The Cashier

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

Andrei Voznesensky
1933 – 2010


The dumb herd scowled:
“You’ve short-changed us,” they howled.
Pennies like medals stuck in the crust
Of sawdust.

The cashier flew into a rage—
“Nonsense! Be off with you! Go!”—
And rose like dough
From her glass cage.

Over counters where they sell
Cheese cakes and melons was blown
A sudden smell
Of tears and ozone.

Loud was the smell of tears
Among that lowing crowd:
The hands of one dumb pair
Howled in the air.

Clutching bacon, somebody swore,
Or so I imagined: at least, he
Gave a Beethovenish roar,
Earthy and shaggy.

Drumming of knuckle and palm
On the glass plate;
So bellowed the psalm
Of my dumb fate.

With a knowing leer
The cashier
Peered at a bill she held up to the light
To see if Lenin’s profile looked all right.

But Lenin wasn’t there any more:
The bill was counterfeit.
It was a grocery store
Where people and farces meet.

Translation by W.H. Auden

Song of the Old Hussar

We present this work in honor of Defense of the Fatherland Day.

Denis Davydov
1784 – 1839


Where are you, old friends of mine,
True hussars by avocation,
Comrades both in arms and wine,
Champions of conversation?

Grayheads, I remember you,
Dippers full, in blissful poses.
Drinking while the fire burned through,
Glowing like your own red noses!

Sprawled on hayricks for settees,
Jaunty shakoes backward tilted,
Hussar jackets to your knees,
Sabres resting, carven-hilted.

Black-stained pipes between your teeth,
Puffing, there you lay in clover,
While the smoke, wreath after wreath,
Floated lock and whisker over.

Tire re you drowsed and hugged your swords;
Not a sound, while smoke curled densely,
Not a murmur – drunk as lords,
Drunk till you were almost senseless.

But as soon as dawn arrived
Off to battle you rode daily
With your shakoes to one side,
In tire wind your jackets flailing.

Under riders horses fly,
Sabres whistle, foemen slaying…
Battle over, nightfall nigh —
Dippers once again start playing.

Mat do I see now, though? God!
War has given way to dancing;
Like officials clad and shod.
Through a waltz hussars go prancing.

They’ve grown wise, you’ll say to me…
Listen to those home-bred Frenchmen:
Jomini1 — just Jomini.
But of vodka — ne’er a mention!

Where are you, old friends of mine,
True hussars by avocation,
Comrades both in arms and wine,
Champions of conversation?

Translation by Dorian Rottenberg

I Am a Jew

We present this work in honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Itzik Feffer
1900 – 1952


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

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

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
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
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
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


We present this work in honor of National Unity Day.

Mikhail Lomonosov
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
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