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

The Light will Burn and Darken

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 155th birthday.

06-15 Balmont
Konstantin Balmont
Russian
1867 – 1942

 

The light will burn and darken, then burn with stronger blaze,
But unreturning darkens the sheen of youthful days.
Glow then, and be enkindled, the while thou still art young,
Let ever more undwindled the heart’s loud chords be strung,
That something be remembered in waning years of woe,
That chill old-age be lighted by that decayless glow,
Born of exalted fancies, and headstrong youth’s ado,
Heedless, but full of splendour, heedless and hallowed, too.

 

Translation by Paul Selver

Forever You, the Unwashed Russia!

We present this work in honor of Russian National Day.

06-12 Lermontov
Mikhail Lermontov
Russian
1814 – 1841

Forever you, the unwashed Russia!
The land of slaves the land of lords:
And you, the blue-uniformed ushers,
And people who worship them as gods.

I hope, from your tyrannic hounds
To save me with Caucasian wall:
From their eye, that sees through ground,
From their ears, that hear all.

Heavy Are My Verses

We present this work in honor of the 20th anniversary of the poet’s death.

05-11 Turbina
Nika Turbina
Russian
1974 – 2002

Heavy are my verses—
Stones uphill.
I will carry them up to the crag,
The resting place.
I will fall face down in the weeds,
Tears will not do.
I will rend my strophe—
The verse will burst out crying.
Pain cuts into my palm—
Nettles!
The day’s bitter taste turns
All to words.

Ground Glass

We present this work in honor of the Russian holiday, Victory Day.

05-09 Odoyevtseva
Irina Odoyevtseva
Russian
1895 – 1990

 

A soldier came back home one day
acounting all he’d won:
“We’re sure to eat our fill tonight —
us and the little ones!

“There’s seven grand! A real day’s haul!
I’ve had some luck I’d say!
Into the daily salt I mixed
some fine ground glass today.”

“Dear God! Dear God!” his wife cried out
“You killer! Akh! You beast!
That’s worse than robbery, you know,
they’ll die by morn at least!”

“We’re born to die!” the soldier said,
“I do not wish them ill!
Go light a candle at the church
this evening, if you will.”

He ate, then went to “Paradise” —
his pub’s name formerly.
He talked of communism awhile
and drank Soviet tea.

Back at home he soon slept fast,
around him all was still.
Till midnight when a raven cried
beneath the windowsill.

“Oh, woe to us!” his wife sighed deep:
“There’s trouble on the way!
A raven never caws at night
for nothing, so they say!”

But soon the second rooster crowed,
the soldier, foul of mood,
refused to go to “Paradise”:
to clients he was rude.

‘Twas midnight at the soldier’s home,
and all was dark once more,
the knock of wings from carrion crows
was heard outside his door.

They jumped and squawked upon the roof,
his kiddies soon awoke,
his wife sighed heavily all night
while he slept like an oak.

At dawn he rose, before them all,
his mood was foul once more.
His wife forgiveness for him begged,
her brow against the floor.

“Why don’t you visit your hometown
a day or two!” said he.
“I’m sick to hell of that damned glass —
’twill be the death of me!”

He soon wound up his gramophone
and sat down very near.
Alas! He heard a funeral knell
that made him shake with fear.

A ragged team of seven mares
draw seven coffins past.
A teary choir of women sing:
“Repose with God at last!”

“Who are you mourning, Konstantin?”
“My Masha dear!” he cried.
“I went to a party Thursday night,
by Friday morn she’d died!”

“Our Foma died, and so did Klim,
and Kolya’s son-in-law.
A stranger illness in my life
I swear I never saw!”

A waning moon was on the rise,
the soldier went to bed.
A double bed, all cold and firm,
a coffin for the dead!

At once appeared a corvine priest
(or did he dream it all?).
Behind him seven ravens held
aloft a lone, glass pall.

They entered, stood along the wall,
the darkness weighed a ton.
“Begone, you demons! 1 won’t sell
ground glass to anyone!”

Too late! The moan died on his lips,
till seven croaked the priest.
Into the bier on raven wings
was rendered the deceased.

Away they took him to the place
where seven asp trees grow,
fed by the long-dead waters from
a quagmire far below.

 

Translation by Bradley Jordan

The Sculptor

04-28 Baratynsky
Yevgeny Baratynsky
Russian
1800 – 1844

 

When fixed his gaze upon the stone,
The artist saw a nymph inside,
And fire ran through vein his own –
He flew to her in all his heart.

But though full of strong desire,
He’s now overcome the spell:
The chisel, piecemeal and unhurried,
From his high goddess, sanctified,
Removes a shell after a shell.

In the sweet and vague preoccupation
More than a day or a year will pass;
But from the goddess of his passion,
The fallen veil will not be last,

Until, perceiving his desire,
Under the chisel’s gentle caress,
And answering by a gaze of fire,
Sweat Galatea brings entire
The sage into a first embrace.

 

Translation by Yevgeny Bonver

Don’t Open Your Arms

We present this work in honor of the 90th anniversary of the poet’s death.

04-19 Gedroits
Vera Gedroits
Russian
1870 – 1932

Don’t – no – don’t open your arms
Don’t let me out – no words needed.
Your kiss is so burning fragrant
And, like a tent, our alcove is starless.
Another – again – centuries to live out in an instant,
Let me die – die with me.
The silent night pours the spell of frenzy,
Dew ringing on the ground brings heat.
Here the star chambers opened wide,
In a kiss, merging with one life,
Don’t – no – don’t open your arms,
Let me die! Die with me!