I Am a Jew

We present this work in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Itzik Feffer
Russian
1900 – 1952

 

The generations-old wine has strengthened
me in my wanderings. The angry sword of
pain and sorrow has not destroyed my
treasure.

My people, my faith and my flowering—it
has not chained my freedom. From under
the sword I’ve cried out: I am a Jew!

The clever twists of Rabbi Akiva, the wis-
dom of Isaiah’s words nourishing my thirst
and my love, and fought against hate.

The zest of the Maccabbean heroes and Bar
Kokhba’s blood boils in mine. From all the
burnings at the stake I’ve cried out: I am a
Jew!

And may my enemies be pierced by spears,
those who are preparing a grave for me. Be-
neath the flag of freedom I’ll yet have no
end of pleasure. I’ll plant my vineyards and
be the architect of my fat. I’ll yet dance on
my enemies graves. I am a Jew!

My Sighs

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 305th birthday.

Alexander Sumarokov
Russian
1717 – 1777

 

My sighs, fly to my sweetheart, I want you to explain
And tell her how I miss her and how I suffer pain.

Stay in her heart and soften her proud look , and then
Do not delay and linger, fly back to me again.

However, you should bring me good news from up above,
and give me her assurance that there is hope for love.

I will not sigh too long for I’m not that kind of man,
Such beauties are not rare, I’ll find another one.

Translation by Alec Vagapov

In the Darkness and Still of a Mysterious Night

We present this work in honor of the 130th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Afanasy Fet
Russian
1820 – 1892

 

In the darkness and still of a mysterious night
I see a fond and welcoming spark,
From the chorus of spheres, familiar eyes
Shine upon a grave forgotten in the steppe.

The grass has faded, the desert is grim,
A lonely tomb dreams an orphan’s dream,
And only in the sky, like an eternal idea,
The stars’ golden eyelashes sparkle.

And I dream you’ve risen from the dead,
Unchanged since you departed the earth,
And I dream a dream: we both are young,
And you’ve looked at me as you did back then.

Translation by A. Wachtel, I. Kutik and M. Denner

Five Days and Nights

We present this work in honor of the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.

Vera Inber
Russian
1890 – 1972

 

(on the death of Lenin)

Before they closed him in the tomb
lost to the light of day,
five days and nights stretcht in the room
of pillars still he lay.

The people filed in an endless train
with flags borne low at rest
to see his sallowing profile again
and the medal red on his chest.

And over the earth that he’d forsaken
so fierce a frost held sway
it seemed that he had surely taken
part of our warmth away.

Five nights in Moscow no one slept
because to sleep he had gone.
Close watch the sentinel moon kept,
solemn and wan.

Translation by Jack Lindsay

Ode

We present this work in honor of National Unity Day.

Mikhail Lomonosov
Russian
1711 – 1765

 

on the birthday of her majesty, the sovereign empress Elisaveta Petrovna, autocrat of all Russia, in the year 1746

This very day, most blessèd Russia,
A pleasing land in heaven’s eyes,
This very day from holy heights
Elisaveta’s given thee.
To raise our Peter posthumously,
To crush our foes’ o’erweening pride
And cast them also into horror,
To make thee safe from dire misfortunes,
To place thee judge above the kingdoms
And elevate thee o’er the clouds.

Oh child of Him who thunders above us,
Mother of all the tribes of earth,
Oh Nature, marvelous in actions,
As if you judge me to be worthy
To know the deepest of your secrets,
And if the weak engine of thoughts
May penetrate into your mansions,
Present to me that fateful epoch
And the stars’ whole course in order,
As He most high gave us this token.

Through stormy clouds of former sadness,
Which cruèl fate brought unto us,
Oh, how the mountains wept for Peter
And Pontus roared within its banks,
Through changes dreadful for the Rossians,
Through the dust that wars disturbed,
I see that bright and radiant moment:
There ’round the young Elisaveta
Shine planets bearing happy fate,
I hear the voice of Nature present.

How clear the sun when that first time
Upon you shone its gleaming ray,
Already fortune stretched her hand
With love for all your pleasant ways,
She held the crown above your head
And elevated there before you
The trophies of your fathers’ conquests,
Most glorious to the ends of earth.
How fortunate was Russia then
When first upon the world you gazed!

Then from Poltava, filled with gladness,
The sound of Rossian vict’ry roared,
Then all the universe’s limits
Could not contain the fame of Peter,
Then the heads of vanquished vandals
Bowed low as they were herded past,
E’en when you were in swaddling clothes;
Then it was that fate made known,
The regiments of their descendants
Would fall before you tremorously.

But lo, the various tongues and peoples
From the great rivers and the seas
Lift up harmonious exclamations,
To you, their monarch and their lady,
They spread out wide their hearts and hands,
And many a time do they repeat:
“Long live the great Elisaveta,
Born on this day for Rossian glory,
And may the heavens fortify her
Through multitudes of happy years.”

Translation by Sibelan Forrester

The Liberation of Moscow

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 265th birthday.

