Bulat Okudzhava

Collection of poems




    FRANCOIS VILLONíS PRAYER


    While the world is still turning, and while the daylight is broad,
    Oh Lord, pray, please give everyone what he or she hasnít got.
    Give the timid a horse to ride, give the wise a bright head,
    Give the fortunate money and about me donít forget.


    While the world is still turning, Lord, You are omnipotent,
    Let those striving for power wield it to their heart's content.
    Give a break to the generous, at least for a day or two,
    Pray, give Cain repentance, and remember me, too.


    I know You are almighty, and I believe You are wise
    Like a soldier killed in a battle believes heís in paradise.
    Like every eared creature believes, oh, my Lord, in You,
    Like we believe, doing something, not knowing what we do.


    Oh Lord, oh my sweet Lord, my blue eyed Lord, Youíre good!
    While the world is still turning, wondering, why it should,
    While it has got sufficient fire and time, as You see,
    Give each a little of something and remember about me!


    GEORGIAN SONG
    To M. Kvilividze


    I shall bury a grape stone in the warm fertile soil by my house,
    and Iíll kiss the vine twig and gather sweet grapes, my reward,
    and Iíll call all my friends to the feast, and love in my heart I will rouse...
    Otherwise, whatís the purpose of living in this lasting world?

    Dear guests, come to table, I extend you my kind invitation,
    tell me straight in my face the opinion of me that you hold,
    God almighty will send me forgiveness for my transgression.
    Otherwise, whatís the purpose of living in this lasting world?

    Dressed in purple, my charming Dali for me will be singing,
    dressed in black, Iíll sit bending my head without saying a word,
    Iíll be listening enchanted and Iíll die from deep love and sad feeling...
    Otherwise, whatís the purpose of living in this lasting world?

    When the sunset starts swirling and searching the corners around,
    May the images float, as if real, again, may them swirl
    right in front of my eyes: a blue ox, a white eagle, a trout...
    Otherwise, whatís the purpose of living at all in this world?


    THE BLUE AIR-BALLOON

    A little girl's crying: her air-balloon is gone.
    People console her, the balloon flies on.


    A young maid's crying: no boy-friend as yet.
    People console her, the balloon flies on.


    A woman is crying: her husband has left.
    People console her, the balloon flies on.


    An old woman's crying: life's been so short.
    The balloon has come back, a blue balloon it is.

    THE TIMES

    Now, again as before,
    mothers seem to be fond of their kids, love them dearly.
    In the past they did loved them, really,
    but often reproached them for sponging,
    and spanked them severely.

    Now they keep everything,
    just in case, for some future occasion:
    alarm, faith, love and tears...
    Is it an instinct
    or weakness, faint heart,
    or is it a historic experience?

    Is it something developing all by itself
    that, invisible, hangs in the air,
    that has given them fussy and fidgety love
    and filled their life with great care?

    Or, unwilling to wait, they now leave to themselves
    the right for the last word, or rather
    they are anxious to praise, exalt and forgive
    and make wonders instead of some other?

    Whatever it is,
    however you look,
    and no matter what lesson life gives us,
    the price of caress and love in this world
    again has gone up for some reasons.

    When their sons, their scrawny adorable kids,
    lie, tease cats, flood the markets,
    in laziness wallow,
    itís Abel and Icarus, not Cain and Daedelus,
    whom, mothers believe, they will follow.

    And they picture themselves,
    through the caprice and wrath,
    through the chaos of fuss
    of their daughters' whimsy:
    now Penelope's grief,
    now the arms of Jeanne d'Arc,
    now the visage of grand Mona Lisa.

    I can see their eyes full of tears,
    and their beautiful eyebrows, raised when theyíre bothered,
    and I cannot imagine
    anything else
    but for this love of mothers!

* * *

Will you please be so kind as to pull down the blinds, and,
Nurse, you needn't prepare for me any dope.
Here they are, right in front of my bed, keeping silent,
My old creditors: Love and Belief, and great Hope.

Now the short age's son has to settle accounts,
But the light empty purses drop out of my hand...
Please don't worry, Belief, don't be sad, and don't frown
For you still have a lot of your debtors around.

In a helpless and delicate way, feeling sorry,
And touching its hands with my lips, I will say:
«Please do not be upset, mother Hope, do not worry,
for you still have your sons that are here to stay.»

Openhanded, to Love empty palms I'll extend, and
I will hear its soft penitential voice:
«Don't be sad for the memory hasn't yet faded,
I have given myself all away for your cause.

But no matter whose hands may have ever caressed you,
And no matter how ardent your passions have been,
People's gossip has trebly paid off all your debts, so
You are even with me ... You are upright and clean!»

I am lounging, clean, in the fade-in of sunrise,
Right before the emergence of forthcoming day...
Three benign fair judges, three sisters, three spouses
For the last time they trust me till I can repay.

* * *
To Yury Trifonov

Let's shout and rejoice, admire one another.
About high-flown words we do not need to bother.
Let's live in mutual praise, make complimentary comments
For these are, after all, love's great and happy moments.

Let's grieve and cry without concealing feelings, whether
We're by ourselves or whether we're together.
About vicious tongues we do not have to bother
For love and sorrow always accompany each other.

Let mutual understanding attend us at conferring
So that we prevent our old mistakes recurring.
Let's get along indulging and pleasing one another
For life is very short, there won't be any other.


