Archive for the ‘Russian poetry’ Category

Accordion song (Nikolai Yazykov)

April 15, 2020

Oh night, oh night like an arrow fly
Respite is bane to Svyatoslav
He only hungers to win or die
Oh night, oh night like an arrow fly
Respite is bane to Svyatoslav.

Tzimiskes, do you know your shield is strong?
That your chain mail is not delicate?
Our prince cries murder all night long
Tzimiskes, do you know your shield is strong?
That your chain mail is not delicate?

Give swiftest horses to your hordes
Or else our swords will catch them up
And they will not outrun our swords
Give swiftest horses to your hordes
Or else our swords will catch them up.

Boundless is the host you brought
Not many are we, but our blood is Slav
Our blows are sharp and they are fraught
Boundless is the host you brought
Not many are we, but our blood is Slav.

Oh night, oh night like an arrow fly
And fields for victory spread out wide
Rouse up now the warrior cry
Oh night, oh night like an arrow fly
And fields for victory spread out wide.


Nikolai Yazykov (1803-1846)

О ночь, о ночь, лети стрелой!
Несносен отдых Святославу:
Он жаждет битвы роковой.
О ночь, о ночь, лети стрелой!
Несносен отдых Святославу!

Цимисхий! крепок ли твой щит?
Не тонки ль кованые латы?
Наш князь убийственно разит.
Цимисхий! крепок ли твой щит?
Не тонки ль кованые латы?

Дружине борзых дай коней;
Не то — мечи её нагонят,
И не ускачет от мечей.
Дружине борзых дай коней;
Не то — мечи её нагонят.

Ты рать обширную привёл;
Немного нас, но мы славяне:
Удар наш меток и тяжёл.
Ты рать обширную привёл;
Немного нас, но мы славяне!

О ночь, о ночь, лети стрелой!
Поля, откройтесь для победы,
Проснися, ужас боевой!
О ночь, о ночь, лети стрелой!
Поля, откройтесь для победы!


In a series of campaigns against the Kievan Rus’ encroachment on the Lower Danube in 970–971, [John I Tzimiskes]  drove the enemy out of Thrace in the Battle of Arcadiopolis, crossed Mt. Haemus, and besieged the fortress of Dorostolon (Silistra) on the Danube for sixty-five days, where after several hard-fought battles he defeated Great Prince Svyatoslav I of Rus’. (Wikipedia article)

An order from Ozon

January 12, 2020

It seemed to be that only Ozon was offering a copy of Портреты без рам, so I tried my first order from them for some time. In order to fill in the address, I had to locate myself on an interactive map and supplement that with further details of street name, house number, postcode. Frightening enough already! That was on 24 December.


Then the order remained in process without any sign of it being packed up and sent off:


until it turned up on 8 January–that is, as promised, before 9 January!  And so here we are:


I suspect that like Frankie and Johnny this story has no moral.  Anyway, it cost me 800 roubles for the book plus 398 roubles delivery.

Why did I tear myself away from you before it was time?

September 29, 2017


So now I’m worrying about the remark in Barbara Graziosi’s edition of Iliad 6 that Mandel’shtam describes the encounter between Hector and Andromache from Andromache’s point of view in the following line:

‘Why did I tear myself away from you before it was time?’ (the translation is by Nina Kossman).

We can perhaps believe that Andromache did the tearing:

ἄλοχος δὲ φίλη οἶκον δὲ βεβήκει
ἐντροπαλιζομένη, θαλερὸν κατὰ δάκρυ χέουσα. [Il 6.495-6]

though she was of course just doing what Hector told her to:

ἀλλ᾽ εἰς οἶκον ἰοῦσα τὰ σ᾽ αὐτῆς ἔργα κόμιζε
ἱστόν τ᾽ ἠλακάτην τε, καὶ ἀμφιπόλοισι κέλευε
ἔργον ἐποίχεσθαι: πόλεμος δ᾽ ἄνδρεσσι μελήσει
πᾶσι, μάλιστα δ᾽ ἐμοί, τοὶ Ἰλίῳ ἐγγεγάασιν.  [Il. 6 490-4]

so who was really doing the tearing is not so clear to us.

But in the Russian original the speaker has to be a man: Зачем преждевременно я от тебя оторвался! and the same holds true in Italian translation:  Perché mi sono separato da te prima che fosse tempo?