Dmitry Khvostov
Russian
1757 – 1835

 

Inhabitant of hilly Olympus—
Kheraskov! Inspired by Phoebus,
Heralded conversant of the Muses;
The sounds of your immortal lyre
Proclaiming Moscow’s arduous captivity
Yet once again elicit the tears of the Slavs.
They, both loudly and harmoniously,
Depict for us the indomitable spirit
Of our ancestors, dauntless in adversity,
To leaven our recent sorrows’ load.

Moscow! Vicious Napoleon,
Hungrier than Attila, came to embody
For the world an epitome of brutality;
All the hayfields covered with corpses,
Death, fire, looting proceed unimpeded,
A shrine in the woods our only guidance;
Rattled and shaken by Hell’s own breath,
Kremlin itself is severed from the earth
And racing through the expanse of air,
Strikes the appearance of a fiery fortress.

The chronicler will document
The dastardly deeds of these latter days;
Progeny will give no credence to the bard,
Believing his tale a work of imagination.
Both the one and the other will represent
That the Grand Caesar of the white lands,
Having shifted the North after himself,
Routing, trammeled the treacherous enemy,
And the Russian is erasing with his mighty hand
All trace of indecency from the face of the earth.

Translation by Alex Cigale

from A Double Life

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

Karolina Pavlova
Russian
1807 – 1893

 

The stars shine menacingly above her,
The night is infinite, the valley barely visible;
She is alone… perhaps it is too late,
Perhaps the time of encounter has passed.

The midnight bird has taken wing…
The earth is silent like the grave;
From time to time the angry summer lightning
Flashes in the dusky distance.

And suddenly he stands beside her,
Lowering his gloomy brow,
Unmoving, with a hopeless look,
In heavy, silent meditation.

“You have come again!… and are we not in a dream?…
Why was our path so separate?…
Why are your lips so silent?…
Why is terror descending on my heart?…”

And he bent over, pale and grieving,
And he offered words of sadness:
“Let us say farewell today, my poor friend:
Let life claim its rights!

Go back to the realm of Earth,
Go to your earthly triumph—
I yield you over to the world,
With an anxious prayer to the Creator.

Sorrow has He given to all of us equally,
To all a measure of sad days;
Submit to His laws
The murmur of your pride.

Learn to live in outward agitation,
Forgetting the Eden of youthful dreams,
Share no more with anyone
The secret of inconsolable meditation.

Not in vain did your heart’s fantasies
Strive so eagerly toward existence,
Life will mercilessly fulfill
Your passionate request.

And the bright glow
Of enchanted mist will dissipate;
Too late, too soon,
You will know the gift you have awaited.

And fate will more than carry out
Its sentence over you:
But you will not lie down in cruel torment,
You will not fall in battle.

You will find amid the struggles
Of years illusionless and hard,
Many pure distractions,
Many joyful victories.

You will bear the insults of your friends,
The evil lies of angry words—
And you will raise the veil
From the mysterious goddess Isis.

You will understand earthly reality
With a maturing soul:
You will buy a dear blessing
At a dear price.

You will calm your heart’s hostility,
You will not avert your eyes from misfortune,
Neither moments of deception nor of hope
Will trouble you.

All that is today unconscious
Alien to all, will flower in you—
The burning agony of life
Will turn into rich fruit.

So, go as you’ve been sentenced,
Strong in faith only,
Not hoping for support,
Defenseless and alone.

Don’t disturb the heavens, transgressing,
Silence your own dreams.
And dare to ask of God
Only your daily bread.”

Translation by Barbara Heldt

Life, Life

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 115th birthday.

06-25 Tarkovsky
Arseny Tarkovsky
Russian
1907 – 1989

 

1

I don’t believe in omens or fear
Forebodings. I flee from neither slander
Nor from poison. Death does not exist.
Everyone’s immortal. Everything is too.
No point in fearing death at seventeen,
Or seventy. There’s only here and now, and light;
Neither death, nor darkness, exists.
We’re all already on the seashore;
I’m one of those who’ll be hauling in the nets
When a shoal of immortality swims by.

2

If you live in a house – the house will not fall.
I’ll summon any of the centuries,
Then enter one and build a house in it.
That’s why your children and your wives
Sit with me at one table, –
The same for ancestor and grandson:
The future is being accomplished now,
If I raise my hand a little,
All five beams of light will stay with you.
Each day I used my collar bones
For shoring up the past, as though with timber,
I measured time with geodetic chains
And marched across it, as though it were the Urals.

3

I tailored the age to fit me.
We walked to the south, raising dust above the steppe;
The tall weeds fumed; the grasshopper danced,
Touching its antenna to the horse-shoes – and it prophesied,
Threatening me with destruction, like a monk.
I strapped my fate to the saddle;
And even now, in these coming times,
I stand up in the stirrups like a child.

I’m satisfied with deathlessness,
For my blood to flow from age to age.
Yet for a corner whose warmth I could rely on
I’d willingly have given all my life,
Whenever her flying needle
Tugged me, like a thread, around the globe.

 

Translation by Alex Nemser and Nariman Skakov