To O.B.

I need someone to worship and admire.
Just think, a simple ordinary ant
got suddenly possessed with the desire
to bow the knee in fascination, charmed !

The ant lost quietness and peace of mind,
life seemed so tedious to him. Meanwhile,
he made itself an idol of a kind,
a goddess in his own image and style.

And on the seventh day, at a sudden moment,
she sprang up, in a flash, from midnight lights,
without any sign and any omen...
dressed in a coat, she made a perfect sight.

Forgetting joys and sorrows, bad sensations,
he opened wide the doors to let her in
and kissed her weather-beaten hands, in adoration,
'n the little old shoes that she was wearing.

Their shadows were swaying in the doorway.
They quietly conversed, without saying a word,
like gods, they were beautiful, adoring,
like people, they were wistful and disturbed.


* * *

You're not drunkards, you're not vagrants,
round the table of seven seas,
sing the praises, sing the praises
to my woman, if you please!

Look at her as if she were
your salvation in sea storms,
you compare her, you compare her
with a shore that's very close.

We are earthly, don't you tell us
Tales of gods, they're are not for us!
We just carry on wings of ours
what you carry in your arms.

You just ought to put your trust in
the blue lighthouse on the rock,
then the shore, all over sudden,
will emerge out of the fog.


MOZART

To I.B.
Mozart is playing the old little violin,
Mozart is playing while his violin sings.
Mozart does not choose, for living, a motherland,
simply, he plays all his life, as it is.

Well, never mind, that's the way we are destined,
such is our fate: now we feast, now we fight...
Keep up your diligent efforts, maestro,
keep meditating and feeling inspired.

Somewhere around our last destination,
maybe, we'll thank our fate anyway,
only I wish that our homeland's transgression
wouldn't be turned to an idol some day.

Well, never mind, that's the way we are destined,
such is our fate: now we feast, now we fight...
Don't give up hope, hold it out, maestro,
keep meditating and feeling inspired.

Short are the years of our blithe adolescence,
off they will fly and disperse, in a flash...
Camisoles, cuffs, golden shoes, silver laces,
snow-white perukes, and a colorful splash.

Well, never mind, that's the way we are destined,
such is our fate: now we feast, now we fight...
Well, let it be, don't pay any attention, maestro,
keep meditating and feeling inspired.


* * *

To P. Luspekayev

Look here, your Majesty, Mrs. Separation,
I am feeling cold with you, thatís the revelation.
Letter from the darling,
wait, donít tear it off...
Out of luck in dying,
Iíll have luck in love.
 
 
Look here, you Majesty, Mrs. Alienation,
ardent was your hugging but with no affection.
In silky nets youíre trying
to catch me, now lay off...
Out of luck in dying,
Iíll have luck in love.
 
 
Look here, your Majesty, dear Mrs. Fortune,
you are good to some of us, to others youíre a torture.
Nine-gram piece of iron
for the heartís enough...
Out of luck in dying,
Iíll have luck in love.
 
 
Look here, your Majesty, dear Mrs. Conquest,
I havenít finished singing as you should have noticed.
Wretched things, stop lying,
donít swear an oath on blood...
Out of luck in dying,
Iíll have luck in love.


LEARNING TO PAINT

If you would like to become a great artist
donít rush to paint, make it best.
All sorts of paints, badges brushes lay out
right in front of you, first;
now you should start choosing paints; take the white one
itís the beginning, and then
pick up the yellow paint, it will imply that
everything ripens, and then
pick up the gray paint in order that autumn
might splash the sky pattern with lead,
pick up the black paint because as is known
all has beginning and end,
pick up the violet paint, do not spare it,
laugh and shed tears, and then
pick up the blue paint in order that evening
might nestle down on your palm,
pick up the red paint in order that fire
might flicker and, shimmer and then
pick up the green paint in order that you might
have twigs to throw into flame.
 
 
Mix up these paints like you mix up emotions
deep in your heart, after that
mix up the paints and your heart with both heaven
and earth, all in one, after that...
It is important that you burn without
Being disturbed and upset.
Someone may censure you in the beginning
but afterwards will not forget!

THE MUSICIAN

To I. Schvarts

The musician played the violin, and I looked into his eyes.
It was not that I was curious, I was flying in the skies.

Not because I found it boring, I just tried to understand:
how on earth such sounds could be ever made by human hand

from a simple piece of wood, and from a string, a cord of a kind,
from a fantasy, ideas, he was true to, in his mind.

One at least must be aware of how to press the fingers right,
so that the majestic sounds might not vanish in the night.

He must also penetrate us, light a fire, burn our soul...
After all, why should he care, why should he spare us at all?

Happy is a home where violin puts us wise and bids us best,
give us hope and inspiration... We'll take care of the rest..

Happy is an instrument that to the clumsy shoulder's pressed,
now I happen to be flying by its magic music blessed.

Happy is the one whose path is short, who plays by sleight of hand,
the musician that has made out of my soul a burning brand.

And a burnt soul, as is known, (there's no doubt about that),
is more righteous and more fair, more benign, in point of fact.


ANOTHER ROMANCE

Imprinted in my soul, I have the portrait of a fair lady.
Her eyes are fastened on the time of bygone days.
It's wonderful to be there: all have been excused already,
there are no strangers, nor there's any fear of years.
 
