All Rules Are Incorrect by Boris Slutsky

All rules are incorrect,

all laws remain perverse,

until they’re firmly set

in well-wrought lines of verse.

 

An age or era will

be merely a stretch of time

without a meaning until

it’s glorified in rhyme.

 

Until the poet’s ‘Yes!’,

entrusted by his pen

to print, awards success

to this or that – till then

 

the jury will be out,

the verdict still in doubt.

 

by Борис Абрамович Слуцкий (Boris Abramovich Slutsky)

(early 1960s)

translated by Stephen Campus

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Blue Notebook, No. 10 by Daniil Kharms

There once lived a red-headed man who had no eyes or ears.

He also had no hair, so he was only in a manner of speaking called red-haired.

He couldn’t speak, since he had no mouth. He had no nose either.

He didn’t even have arms or legs. And he had no stomach, and he had no back, and he had no spine, and he had no innards at all. He had nothing at all! So there’s no knowing who we are talking about.

We’d better not talk about him any more.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(1937)

translated by Robert Chandler

A Fairy Tale by Daniil Kharms

There once was a man  by the name of Semyonov.

And Semyonov went out for a walk and lost his handkerchief.

And Semyonov started looking for a handkerchief and lost his hat.

And looking for a hat, he lost his jacket.

He began to look for a jacket and lost his boots.

– Yes – said Semyonov – this is a loss – I shall go home.

Semyonov began walking home – and he got lost.

– No – said Semyonov – I’d rather sit. And he sat down.

And he sat on a stone, and fell asleep.

 

by Даниил Иванович Хармс (Daniil Ivanovich Kharms)

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

(1933)

translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky


Personally I would have gone with ‘… and lost consciousness’ for the last line, instead of ‘… and fell sleep’ in order to maintain the structural repition for humourous effect even if this translation is a more accurate one.

No More Europe, No More America by Georgy Ivanov

No more Europe, no more America.

The end of Tsarskoye, of Moscow, too.

A fit of nuclear hysteria –

life atomized into a radiant blue.

 

Transparent, all-forgiving haze will stretch

over the seas. And he who could have done

something yet chose not to, will be left

in the expanse of pre-eternity, alone.

 

by Георгий Владимирович Иванов (Georgii Vladimirovich Ivanov)

(1953)

by Robert Chandler

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

How It Was by Arseny Tarkovsky

Nowhere anything for eating,

all of Russia fading, freezing,

selling gramophones and blankets,

hats and chairs and anything

in exchange for wheat and millet

in the year nineteen-nineteen.

 

Elder brother killed already,

and my dad already blind,

all our furniture long bartered,

home was like an empty tomb,

yet we lived, we still had water,

bread we baked from angry nettles.

 

Mama was all hunched and aged,

all grey-haired though only forty,

nothing but a beggar’s rags

clinging to her skinny body.

When she slept, I kept on checking:

was she breathing, was she not?

 

Guests were few and far between

in the year nineteen-nineteen.

Sick at heart, our poor old neighbours,

just like little birds in cages,

tiny birds on whithered perches,

lived like we did, lived in hell.

 

Then one of these poor old neighbours

bought a gift – rotten potato.

‘Think what riches,’ she began.

‘once belonged even to beggars!

See how Russia’s being chastised

for Rasputin and his doings!’

 

Evening came. ‘Eat!’ said Mama,

holding out a splendid flatbread.

And the Muse dressed all in rose,

came to me all of a sudden,

hoping she could make me sleepless,

hoping I’d be hers for ever.

 

So I wrote my primal poem,

sang how Mama on a Sunday

baked a flatbread from potato.

So I had my first encounter

with poetic inspiration

in the year nineteen-nineteen

 

by Арсений Александрович Тарковский (Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky)

(1977)

translated by Robert Chandler


 

Fun fact: Arseny was the father of the famous and highly influential film director Andrei Tarkovsky.

Памятник (The Monument) by Vladislav Khodasevich

I am an end and a beginning.

So little spun from all my spinning!

I’ve been a firm link nonetheless;

with that good fortune I’ve been blessed.

 

New Russia enters on her greatness;

they’ll carve my head two-faced, like Janus,

at crossroads, looking down both ways,

where wind and sand, and many days…

 

by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)

translated by Michael Frayn