A Grumble by Yevgeny Baratynsky

Bane of the gorgeous summer, meddlesome fly, why must you

torture me, ducking and weaving, clinging to face and to fingers?

Who was it gave you that sting that has power to cut short at will

thought on its albatross wings or the burning kisses of love?

You make of the peaceable thinker, bred on the pleasures of Europe,

a barbarous Scythian warrior, thirsting for enemy blood.

 

by Евгений Абрамович Баратынский (Yevgeny Abramovich Baratynsky)

(1841)

translated by Peter France

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The Beetle by Nikolay Oleynikov

In a beaker sits a beetle,

sits and sucks his tawny leg.

He’s been caught. He has been sentenced,

and for ruth he does not beg.

He casts glances at the sofa,

in his sorrow half-alive;

there he sees the vivisectors,

honing axes, whetting knives.

An efficient young assistant

boils the scalpel on the heater,

at the same time gently whistling

something from the early Beatles.

He can whistle, brainless monkey,

licensed butcher from the dregs!

And the beetle in the beaker

sits and sucks his tawny legs.

He observes the surgeons closely,

and his eyes begin to roll…

He would not have been so frightened

had he known there is a soul.

But we’ve learned from modern scholars

that the soul is not at issue:

fat and kidneys, blood and choler

are the soul’s immortal tissue.

All that makes us hustle-bustle

are some ligaments and muscles.

This is science. Facts are stubborn

but are easy to apply.

And he wrings his arms (the beetle),

he is ready, he will die.

Now the resident approaches,

the MD who cuts and rips;

on the beetle he discovers

what he needs between the ribs.

And he throws and sticks the patient,

as he might have stuck a boar,

then he bares his teeth and, beastlike,

fills the workroom with his roar.

Whereupon the vivisectors

grab the beetle’s carcass, and

some explore his chest with pincers,

some dismember him by hand.

And they kicked him, flicked him, pricked him,

and they tore to death their victim.

Lacerated by that thug,

dies of injuries the bug.

He is cold. His eyes don’t tremble…

Then the brigands stopped their pranks

and retreated, somewhat sobered,

stepping back in serried ranks.

Torture, anguish – all is over.

There is nothing more to lose.

The remaining subsoil waters

from his body slowly ooze.

In a chink, inside the closet,

waits his son and hums a song –

‘Daddy, Daddy, where’re you, Daddy?

Pauvre garçon!

He will never see this father,

who could not have travelled farther.

There he stands, his vivisector,

bending over with the lads –

ugly, shaggy, grinning bravely,

with his pincers and his adze.

You elitist, sexist mugger,

scoundrel, scholarly and smug!

Read my lips: this little bugger

is a martyr, not a bug.

Soon the window will be opened

by the coarse, unfeeling guard,

and he’ll find himself, our darling,

on the driveway in the yard.

Near the porch, amid the garbage,

he will not rot (his body hacked,

with his legs all pointed upward)

and await the final act.

Neither rain nor sun will quicken

him who thus unburied lies.

And a chicken – yes, a chicken –

will peck out his beady eyes.

by Николай Макарович Олейников (Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov)

a.k.a. Nikolai Makarovich Oleinikov

(1934)

translated by Anatoly Liberman


Nikolay Makarovich Oleynikov ( Никола́й Мака́рович Оле́йников; born 5 August 1898, d. 24 November 1937) was a Russian editor, avant-garde poet and playwright who was arrested and executed by the Soviets for subversive writing. During his writing career, he also used the pen names Makar Svirepy, Nikolai Makarov, Sergey Kravtsov, NI chief engineer of the mausoleums, Kamensky and Peter Shortsighted.

In ‘The Beetle’ Oleynikov continues a fable begun by Captain Lebyadkin the mad poet from Dostoevsky’s The Demons.

Россия (Russia) [extract] by Max Voloshin

Great Peter was the first true Bolshevik;

his project: to project his Russia, against

all her customs, all her inclinations,

hundreds of years into some distant vista.

And like us all, he knew no other way

save execution, torture and diktat

to realize truth and justice upon earth.

If not a butcher, you could call the Tsar

a sculptor – his material not marble

but flesh, hacking out a Galatea

and flinging scraps aside. But no man builds

alone. What else was our nobility

but our first Communists? Our nobility

was – all in one – the Party, secret police

and Ivan the Terrible’s Oprichniki,

a hothouse for the breeding of strange cultures.

[…] Bakunin reflects the Russian countenance

in every way – what intellectual boldness,

what sweep of thought, what soaring flights and falls!

Our creativity lies in anarchy.

All Europe took the path of fire – but we

bear in our hearts a culture of explosion.

Fire needs machines and cities, factories,

blast furnaces; an explosion, unless it aims

to pulverize itself, needs the containment

of steel rifling, the matrix of a heavy gun.

This is why Soviet hoops all bind so tight,

why the autocracy’s flasks and retorts

were so refractionary. Bakunin needed

Nicholas – as Peter’s streltsy needed Peter,

as Avvakum needed Nikon. This is why

Russia is so immeasurable – in anarchy

and in autocracy alike, and why no history

is darker, madder, more terrible than hers.

 

by Максимилиан Александрович Кириенко-Волошин

(Maximilian Alexandrovich Kirienko-Voloshin)

(1925)

translated by Robert Chandler

‘I Don’t Know If You’re Alive Or Dead…’ by Anna Akhmatova

I don’t know if you’re alive or dead.

Can you on earth be sought,

Or only when the sunsets fade

Be mourned serenely in my thought?

 

All is for you: the daily prayer,

The sleepless heat at night,

And of my verses, the white

Flock, and of my eyes, the blue fire.

 

No-one was more cherished, no-one tortured

Me more, not

Even the one who betrayed me to torture,

Not even the one who caressed me and forgot.

 

– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1915)

– from Белая стая (White Flock, 1917) translation by D. M. Thomas