 
The highest choir glorifies her singing songs of praise with feeling,
and the musicians, dressed in black tail-coats look grand.
With every note ó good heavens! ó music can be healing...
And the conductor twists the baton in his hand.
 
 
I won't insult my fate by weeping, empty tears shedding,
but there is one thing that I think of now and then:
who are we, gentlemen, compared with that fair lady?
What is our life? Who are our ladies, dear gentlemen?
 
 
Perchance, just as before, I'm still in favour of my fair lady,
for that she's in Heaven's favour, as I know.
She writes me, certainly, but... all my postmen have grown old already
And all of my addresses changed long long ago.


THE GRASSHOPPERS

Two grasshoppers putter, knitting their brows, in the grass.
Over them blue foggy clouds to all sides are flowing past.
 
 
Beneath them are purple flowers and some sticky golden burs...
Two grasshoppers are engaged in writing poems in blank verse.
 
 
The grasshoppers dip their pens into the clouds and white milk,
so that their lines of lyric may be visible, distinct.
 
 
They synchronically scratch their heads and move their legs with jerks.
but they do not let each other get a peep of their works.
 
 
Like a lady, running to them is a little creeping bug,
but they do not feel like petting, they don't care for love and hug.
 
Other tempting creatures, too, approach them wishing to seduce
but the grasshoppers don't see them, they are writing their verse.
 
 
They endure snowfalls, heats and drizzling rain week after week,
at the turning point the world gives an abominable creak...
 
 
Summer, winter, joys and sorrows, come and go, and in between
that creative work acquires a clear-cut prophetic meaning.
 
 
And, despite their resentment, down will go in history:
bread (a poem), life (a poem), line (the branch of poplar tree).


THE SONG OF A LONG ROAD

To V. Zolotukhin

You will forget your feast and
your loss, your joys and sorrows
the minute as the moon-disk
its track of travel follows,
the minute as the owlís
shade comes into your view,
the minute as the cricket's
romance engrosses you.
 
 
You let the fading beauty
stand at the door and watch us,
now proud, now malicious,
now deaf and blind, now virtuous...
What do you care about
her ardent arms in bed ?
My friend, let's disavow,
let's soar, my dear friend.
 
 
The wife will find another
beloved one, if she wishes,
some bad one or some good one,
like you, not very precious.
As for the road you're fated
to take it as your due,
it's like your like mother's tears,
eternally with you.
 
 
As long as it is night and
the carriage keeps a-rolling
this endless winding road will
suffice us both for roving.
Why should you beat your bosom
in token of remorse ?
You'll never find, my dear,
what you have never lost.
 
 
A pine begets sweet fragrance
the sky gives healing radiance
while meagre love engenders
a pallid child to parents;
as for the road that stretches...
as for the road that stretches...
as for the road that stretches...
 
 

THE ARTISTS

Artists, dip you badges brushes in the visage
of the bustling Moscow yards and sunrise glaze.
so that brushes might resemble autumn leafage,
whirling leaves that fall
to mark November days.
 
 
Dip your brushes by the city's old tradition,
dip them in the paint of light blue colour tint,
do the painting with devotion and ambition
like we do the walking down Tverskaya street.
 
 
Let the pavement stir up as if coming round !
Let what hasn't started yet begin right off !
Keep on painting, it will pass to your account...
We don't care
if it hasn't quite come off. 
 
You depict our lives and fates like fair judges,
paint our summer, our winter, our spring...
never mind that we are outsiders,
you just paint,
and I'll expound everything.
 
 

THE HAPPY DRUMMER

Get up early
when the birds begin to clamour,
when the caretakers turn up in the yards.
You will see the happy drummer
yes, you'll see the happy drummer
take his drum and maple drumsticks in his hands.
 
 
There will be another day of fuss and tumult,
streams of people and the rambling of a tram,
you just listen, you will hear,
and you'll see the happy drummer
walking lively down the pavement with his drum.
 
 
Night will come, ó the wicked plotter and the shammer,
streets will sink into the darkness, growing calm;
take a good look you will see, yes,
you will see the happy drummer,
walking lively down the pavement with his drum.
 
 
Roll of drum... now fading in, now fading out,
coming through the midnight, bustle, fog and hum...
Canít you hear the happy drummer,
make the loud rhythmic sound
canít you see him carry proudly his drum?!
 
 

THE SONG OF THE OLD STREET-ORGAN PLAYER

My good old naughty organ,
The sound you make is sweet.
My good old naughty organ,
I wonder where you lead.
I'm plodding hardly able
to move ahead an inch.
How can I reach my aim when
the shoes I'm wearing pinch?
 
 
I'm working, I'm freelancing.
A steady job it is!
I wish my sweat would last me
for my remaining years.
I have a great assignment
of paying for my slips,
if only I could smile when
I get it in the ribs.


MY CITY IS ASLEEP

My city is asleep now, but I don't care a bit.
I was its baby-sitter, I was its little kid.
Its soldier and its worker, too, I used to be.
It always had the feeling of striking love for me.
 
 
Its helping hand it stretched me in an estranging way
remembering my week-days, but not my holiday.
And if I am to perish, and if I cease to be,
as it wakes up next morning will it remember me?
 
 
Will it send charming women late in the afternoon
to pay me their tribute, cry over me and mourn?
And yet I love it fiercely, I love it more each day,
and out of my love I model gods some way.
 
 
I don't need anything now, and I have no regrets
for there's my guitar and a pack of cigarettes.

