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Russia boasts a long and rich tradition of vibrant, highly crafted, and imaginative poetry. This collection of translations of famous Russian poets’ verse into English is the result of a unique collaboration. Widely published poet, Stephen A. Rozwenc, and Professor of Russian language, literature, and culture at the University of South Florida, Victor Peppard, have joined together to produce a group of stirring translations. These scintillating examples capture, in enticing contemporary English, the complete representation of Russian language, wordplay, image , irony, metaphor, poetic form and deeper cultural expression contained in each poem.

One poem by Victor Peppard

Originally composed in Russian language and translated into literal English by Peppard with the contemporary English language poem composed by poet Stephen A. Rozwenc. This piece represents a prime example of the superior poetic quality achieved by the Special Edition’s collaborators.

COMMUTER DAZE

Ooze out of bed like toothpaste
From a dreamed tube.
Turkey gobble eggs.
Slurp coffee through the front door straw.
Dive headfirst into morning cigar breath
Suburb stench.

Powerline down 
Buzzes on the street 
Like leaves up fuzzy trees
In the brick and cement orchard
Mommy used to call a cemetery.

Get your ass moving.
Buy a ticket on that city train 
To bombed out black snow
With bridges brightly lit
Purple lipstick smears
That lure believers.

Jump onto the car.
Drink grey smoke.
Smoke dark drinks.
Wall lamps squint.                                 
Passengers chatter conversation               
About down below
Or daily indoors dead delirium--
She’ll make love to you 
Like you’re the only one.

Hurtle headlong 
Into the orgasmic abyss—
The giant you-know-what
Which finally begins
When the train car spits
Any commuter out
Onto the station platform.

One poem by Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov

Mikhail Yurievich Lermontov, 1814 – 1841, was one of the greatest poets of the Golden Age of Russian poetry who some favor over Pushkin.  He also wrote plays and the seminal novel Hero of Our Time, 1840, that combines romantic themes with psychological realism.  He was strongly influenced by Byron and reveled in his role of the rebel.
.
Loneliness kisses woe, with no hands nearby,

when unrequited souls cry for pain.

Desires!... you can yearn forever – but why?

And years? The best ones stumble by in vain.

Ah love... but who? It's just a groaning strain,

impossible ardor for glib ages.

Self-examination? Past seeds never eat grain.

Joys, torments -- blank rages ooze stifled pages.

Passions? Sooner or later candied malaise

Will vanish as reason disdains.

And life, as you cast your cold gaze

Is hollow and emptied duality.       

One poem by Alexander Alexandrovich Blok

Alexander Alexandrovich Blok was one of the 20th century’s finest Russian poets who was known as the leading Symbolist and whose poetry is filled with sound play and often mysticism.  He married Lyubov Mendeleeva, an actress and the daughter of the chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev. Blok’s poem “The Twelve” about a motley crew that led the Revolution sparked controversy from many quarters.

Street, lamp, pharmacy,

languor’s dull light with nonsense.

Another quarter of a century survived--

exits from sameness nonexistent.


Go ahead, die as you start– start as you die.

The old-new stupidly relives the new-old. 

Night’s canal ripple is cold as ice--

pharmacy, lamp, street repetition’s scold.

1912

Four poems By Anna Akhamatova

Anna Andreevna Gorenko, known as Anna Akhmatova, reigns as one of the greatest poets of the 20th Century.  She was one of the Acmeists, who also included Gumilev, her first husband, and Mandelshtam.  They stressed the craft of poetry in contrast with the Symbolists, who were often more mystical.  Akhmatova’s poetry exhibits a wide range of subjects, including many poems about love, infatuation, irony, and disillusionment. 

Note—Russian poets often composed poems that answered or embellished poems by other Russian poets they admired. This poem is a response to Blok’s poem just previously presented.

1.

Right he is – street-lamp, pharmacy again,
granite banks, silence, the Neva…
steeped monument to the age.
Majestic flight where he stands –      

and to Pushkin House threw he a wave,
grandly weaving one last phrased turn,
then proclaimed fatal enervation
           To a rest never deserved.

1940

2.
                 COURAGE

    Now we know the stakes demanded,
    What crude trial snatches at grace.
    Sealed stares of courage have seized our clocks.
    Daring that will never desert us.
    If bullets only kill, so be it.
    No roof left, it can’t be that bitter.
    We’ll preserve mother Russia’s holy tongue--
    The soul-imbued Russian language,
    And ferry her to sweet posterity,
    Pure and free from enslavement.
Amen!