It could just be a misprint [Andromache ~ Hector], or more interestingly it’s what Andromache thought Hector should have thought, which would be atypical either for Mandel’shtam or for lyric poetry in general.

Rather than a misprint, the mistake is surely the idea that the poem is about Troy rather than about Mandel’shtam’s own experience. Mikhail Gasparov investigates this point rather systematically and concludes that the speaker cannot be any Greek or Trojan, not even Paris in relation to Oenone.

So perhaps it was a misprint, but the intended meaning was wrong as well…


‘Somewhere life is simple…’ (Anna Akhmatova)

April 13, 2017

Somewhere life is simple, the light does fall
Transparent, warm and cheering…
There a neighbour talks over the wall
At evening with a girl, only the bees are hearing
The tenderest talk of all.

Then we live grandly and with difficulty
And we see bitter meetings are rightly done
When the foolhardy wind abruptly
Breaks off utterance just begun.

But we will not exchange for anything the splendid
Granite city of glory and of doom
Ice resplendent on rivers’ wide room
Sunless gardens filled with gloom
And the Muse’s voice, scarce apprehended.


Picture from

Ведь где-то есть простая жизнь и свет,
Прозрачный, тёплый и весёлый…
Там с девушкой через забор сосед
Под вечер говорит, и слышат только пчёлы
Нежнейшую из всех бесед.

А мы живём торжественно и трудно
И чтим обряды наших горьких встречь,
Когда с налёту ветер безрассудный
Чуть начатую обрывает речь, –

Но ни на что не променяем пышный
Гранитный город славы и беды,
Широких рек сияющие льды,
Бессолнечные, мрачные сады
И голос музы еле слышный.


‘And the Lord said…’ (Boris Khersonsky)

July 28, 2016

And the Lord said:  Katsap, where is Khokhol thy brother?
And Katsap answered: I am not his keeper Lord
And the Lord said: You sat to eat together
You sang his songs, you put him to the sword!

And Katsap said: Khokhol is himself at fault,
He is a traitor, greedy, he nibbled all the fruit,
He has artillery in the yard and a gun in the vault
And he puts my first-born right into dispute.

And the Lord said: Not first-born, but born to hate!
Forgetting, Katsap, that the Lord is father to you.
For I will say to Peter, who stands at Heaven’s gate
I will say to Peter, not to open to you.

And the Lord said: Turk, where is thy brother, Khach?
And the Turk answered: Am I his keeper, Lord?
And the Lord said: You thought I would not catch
Weeping from the ground, would not hear, not reward.

And the Lord said: Kraut, where is thy brother, Yid?
And Kraut said, I am not his keeper, nay.
And the Lord said: His blood is yelling what you did,
For vengeance is mine, and I will repay.

И сказал Господь: “Кацап, где брат твой, Хохол?”
Ответил Кацап: “Не знаю, я не сторож Хохлу!”
И сказал Господь: “Ты с ним садился за стол,
ты пел его песни и ты толкаешь его во мглу!”

И ответил Кацап: “Хохол – он сам виноват.
Он – предатель, он жадина, он яблоки все надкусил,
у него в огороде пушка, а в шкафу автомат,
он старшему брату, мне, противится что есть сил!”

И сказал Господь: “Ты не старший, ты страшный брат!
Ты забыл, Кацап, что Отец твой – Бог.
Вот скажу Петру, что стоит возле райских врат,
вот скажу Петру, он не пустит тебя на порог.

И сказал Господь: “Турок, где брат твой, Хач?”
И ответил турок “Не знаю! Я не сторож Хачу!”.
И сказал Господь: “От земли возносится плач!
Ты думал, что я не услышу, что я смолчу?”

И сказал Господь: “Фриц, где же брат твой, Жид?”.
И ответил Фриц: “Не знаю, я не сторож Жидам!”
И сказал Господь “Кровь Жида за тебя говорит.
Ибо Мое есть отмщение и Аз воздам.”

Мария Галина и Аркадий Штыпель в Лондоне

January 3, 2016

5-го января 2016 года
в 6 вечера в Жан – Жаке 
Jean Jacques – Soho, 45 Frith St, London
the website link:

читают свои стихи
известные поэты из Москвы —
Мария Галина и Аркадий Штыпель.

Мария Галина

лауреат нескольких литературных премий (в том числе поэтических премий Anthologia и Московский счёт) известна как поэт, прозаик и переводчик поэзии. Ее стихи и проза переведены на несколько языков.