THE SONG OF THE OPEN DOOR

When, like a beast, the snow storm roars,
when, in a rage, it howls,
you do not have to lock the doors,
of your residing house.
 
 
When on a lasting trip you go
the road is hard, supposing,
you ought to open wide your door
leave it unlocked, don't close it.
 
 
As you leave home one quiet night,
decide, don't pause a minute:
mix up the burning pinewood light
with that of human spirit.
 
 
I wish the house you live in,
were always warm and faultless..
A closed door isn't worth a thing,
a lock is just as worthless.
 
 

* * *

  
Wintertime. Night. Flying over the lampshade
a butterfly struggles:
wishing to rise high above the precarious fortune
one bungles.
 
Now in December a summer time butterfly
wants to revive,
not even thinking about
the Good and the Evil in life.
 
Is it a butterfly, or just a heavenly angel,
I wonder,
fluttering round and cherishing hopes
for some wonder?
 
Angelís attending these places
is not accidental at all,
once I can clearly see in it
outline sketch of your soul.
 
Colds, storms and blizzards are common
in this part of land at this season.
When I expressed my regret that weíd failed to take off
I was teasing.
 
We have been driven insane by the losses and gains,
that is why
now we must use the experience and skill
of the creatures that fly.
 
Strange that you tolerate us leggy, queer
and spectacled creatures,
during occasional meetings
you laud our excellent features.
 
Is it because we have broken our backs
so we finally could
figure the distance between the old notions
of Evil and Good?
 
Therefore, now since we donít have to get
into that calculation
let us believe, let us hope
that Iíll see you on summer vocation.
 
One might assume that itís only in summer
that life is unending...
There is the fluttering angel up there ...
Who knows what is pending...
 
 

THE CIRCUS

to Yury Nikulin

 
 This is not a park you visit to relax and meditate.
In a circus one has got to fall and rise, not sit and wait.
 
Sliding round, round, round right beneath the top
one must not have any doubts, think of something like a flop.
 
Dressing up for the occasion doesnít really mean a thing,
our smile is insincere, and it isnít worth a pin
 
in the face of purple plumes worn by the horses on the hop,
in the face of daring actors who donít fear but cherish hope.
Human Hope, you are a creature on the wing, you are so sweet!
Your old holy substance is amazing, beautiful indeed.
 
Even if we lose all hopes ( or we have never had such things )
you are great at spreading out your amazing magic wings
 
over circus rings and stages, over fairs, shows and balls,
over horror of spectators and alarm of know-it-alls
you appear as if risen from the dead, alive again,
to the eye of those who fall and rise, ó not sit in vain.
 
 
THE OLD JACKET
to Zh. B.
 I have a shabby jacket on,
Itís rather old and quite worn out.
I ask the tailor to come round
and alter it before too long.
 
I tell him playfully: «You see,
the jacket needs an alteration,
the art and skill of dress creation
will bring the best of luck to me».
 
I say it playfully, in fun,
but he is serious, not laughing.
He worries fearing that something
may come amiss. A funny man.
 
He is exceedingly intent
on mending it, and seems to like it;
he wants the renovated jacket
to make me happy and content.
 
And this is how he sees the plan:
when he has done with alteration
I will believe in your affection...
But he is wrong. A funny man.
 
 
* * *
to Olya
 IĎve never hovered and Iíve never been
up in the clouds where Iíve never been.
Iíve never visited and IĎve never seen
cities and towns which Iíve never seen.
Iíve never modeled and Iíve never had
jars which Iíve never modeled and had.
Iíve never worshipped and Iíve never loved
women which I havenít worshipped and loved.
But what am I actually able to do?
Is it just what Iím unable to do?
Shall I be able to run and get to
the house which I am not running up to?
Shall be able to worship and love
women which Iíll never worship and love?
Shall I be able, I wonder, to cut
the Gordian knot which IĎll never cut,
the Gordian knot Iíll never undo,
doing a song which IĎll never do
saying a word which IĎll never say,
serving the cause which IĎll never serve,
catching a bullet IĎll never deserve?..
 
 
THE SONG OF MOSCOW NIGHTS
to B. A.
 
 
When all at once the sound of trumpet
resounds, yet unclearly heard,
the word impetuously flushes
escaping lips like a night bird.
And music, like a casual shower,
meanders rumbling up above,
the little orchestra of wishes
conducted by the force of love.
 
In years of partings, fights and battles
when rains of iron, steel and lead
came down slashing us like fury
so that no lenience weíd expect,
and the commanders lost their voices...
it came as power from above,
the little orchestra of wishes
conducted by the force of love.
 
The clarinetís crushed, the trumpetís pierced
bassoonís worn like a walking stick,
the drum has burst at seams collapsing...
the clarinetistís looking chic!
The flutist, like a prince, is graceful,
agreeable over and above,
the little orchestra of wishes
conducted by the force of love.
 
 

MY PORTRAIT DRAWN IN PENCIL

 
 The squeaking pencils softly roll
for peace and quiet of my soul.
They squeak incessantly, with care,
but give a cry they do not dare.
 
My soul is burning , getting hot,
but whatís a pencil worth? Yes, what?
Abiding by the rule
it will tranquil my soul.
 
...One final stroke, ó and there it is:
my drawn image, if you please.
Iíve been immortalized...
but I canít fall and rise;
 
my temples look unhealthy, dry,
although my forehead is quite high,
I stare with indifference
ahead into the distance..
 