    23 February 1942

3.
               WHEN A MAN DIES

    When a man dies
    His portraits change.
    His eyes perceive differently
    While lips curl refreshing smiles. 
    I observed such stark clarity after 
    returning from a certain poet’s funeral.         
    And witnessed it often since,
    insight profusely verified.
  
    1913
                                                                                                                                                                        
4.            CONFUSION
        
    Bemused yet stifled by scorching light,
    his glances stung like the rays of the sun.
    My heart shuddered at the sight.                                        
    He could tame me, this one.
    He swept a bow – uttered silly trifles.
    Blushes drained from my face.
    Let love lie prostrate on my life
    like a tombstone on a grave.
    2.
    You don't love me – don't want to see me?
    Oh damn you, you're so smashing!
    I’ve always sprouted wings to flee,
    but now I can't soar – how crushing.
    Morning fog envelopes my eyes.
    Objects blend and leak faces.
    And there's only that red tulip in sight,
    that stupid tulip in your jacket's flap.
    3.
    As simple etiquette dictates,
    his coquettish smirk approached me,
    half tenderly, half casually
    and kissed my hand so lightly.
    Ancient Pharaoh glances
    enslaved me with their eyes…
    Ten years of breathless anticipation, 
    sleepless nights and anxious cries
    compressed into one quiet word
    weakly uttered in vain.
    While you strolled away silent
    my soul spilled empty clarity again.

One poem by Osip Mandelshtam

Osip Emilyevich Mandelshtam, 1891-1938, was one of the finest Russian poets of the 20th Century. His wife, Nadezhda Mandelshtam, was herself a writer of note. Mandelshtam served as a leader in the Acmeist circle of poets who brought Russian poetry down to earth in sharp contrast with the mysticism of the Symbolists.      

THE LAST SUPPER     
                                                                        
Supper’s sky adorned the icon wall.    
Scar-light wounds spread all over,
the brightest so deep and startling
13 sacred faces pushed forth.

Here rises my night sky in a shower of stars.
I stand before this vision in boyish awe,    
spine chills so cold entranced eyes ache ice shards,
and wall-beating firmaments baptize shawls. 

Beneath each battering-ram strike
celestial rain of headless haloes descends.
New wounds for the same mural delight--   
the mist of unfinished eternity.

One poem by Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky

Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky, 1938-1980, was a Russian singer, song writer, poet, and actor.  He was the hero of his generation whose poetry in song ranged from life in the USSR to the deeply personal, as in “Horses.”

HORSES

Skirting the brink ledge of very’s abyss
I whip and lash my horses agog.
Not enough air, my teeth suck unbreathable fog--
I’m done, death ecstasy’s finished hiss. 

Slow my horses, slow a heart’s tick at least twice.
You don’t obey, you don’t obey my whip and scowl!
Your capricious gallop will never allow
any chance to add a last swan to my song.

Thirsty my darlings? We’ll pause to drink  
And another couplet I’ll sing.
Trust me for a few more heartbeats
And we’ll taunt the stunning abyss.

When dead, hurricane winds will blow my dust fingerless.
Come morning, ferry me sleigh-bound to snow.
Just charge a bit slower my beauties.
Let me tease death on this sweet race to rest.

Slow my darlings, slow those stampeding hearts.
Knout and whip are no high priest decree.      
You don’t obey, you don’t obey my whip and scowl.
There’ll be no flashed second left to finish my song. 
                                                                          
Let’s stop and drink again
And another couplet I’ll sing.
Just a few more ecstasies to please
And I can dish up my last reprieve. 

No groom arrives late to his wedding with God,
So why are the angels singing angrily?
Or is that bells choking on my sobs
That beg my horses slow this fatal sleigh.

Slower my beauties, slow for one more tick.
Please, please cease your wild gallop.
How can you stampede so capricious
And not let me live to finish my song?

Drink more my darlings
And another couplet I’ll sing.
Just three more heartbeats 
And my song is finished.

One poem by Bella Akhmadulina

Bella Akhmadulina (Izabella Akhatovna Akhmadulina), 1937-2010, was a Russian poet of Tatar and Italian heritage.  She was married to Evgenii Evtushenko, the famous Russian poet, for a time in the 1950s and had a powerful voice of her own, as we see in “Volcanoes.” 
      