Аркадий Штыпель

автор нескольких поэтических сборников, переводчик украинской и англоязычной поэзии, известен помимо всего прочего своей яркой манерой чтения, он победитель литературных слэмов, в том числе и Московского.

Мария и Аркадий переводят и
пропагандируют украинскую поэзию


Репродуктор на столбе
Поёт песню о тебе,
О твоей несчастной, горькой, загубленной судьбе.

Бухгалтер средних лет
Покупает билет
Своей маленькой женщине, одетой в креп-жоржет.

Их посадят в пятый ряд,
Дверь за ними затворят,
И покажут в кинохронике привязной аэростат,

Академика наук,
Двух ткачих, цветущий луг,
Всё на свете исчезает, превращаясь в свет и звук,

Исчезают и они
В чёрной бархатной тени
В эти тёплые, последние, в эти солнечные дни.



ты плыл волну разбивая
подныривая под волну
и тысяча солнц качалась
вокруг твоей головы

но этого больше не будет
ни с кем никогда и нигде
нет-нет это будет, будет
со всяким всегда и везде

ты видел луну и звёзды
ты видел траву цветы
ты слышал как пели птицы
и как грохотал гром

но этого больше не будет
ни с кем никогда и нигде
нет-нет это будет, будет
со всяким всегда и везде

ты женщину видел нагую
какой её создал бог
ты был перед ней как остров
накрытый большой волной

но этого больше не будет
ни с кем никогда и нигде
нет-нет это будет, будет
со всяким всегда и везде

ты станешь вином и хлебом
но это будет потом
ты выгнешь дугой позвоночник
и руки раскинешь крестом

и этого больше не будет
ни с кем никогда и нигде
нет-нет это будет, будет
со всяким всегда и везде

но этого больше не будет
ни с кем никогда и нигде
нет-нет это будет, будет
со всяким всегда и везде


‘On my hip I find there is no mole…’ (Larisa Dobrozorova)

January 11, 2015

On my hip I find there is no mole.
Everything is in its place when I wake
but that mustard-coloured flake…
Now, without distinguishing marks, I am whole.

Where is it? Did it flee? Was it kissed away?
Was it charmed away? Displaying your fidelity
at least to it, I suppose it’s likely that you may
not acknowledge in the public morgue a living me.


Просыпаюсь – а родинки нет
на бедре. Все на месте, а эта –
как снежинка, горчичного цвета…
Я теперь – без особых примет.

Где? Сбежала сама? Сцеловали?
Сколдовали? – Ей верность храня,
ты теперь опознаешь едва ли
в общем морге живую меня.

Best Poems of 2010

December 31, 2014


What’s it all about?

This is an anthology of poems for the year 2010; it contains from one to three poems by each of 129 authors.  I have translated the poems here.  Those rewarded with three entries are Natalya Gorbanyevskaya, Evgeny Karasev, Kirill Koval’dzhi, Aleksandr Kushner, Vadim Muratkhanov, Vera Pavlova, Vladimir Salimon, Sergei Stratanovsky, and Oleg Chukhontsev.  As far as I can see, however, Timur Kibirov wins first prize for the amount of space occupied with four pages when nobody else has more than three.  I think I agree with this assessment of Kibirov’s stature as a poet.

That immediately leads me to ask whether these can really be the best poems of 2010, with a maximum of three per author.  Surely the fourth best poem of the best author is likely to be better than the best poem of the 129th best one, assuming that ‘best’ means something unequivocal here?  On general principles, one would expect something like Zapf’s law to apply, so that the best poet had N poems of the required standard, the second best had N/2, the third best had N/3 and so on.  Maybe it’s something more like ‘A selection of poems produced by the best poets of 2010’.  In his preface, editor Maksim Amelin says that he wants to present not so much the poets themselves, more their works

Why did I decide to do it?

It certainly seemed at the time that I was giving something back to the community, since trying to find a translation for poems in foreign languages is something that I use the Internet for.  It also made sure that I read every item in a book of poems with some care and attention, probably for the first time since George MacBeth’s Poetry 1900 to 1965 some 40-odd years ago.

What have I learned from doing it?

The overall impression was like one of those holidays where your coach drives into the next town, you get off, look round the points of interest (as we have seen, between one and three in number and of varying magnitudes), and then drive on to the next stopping-place.