What shall I call this masterpiece ?
«The Teacher», «Worker» or «Artiste» ?
«Numb Witness of the Era?» ó
Iím not a rude believer.
 
Iím mortal. I am all aflame
while itís eternal in the frame,
a prize winner, it is...
...but it has got no tears.
 
 

HOW I SAT ON THE TSARíS THRONE

 Itís eighteenth century. The actors
play on a lawn, in open space.
Iím Paul the First, that is I act as
the Russian ruler of those days.
 
I listen to the sound of piano
and feel my head to music sway,
I raise my hand in regal manner,
but this is what I want to say:
 
«Away with finery and polish!
The brittle heels you should forget...
Parades and marches I abolish...
Roll up to visit bars instead...
 
Drink hard and make no bones about
rejoicing, marrying for fun...
Come on, grandees, have a look round!
Come on, cash down, everyone!»
 
And, menacingly, I am going
to draw my rapier, in a rage...
But Iím Paul the First, the sovereign.
A mutiny I cannot stage.
 
I still can hear the music linger.
And once again I want to cry:
«My dear fellows, lift a finger,
youíll work it out, if you try:
 
weíll kick the hateful monarch out,
and spit upon gendarmerie,
Iím sick and tired of that crowd...
Iíll take the lead... Just follow me...»
 
And, menacingly, I am going
to draw my rapier, in a rage...
But Iím Paul the First, the sovereign.
A mutiny I cannot stage.
 
The music plays which I must follow,
and yet I am about to say:
«For your distress, your pains, your sorrow
I want to give my life away!
 
Donít be afraid of accusations
or youíll end up in a bad way.
I look ahead through generations, ó
Iím quite aware of what I say!»
 
And, menacingly, I am going
to draw my rapier, in a rage...
But Iím Paul the First, the sovereign.
A mutiny I cannot stage.



THE NIGHT CONVERSATION

 ó My horse is worn out,
My shoes are well down at heel.
Now where shall I ride? ó
will you tell me, please, ó where shall I ride?
ó Along the Red River, my dear,
towards the Blue Hill,
towards the Blue Hill,
there, down by the Red River side.
 
ó And how do I get there?
My horse is so tired tonight.
Which is the right way to get to the place?
Tell me, please.
ó You ride to the bright light, my dear,
you ride to the light,
you ride to the bright light, my dear,
youíll find it with ease.
 
ó But where on earth is the bright light?
And why doesnít it shine?
Iíve propped up the sky with my shoulder for ages
at night...
ó The lamplighter lights it, but he is asleep,
itís his line;
he must be asleep...
And Iíve nothing to do with the light.
 
He rides on, alone, into darkness,
not knowing the way.
But where is he off to?
Nightís coming right up to the eyes!...
ó Well, what have you lost there? ó
I shout as he rides away.
ó Good Heavens, I wish that I knew it myself, ó
he replies...
 
 

THE OMEN

 If a crow flies around,
then a war is to break out.
If we let it whirl in flight,
if we let it whirl in flight,
then weíre all to go to fight.
 
To prevent the bloody war
we just have to kill the crow.
And to kill the vicious crow,
and to kill the vicious crow
we must charge the guns of war.
 
Once we charge the guns, we will
want to go to shoot and kill.
Once we open fire and shoot,
once we open fire and shoot
stupid bullets will make good.
 
For a bullet all is one.
It will hit just anyone,
friend or foe, ó just anyone,
all and every singe one,
All and sundry, everyone!
 
Now there isnít anyone,
any woman any man,
there is nothing, there is none,
just a crow, all on its own
and no one to shoot it down.



* * *

 The word is instant, and life is short.
Where does man find his dwelling spot?
 
Where in the world, where in natureís lap
do the roses of his living soul spring up?
 
How does he manage to find a way
to keep to himself, and to have his say,
 
to sing his songs, walk around the world,
turn his heart from iron to gold ?
 
How does he manage a funny man,
on fairs of kisses and fuss and fun,
 
amidst flattery, shots and strife,
to pick out nothing else but love ?
 
A splinter will draw his blood to jeers :
«Did you want love ? Now here h it is !»
 
A slap in the face in the paradise :
«Did you want love ? Now hereís your price!»
 
And yet he contrives, a funny man,
on fairs of kisses, wrangles and fun,
 
amidst flattery, feasts and strife,
to pick out nothing else but love!
 
 
* * *
O. Chukhontsev
 Again Iíve encountered Hope, ó what a happy occasion!
I have been away while it never has changed its location.
 
She wears Her fortunate poplin apparel as ever,
Her eyes, glowing, ardent, are focused on ages ahead.
You are our sister, and we are Your brethren for ever,
itís hard to believe life will come to an end.
 
We know, that You never have promised us wonders.
When young we envision depicturing what is beyond us;
 
we write our songs, make our lives, and we donít bear grudges,
and no one will dare impede us, or get in the way.
You are our sister, and we are Your previous judges,
we had our fortune which faded away.
 
We wish we could bring Love and Hope into one, ó close together,
it certainly would make a wonderful a picture, we gather !
 
We then wouldnít have any anguish, ó we would just escape it,
and only sweet wonderful torments would show on the face.
You are our sister, but why were we long separated?
The reasons is youth and old age in this case.
 
