Monday, July 28, 2008

Another Russian Poet

Yevgenny Yevtushenko was already an upper middle aged poet when he "discovered" Nika Turbina in 1983. She was eight. He had lived through most of the communist years, at first in love with the ideals but later coming to hate and fear the realities of communist totalitarianism. He had been a Russian hero and icon, been denounced by the authorities and become a real Russian hero and icon in people's secret hearts. Among the very many accomplishment of Yevtushenko, he served on the Russian Parliament as a staunch advocate of democracy.

For the second poem here, Babii Yar, he has been nominated for the Nobel Prize. We will see in December whether he wins it. In my opinion it is much deserved and long overdue. If he does indeed win, it will almost certainly be the shortest work for which the Nobel has ever been awarded, though of course the award would be in recognition of all of his work and not only the one poem for which he was nominated.

But his poems really do not need my introduction.

One note however: Babii Yar was originally spaced all over the page, causing one to search somewhat for the next phrase. This silly host site does not support such a format and therefore everything is left justified by default. I can't make it obey me and format it as it should be!


No, I'll not take the half of anything!
Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!
Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches--
All these are mine! I'll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.
Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!
I don't want happiness by halves,
Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there's a pillow I would share,
Where gently pressed against a cheek,
Like a helpless star, a falling star,
A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.


No monument stands over Babii Yar.
A drop sheer as a crude gravestone.
I am afraid.
Today I am as old in years
as all the Jewish people.
Now I seem to be
a Jew.
Here I plod through ancient Egypt.
Here I perish crucified, on the cross,
and to this day I bear the scars of nails.
I seem to be
The Philistine
is both informer and judge.
I am behind bars.
Beset on every side.
spat on,
Squealing, dainty ladies in flounced Brussels lace
stick their parasols into my face.
I seem to be then
a young boy in Byelostok.
Blood runs, spilling over the floors.
The bar-room rabble-rousers
give off a stench of vodka and onion.
A boot kicks me aside, helpless.
In vain I plead with these pogrom bullies.
While they jeer and shout,
"Beat the Yids. Save Russia!"
some grain-marketeer beats up my mother.
O my Russian people!
I know
are international to the core.
But those with unclean hands
have often made a jingle of your purest name.
I know the goodness of my land.
How vile these antisemites--
without a qualm
they pompously called themselves
"The Union of the Russian People"!
I seem to be
Anne Frank
as a branch in April.
And I love.
And have no need of phrases.
My need
is that we gaze into each other.
How little we can see
or smell!
We are denied the leaves,
we are denied the sky.
Yet we can do so much--
embrace each other in a dark room.
They’re coming here?
Be not afraid. those are the booming
sounds of spring:
spring is coming here.
Come then to me.
Quick, give me your lips.
Are they smashing down the door?
No, it’s the ice breaking...
The wild grasses rustle over Babii Yar.
The trees look ominous,
like judges.
Here all things scream silently,
and, baring my head,
slowly I feel myself
turning gray.
And I myself
am one massive, soundless scream
above the thousand thousand buried here.
I am
each old man
here shot dead.
I am
every child
here shot dead.
Nothing in me
shall ever forget!
The "Internationale", let it
when the last antisemite on earth
is buried forever.
In my blood there is no Jewish blood.
In their callous rage, all antisemites
must hate me now as a Jew.
For that reason
I am a true Russian!

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