I was struck by the wide range of forms, from the strictly traditional to free verse and poésie concrète.  Indeed, there were some poems that both in form and content could I thought have been dated to 1910, if not 1810.

As against that, it was good to see that a wide range of subjects were tackled:  mathematics, for instance, appeared three times, in connection with Grigory Perel’man, St Ursula, and Lili Brik.  There was also an engagement with public affairs if for instance Geopolitics of clothing, which seems to have been taken as a call to action in the Kremlin and elsewhere:

A torn-off sleeve got to call itself Ukraine
Forgetting about discipline, Russia once again

Didn’t mend that vexing tear–it was left undone
And continued her enjoyment, about the field to run.

You need a thread, a needle, and also dark of night
Close the gate and window, and sew that hole up tight.

As for translating the poems, those that are most fun are the ones that seem to be impossible at first sight, such as MRÓTS!  SKAÉR BNOÓS MRÓTS!. Otherwise, the main question is what to do about various kinds of closed forms. If you more-or-less reproduce them…well, to start off with, there are fewer rhymes in English than in Russian and feminine rhymes can easily sound very silly. A more principled argument is that if you conserve traditional forms, you are mapping the original onto a point that does not exist in contemporary English poetry, and perhaps thus making it an object of purely antiquarian interest.

As Vladimir Nabokov famously observed:

What is translation? On a platter
A poet’s pale and glaring head,
A parrot’s screech, a monkey’s chatter,
And profanation of the dead.

He was perhaps being overly charitable, something that did not happen very often.
Which are the best poems (and translations)?

The word ‘best’ is fraught with difficulties here, as we have seen above.  As regarding the original poems, I would go for Death of an old woman, which contains more than one kingdom of Russianness in a very small space, as a favourite.  I also liked From five to seven a lot, and ‘Do not be ill…’ is lovely as well.  ‘That which comes apart…’  and Sky are bloody good, and I was also impressed  by  ‘No canteen, and no shop…’ and ‘….to learn to react to the world’ .   I have to say that ‘Blessed is he…’ really is very very good, and thanks to some help from  Erik McDonald the translation’s not bad either.

Among the translations, I think that ‘Love does not pass…’ has the ring of a genuine poem.  At night  is pretty good as a translation, and I think that the English version of ‘Behind the curtain there hides a local god…’ is quite pleasingly Audenesque.

Public opinion

Judging by the number of ‘likes’ left on the various postings by users of wordpress, the most popular poems would be Pan Ch_sky, followed by ‘Without us, the critics will decide….’ and then After the storm.  The statistics for visits to individual postings would give first place to ‘The blind man’s getting bills for light’, followed in second place by ‘Along the fence…’ and in third ‘this city is flooded by glowing beams of light…’.  This last would also be in joint fourth place for ‘likes’, so may be the overall popular favourite.

And finally

Do feel free to leave a comment or to email me about any of this.  I would also like to thank Erik McDonald of xixvek for his encouragement and helpful suggestions, especially in being so diplomatic in cases where where I’d just misunderstood the original.

‘The pain has not worn off…’ (Yuri Kazarin)

December 31, 2014

The pain has not worn off, it has not passed–
and the soul has not grown tired, even so,
of dragging winglessly the body that was cast
so heavily into some heaps of snow,
where the toes pinched together are found so nesh
and ice beneath the heel is like a widow’s mite.

We are shadows of angels. We are flesh
not yet of darkness, no longer of light.

Не отболело, не прошло —
и как душе не надоело
влачить без крыльев, тяжело
в сугробах брошенное тело,
где пальцы ног свело в щепоть
и лед под пяткой, как монета.

Мы тени ангелов. Мы плоть
ещё не тьмы, уже не света.

‘I have understood how to set a word off…’ (Aleksei Vernitsky)

December 31, 2014

I have understood how to set a word off
My soul has been freed from the mist
Not in vain have I read Kheraskov
Not in vain have I read Kapnist.

But there are other faces with them
Alas, that trouble my gaze
The complex syllabic rhythm
The choir that is silent always.

Я понял назначенье слова,
Моя душа стала чиста.
Не зря я читал Хераскова,
Не зря я читал Капниста.

Но за ними — иные лики,
Увы, тревожащие взор:
Сложные ритмы силлабики,
Загадочный умолкший хор.