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar and thus celebrates Christmas Day on or near January 7. This date works out to be December 25 in the Julian calendar which existed prior to the Gregorian calendar most of us use today.

Nonetheless here is the reading list for you to choose from:

  • THE NEW YEAR’S TREE by Mikhail Zoshchenko
  • THE BOYS by Anton Chekhov
  • A CHRISTMAS TREE AND A WEDDING by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • AT CHRISTMASTIDE by Anton Chekhov
  • DREAM OF A YOUNG TSAR by Lev Tolstoy
  • MAKAR’S DREAM by Vladimir Korolenko
  • A WOMAN’S KINGDOM by Anton Chekhov
  • A DISTANT CHRISTMAS EVE by Kaudia Lukashevich
  • THE LITTLE BOY AT CHRIST’S CHRISTMAS TREE by Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • CHRISTMAS PHANTOMS by Maxim Gorky
  • A LIFELESS ANIMAL by Teffi (a.k.a. Nadezhda Lokhvitskaya)
  • MY LAST CHRISTMAS by Mikhail Zoshchenko

There are no doubt many others so if you have any recommendations please leave a comment.