 

THE PAPER SOLDIER

  Once there lived a soldier-boy,
quite brave, one canít be braver,
but he was merely a toy
for he was made of paper.
 
He wished to alter everything,
and be the whole worldís helper,
but he was puppet on a string,
a soldier made of paper.
 
Heíd bravely go through fire and smoke,
heíd die for you. No vapour.
But he was just a laughing-stock,
a soldier made of paper.
 
You would mistrust him and deny
your secrets and your favour.
Why should you do it, really, why?
Ďcause he was made of paper.
 
He dreads the fire? Not at all!
One day he cut a caper
and died for nothing; after all,
he was a piece of was paper.
 
 

* * *

Sound of trumpet over cities
made us weak, as tired as dogs,
we were on the run like sprinters,
and we hit the ground like rocks.
 
Just a set of keys and buttons,
valves, the beauty of the brass;
the explosion, like white cotton,
seems to be quite safe to us.
 
Just a single chord of tonal
notes of sound, long and short,
puts an end to the eternal
earthly life and common lot.
 
Shall we let the trumpet bravely
make its lovely loud noise
talking to us in a friendly
confidential tone of voice?
 
Golden, with the tint of ear,
reddish, with the tint of brass,
its rejoicing voice we hear,
to live and die it calls on us.
 
As if bursting into action
Iím following it again,
I, a tempted man of passion,
man of fifty, blind but sane..
 
Shall I disregard the sound,
feeling bad will be the best?..
Make pretence?
Or face about?
Tear it out of my chest?..
* * * 
To G.V.
  Darkness has covered the room aní
itís quiet and still as can be.
Good heavens! Your Majesty Woman,
you really want to see me?
 
Lighting is muddy in here,
the walls have a leakage trace...
Your Majesty Woman! Oh dear!
How did you get to this place?
 
My goodness! You came like a fire.
Smoke makes me gasp, I canít breathe...
Now do come in, I desire.
Donít stand in the doorway, please.
 
Where do you come from, my pretty?
How funny! I must be on edge...
You have mistaken the city,
the door, and the street and the age.
 
 

IN THE CITY PARK

 
 
The eyes of fear are big,
while those of happiness are round,
festivities and injuries cause wrinkles on the face...
They started playing Bach
as the conductor quietly came out,
and everything calmed down, and all was back in place.
 
So all was back in place as soon as Bach resounded.
If we did not have hope,
the world would not make any sense.
This vanity of line and wine and sign ó
we would forget about it,
and for your first-rate fancy shoes
you wouldnít care less.
 
«It doesnít matter where you go
and where you tread the ground.
It doesnít matter if a fisherman
brings home big fish or small.
It doesnít matter if youíre dead
or come home safe and sound,
and who assists you, friend or foe, ó
you do not care at all..».
For goodness sake, we wish such things
would never happen. Never !
Perhaps that is the reason, maybe, that is why
the ordinary orchestra
plays with the usual flavour,
we follow it with ease or cannot do it though we try.
 
My dear musician, now you play,
and you are not aware
that guilt and happiness and illness disappear at once
the instant you, my dear musician,
dear clarinet-player,
just grip your instrument
in your tobacco-smelling hands!
 
 

THE SONG OF THE TRAMPLING JACKBOOTS

 Now do hear the sound of trampling boots?
And do you see the birds fly off like mad
and women stare scrutinising routes?
I think you know what they are staring at.
 
Now do hear the sound of drum-beat bass?
The soldiers have to say their good-byes...
The squadron leaves to vanish in the haze...
The past appears clearly in the eyes.
 
What happens to your soldierís fortitude
when you return to your old neighbourhood?
Itís womenís trick who steal it from your chest
and keep it like a birdie in the nest.

What happens to your women, man of war,
when you come home and open the front door?
They welcome you and kindly let you in
but in the house thereís a smell of sin.
 
The past is gone ó who cares about that!
We look into the future, for the light!
And in the fields the carrion-crows are fat,
the roaring war pursues us like a plight.
 
Again you hear the sound of trampling boots
and see the frenzied birds fly off like mad,
and women stare scrutinising routes...
Itís our napes that they are staring at.
 
 * * *
 The music of the soul is flat,
the music of attack is loud;
but make no haste about that,
you may be wrong in making out
that music of attack is loud,
and music of the soul is flat.
 
The louder is the attack,
the sweeter are the lights around;
and thatís the way it was, in fact,
when I was wandering about:
the sweeter are the lights around,
the louder is the attack.
 
Itís been believed for ages long,
and up to now itís true as ever:
the louderís the winnerís song
the bittererís the loss and favor
for up to now itís true as ever
whatís been believed for ages long.
 
We think it runs in our blood
itís not what we have learned or borrowed
the purerís the tune of love
the louderís the tune of sorrow;
the louderís the tune of sorrow
the higher is the tune of love.
(from sound recording, 1986)
 
 THE LAST TROLLEY BUS
  When Iím in trouble and totally done
and when all my hope I abandon
I get on the blue trolley bus on the run,
the last one,
at random.
 
Night trolley, roll on sliding down the street,
around the boulevards keep moving
to pick up all those who are wrecked and in need
of rescue
from ruin.
 
Night trolley bus will you please open your doors !
On wretched cold nights, I can instance,
your sailors would come, as a matter of course,
to render
assistance.
 