VOLCANOES

Two burned out volcanoes—
Ash rain chokes the cratered lovers.
Bodies seized by relentless throes--
Woe as ecstatic prey

Colder than psychic possession.
Tragedy being comedy theatre--
But the same tumescent visions
Must night spurt later.

A dreamed city doomed                
To its parallel dimension’s fate--
Skyward poured basalt columns 
And lilting frames for garden gates. 

There girls gather flower bunches 
Fraught bloomed yesterdays ago,
Waved to summon satyr/men
Slurping fetish fantasies with vino.

Raucous stroked with lava hot sweeps,       
Orgy suggestions prance unrehearsed--
Oh my little girl Pompei,
Child of a slave and a princess.

Held by good fortune a captive,
What and who did you think about,
When so boldly did Vesuvius
Erect stand against your elbow?

Entranced by his tales
With ardent eyes you glance above
So as not to miss laughter’s gales--
Love unhandcuffed.

And he with his unzippered head,
As the day took its leave,
Falls to your feet now feared dead
And cries out “Forgive me!”

One poem by Joseph Brodsky

Joseph Brodsky (Iosif Aleksandrovich Brodsky) was a Russian poet and English essayist of Jewish heritage. His poetry was deemed not sufficiently in tune with the ideological demands of the Soviet authorities, and he suffered a public trial where he was declared a “social parasite.”  Sentenced to four years of hard labor he was let go in a year and a half after leading poets including Anna Akhmatova demanded he be freed.  Akhmatova was a long-time mentor of Brodsky who in 1972 was sent in exile that resulted in his coming to the US where he taught at a number of colleges and universities, including primarily Michigan and Mount Holyoke College. Brodsky won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987 and served as the United States Poet Laureate in 1991. Brodsky is widely considered the greatest Russian poet of the second half of the 20th century.

TO ANNA ANDREEVNA AKHMATOVA                                                                                                       
At the borders past fences

Past crosses of barbed zinc stars

Past seven seven hundred latches 
 
And not only past foreboding miles


But past every crane salute     

And steppe unploughed grassland  

Past Russia as though not soaked

Neither with tears nor with my blood.


Hugging the road not taken

My youth trembles in the wind

Somewhere near the cold Motherland

He lies past the Finland Station.


I peer into threatened unknowns

Already rigid with pain

As though these nameless terrors

Cleave not only in someone’s soul.

Four poems by Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva

Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva, 1892-1941, was one of the greatest poets of the 20th century in Russia and according to Joseph Brodsky the most innovative.  There is a House-Museum in Moscow named for her. She was married to Sergei Efron with whom she had three children.  After he was executed for espionage in 1941, she committed suicide in the same year. 

1.

Animal-- barn,
Pilgrim-- road,
Corpse-- hearse, 
For each his own.  
     
Woman dissembles,
Tsar assembles,
And I bestow praise
That calls your name.  

1916                            

2.     
 
Four years old.
Eyes frozen cubes,
brows already fated,
from Kremlin’s heights
scan for the
first time today
the ice-floe.

Ice-floes, icy-foes
and cupolas.
Ring golden,
Sling silver.
Crossed hands,
mute mouth.
knitted brow– You Napoleon!
Contemplate the Kremlin.

“Mama, where does the ice go?”
“Forward, my little swan.
Past palaces, churches, gates –
Forward, my little swan!”
Puzzled her gaze.
“Do you love me, Marina?”
“Very much.”
“For always?”
“Yes.”

Sunset’s soon, 
Got to go back:
You to the nursery, and me –
to read rude letters
that bite my lips.

The ice     
keeps
flowing.

24 March 1916
   
3.
RETURN OF THE BOSS

Lame horse.
Rusty sword.
Who’s he?
Some beloved boss?

Hours sighed.
Ages stepped
Eyes down.
It’s all there.

Foe--friend.
Thorn--laurel.
Dreams pricked
scratchy hoarse. 

Rusty horse.
Lame sword.
Fileted cloak. 
Totem straight back.

1921

4.

I’m so pleased you’re not obsessed with me.
I’m thrilled I’m not obsessed with you.
That earth’s sphere so weighty
Won’t swim out from under me or you.
I’m delighted I can be waggish –
Dissipated – and not toy with words,      
Not blush some suffocating wave,
Our sleeves barely teasing.
                                               
I’m overjoyed that to test my face
You’ll sweetly embrace another,
And won’t foretell I’ll burn in Hades
For not hungrily kissing yours.
That my tender name, my dear,
You won’t blurt to curse day and night…
That this church a touch quieter   
Won’t sing hallelujah over such heights!   
    