So many a time they have lent me a hand
to help me get out of grievance...
Imagine, there is so much kindness behind
this silence
and stillness.
 
Last trolley rolls round the greenery belt
and Moscow, like river, dies down...
the hammering blood in my temples I felt
calms down
calms down.
 
 
* * *
 To A.Sh.
  There are lions beside you, dear N.P.
They guard your peace and quiet, like a demon.
Iíve never been a happy man with women,
you are the first one, as far as I can see.
 
I say, donít pick up speed, just take your time,
no trivial words of praise from me youíll hear,
Iím not a tourist of a kind, my dear,
Iím just a lonely man, thatís what I am.
 
Youíre by my side again. Iím used to you!
I stare deep into your eyes intently.
Itís outstanding men who loved you greatly,
although you never cared who was who.
 
Youíd go towards the main street, looking nice,
without listening to the ranks and titles,
you would be followed by the marble lions
remembering the glamor of your eyes.
 
I would bend down to look into those eyes
and get reflected in the wide blue ocean,
a happy, strong young, man, filled with emotion...
So why this sorrow, why those tears and cries?
 
They say, the bygone days donít count.. Alas
the waves run over, wearing all out...
For ages long your off-white color garment
has not allowed me to forget the past.


* * *

All night the roosters uttered cries,
and swayed their necks like crazy,
as if they were reading rhymes
declaiming in a frenzy.
 
And in those cries there was the kind
of bitterness, aroused
by the unwanted manís defiant
appearance in the house.
 
Far-far away the crowing rang,
inept and unavailing,
like the caressing of a man
who has become an alien
 
when sheís unable to caress
and chary of refusing...
And thus the night dragged on like blessed,
unending
and confusing.
 
 

THE MAIN SONG

 Wherever I go I can hear
the song that has turned me on,
the best one I heard over here,
I listen again to the song.
 
The singing requires more effort,
itís raw and unripe, in fact.
However, the music is perfect,
the lyric precise and exact.
Through times yet unseen and unknown
through transient tears and smiles
I hear a trumpeter blowing
the tune in the best of styles.
 
Unusual, light and so pleasant,
it whirls over roads in a spin,
this main song which up to the present
I havenít been able to sing.
 
 

PHOTOGRAPHS OF MY FRIENDS

 Money comes and goes and tears,
words are easy to forget,
grass is trampled, leaves are shed,
only faces, it appears,
will remain in their stead...
When they smile, or when in tears,
their voices canít be heard.
 
Biographical descriptions
pour from photographic pictures;
all those lives are interwoven,
interlaced with our own.
 
Neither suffering nor grievance
can be seen, ó theyíre out of sight,
just as envy, greed and plight
canít be seen from their appearance,
 
nor concern, nor magic spells,
no regret, nor disappointment...
there are two things in the portrait, ó
light and age, ó and nothing else.
 
We embrace them live, regarding,
and we drink to their fate...
...itís a pity, understanding
comes a little bit too late!
 
 * * *
  Here we stand, in desperation,
folding our arms in pride,
on the brink of separation,
at the threshold of a plight
where clocks with measured paces
stick precisely to their course,
and we keep our smiling faces
under lock and key, like doors.
Days of reconing are close, and
time has driven us to bay...
We are nailed to our crossroads
in a careless, slipshod way.
 
 

THE YARD IN ARBAT STREET

...Like songs, years go by very quickly.
I've changed all my views and my mood.
The yard is too small for me, really,
Iím going to leave it for good.
 
I want neither honors nor riches,
nor anything else for the road
except for my neighbourhood which is
the only big thing that Iíve got.
 
Into my rucksack I put it
preparing myself for the stroll,
the yard, not so highly reputed,
but with a human soul.
 
Iím kind with it, strong, safe and sound.
What else do I need for once?
I touch its affectionate ground
to warm up my frozen hands.
 

* * *

 Unyielding, raged and free,
burn, fire, burn on, please...
Decembers tend to be
replaced by Januaries.
 
Weíve anything at all:
smiles, joys and everything,
one common moon for all,
one summer and one spring.
 
Weíd live and go to grass
then, come what may, we will
for all the wrongs of ours
stand trial by ordeal.
We do not care, since
we know: when life is gone
for all of our sins
the reconing is one.
 
Unyielding, raged and free,
burn, fire, burn on, please...
Decembers have to be
replaced by Januaries.
 
 

THE SONG OF A HAPPY SOLDIER

  Iíll take a bag, a helmet and a ration,
a jacket of protective coloration,
Iíll tramp about the streets, a barracks lodger,
itís easy to become a real soldier.
 
I will forget my daily cares and pledges,
I do not have to think of jobs and wages.
Iím playing with my gun, a barracks lodger,
itís easy to become a real soldier.
 
If something should go wrong, I do not care.
Itís, so to say, my Motherlandís affair.
Itís great to be a simple barracks lodger,
an innocent and inoffensive soldier.
 
 

* * *

Iíve sung all my songs.
Iím out.
So donít talk about it now.
Though, maybe, a line, or a sound,
has been left out somehow.
 
The wheels spin above and around it,
and though it canít swing at one dash,
naive and quite simple-minded,
itís eager to dazzle and flash.
 
Thereís still room for hope, oh my dear,
spread out your nice little sails,
youí are like a shell much too sheer
to sail through the city waves.
 