Thanks to your heart fist clenched
That without knowing yourself!
Love me so: for placid nights,
For the rarity of sunset trysting,
For no evening walks swathed in moonbeams,
For sun never lighting rapt heads too –
For you not obsessed – alas - with me,
For me not obsessed – alas – with you!

Two poems by Sergei Alexandrovich Esenin

Sergei Aleksandrovich Esenin (1895-1925) was a Russian poet of peasant background much of whose poetry focuses on the countryside, and he co-founded of the Imagist movement.  He led a stormy life that included a number of marriages, including a brief one to Isadora Duncan.  His poetry was and remains popular with everyone from the greatest poets of his generation to the public.  He was likely assassinated by the NKVD.

1.

The snowstorm cries like a gypsy violin.

Nice girl, mean smile.      
  
Am I shy from her blue look?

I don’t need much and don’t need a lot.      

We’re so far apart and so unalike –     
     
You’re young but I’ve lived through it all.

Youth has happiness but I’ve only got memory

To knead a bit on a snowy night.      

 Don’t get much care so the violin’s a storm.

Your smile snows my heart.


2.

My dreams soar interstellar,

Where you can hear cries sob,

Inner/outer sorrow to share

And torments of besmirched suffering

Where I discovered for myself

Bliss charmed to elation.

Destiny’s fate defied

I’ll explore inspiration.      

Two poems by Evgenii Evtushenko

Evgenii Aleksandrovich Evtushenko, 1933 – 2017, was an extremely talented Russian poet from Siberia of the Soviet period and well beyond who is most famous for his poem “Babii Yar” in which he proclaims his solidarity with the Jews who were slaughtered there by the Nazis and “The Heirs of Stalin” that warns against allowing Stalinists to come back into power after his death.  He was well travelled and a stirring declaimer of his poetry who moved audiences with his performances.
 
1.

Darling child-woman,
still child myself.
Why are you afraid of me?
Don’t be scared.   

Among all these bandits sporting about    
I can’t even win myself.
Our journey has been to lost hours
and lands,
as well as deceptions devised.
But each other imitated perfectly. 
Should we be hopeful?
For what and for whom?

But women are always most hopeful
when abject hopeless.
It’s thoughtless not to deceive them.
their comfort adores self-deception
and misfortune.
 
You slip your marble legs into tight jeans.
You’ll slap a touchy jerk on his hand.
Old men can’t imagine in their nightmares
how lonely young girls can be.
I bless and curse that day
when your Greek profile materialized
before me on desire’s groping beach,
up from the bottom shoals
on a sand sprinkled amphora.
I don’t want you to love me,
or that an avalanche of shy tenderness
should brush an accidental thigh  
it would be a sin to touch –                                                                
even slightly.

But full of desperate childhood,
risking deception anew,
you threaten in jest  
as we part for home,
“I won’t stop loving you –
not a chance!”     
Someday I’d like to see you
when you don’t crave or need me –
better without your husband –
classic blue baby carriage handmaiden,
sun and moon nymph to your child,
forgetting all the dirt and
disgust of gossip,
I will step quietly aside                                 
And grant a happy but bitter smile.     
                                                                                               
I can’t give what your love will demure.
Please receive it anyway you prefer.

You grace lush sun reaped tides.
There’s no way silver beach sands can be mine.

Nor can you mingle mine with yours.
When I was young and you weren’t,
because you weren’t around at all,
looming in the fog like a solstice ray,
as my first love’s eternal face
your petaled lips can’t grow, opened too late.

“I don’t love you.” I can’t tell that lie.
But three other words lurk inside me like squid on ice.
I have no strength for them and no right.
Happy to see you – bites my tongue in half.

But you, like the future, suddenly kiss me,
untamed terror clinging to my cheek
with your girl’s taut lips of dawn not flared.
Only melancholy your love depends on

2.     

I don’t like my future’s memorial,

the one shoved somewhere in a third-world country,
where puppets bang their fists like a super-power,
hide their ragged poverty secretly in their pockets      
where bananas of bent and rotten rockets
are our only fruit.  No Antonov’s apples.

A memorial is not what I need                                       
but my country, after death, given back to me.