Wherever the waves cast you out
donít call anybody for aid;
thereís no need to give an account,
keep sailing, do not be afraid.
 
Youíll be like the instant picture
of silver midnight and yard,
a boy with guitar as a feature
of neighbourhood
in Arbat.
 
 THE NIGHT DUTY IN APRIL
to Zh.B.
 
 
What a wonderful and lovely night weíre having!
But my mother is alarmed and worried strongly.
ó Why do you stay out at these hours, darling,
on your own
and so lonely?
 
ó Iím on my way towards the end of April, dear,
I should say, the stars have grown kind and round...
Mother, Iím just on duty here,
Itís my April
Nightly round
 
ó Sonny, dear, I remember all your story;
now youíre sad, your eyes are filled with grievance...
Maybe, sheís forgotten you, and isnít sorry,
and she doesnít
seek forgiveness?
 
ó Iím on my way towards the end of April, dear,
I should say, the stars have grown kind and round...
Mother, Iím just on duty here,
Itís my April
nightly roundÖ

THE SONG OF ARTIST PYROSMANI*
to Nikolai Gritsuk
  What happens to the many
who dream about it all,
when artist Pyrosmani
comes our of the wall?
 
Out of simple settings
and boring livelihood,
he goes to sell his paintings
to buy himself some food.
 
Heís thin and pale as ever,
but tries to keep his head,
the deer he paints, however,
look healthy and well-fed.
 
Thereís Margaret, the beauty,
lying in grass, at rest,
a mole stands out cutely
upon her open breast.
 
The world rejoices, bragging,
amidst the cheerful cries,
meanwhile he paints his Maggie
and waits till she arrives.
 
He cared much for life and
held it in high esteem...
but there was not enough of
soup in the world
for him.
 
 *Pyrosmani, Nikolai (1862-1912) ó Georgian artist, primitivist, known for spontaneous, naive and poetic vision of the world, created majestic paintings characterized by strict composition and austere coloring.

THE OLD STUDENTSí SONG

He who will dare our union mar
deserves e the most severe sentence,
I wouldnít give a grey guitar
for his damned life and his repentance.
 
So fervently the age intends
to knock us down with a feather...
Letís join our hands my dear friends,
we wonít get lost, if weíre together.
 
At alien feasts on festive days,
amidst the shaky truths and fairness,
before we hear the words of praise
we will spruce up and preen our feathers.
 
While our stupid plume portends
a lasting journey, full of care,
letís join our hands my dear friends,
letís join our hands, friends, I declare!
 
When the partition day arrives
we will not covet bread for gratis
and we wonít get to paradise,
instead, Ophelia will bless us.
 
Before the crucial day descends,
before we for the road prepare
letís join our hands my dear friends,
letís join our hands, friends, I declare!
 
 * * *
to Y. Kim
 What can I do for you, grasshopper, dear,
when with your song of praise you get ahead?
It cures one of grief, just lend an ear,
just listen, and it will revive the dead.
 
You touch a string, I wonder how you make it,
so that the chorus suddenly joins in,
mysterious, impassioned, elevated,
concurrent chorus of your kith and kin...
 
Is it a miracle or mystification,
about to descend from heaven underneath,
that makes you break the secret of confession
backed by the chorus, loudly, with ease ?
 
You, too, belong to the cohort of poets
immortal kinship of creative men...
Keep crying, maybe, your endeavours, poems,
in future wonít be treated with disdain.
 
I want to praise a poet out loud.
for his insanity and his untiring hand,
he strains his voice, heíll certainly top out
and come into his own in the end.
(from sound recording, 1986)
 
 

* * *

After rain the sky
is so vast and clear
both the brass and dew
are as bright as day.
Sounds of flute and horn,
flowing, reach my ear,
the conductor is
up to fly away.
 
Brass-bands of the past
in my heart resound,
not the war time bands,
but from peaceful days;
vanished is the tune,
spreading all around
but the vocalist
doesnít show his face.
 
We have women here,
they are all dressed out,
and the cherry-trees
are in blossom now.
Taken by surprise,
maybe, weíll luck out
and weíll meet again
in the park, somehow.
 
But from bygone days
and from bygone hazards,
I complain, lament
and solicit, but
those nostalgic tunes,
splitting up in currents,
flow like somber, murky
streams into my heart.
(stage performance, 1985)
 
 * * *
 The tune swayed up and down, forward, backward,
reminding of a boat on raging waves;
the old street-organ playing in the backyard
presented me with sadness and great pains.
 
I was about to begin to cry
when suddenly I clearly made out
the happy, joyous and delighted sound
of a hilarious crazy note, oh my!
 
Though we are in a state of agitation,
confused by the disharmony of pipes,
but in the face of mortal inundation
we want to live.
We have no other rights.
 
All tricks and duperies of the intriguer
have given nothing in return for love...
...so many, many times Iíve pulled the trigger
but itís been nightingales that have gone off.
 
 * * *
  Life is fine but itís strange, for a wonder,
and as short as the stroke of the pen;
now itís time to slow down and ponder
on its wound and the torturous pain.
 
Now itís time to be thoughtful and serious
while we live we should muse and think hard:
what is there behind most mysterious,
darkest corner of human heart?
 
They may say things are quite inauspicious
but we must learn the lesson and rules :
never beg for the pitiful pieces
of benevolence, mercy and truth.
 
In the face of the epochal issues
(though itís rights we shouldnít curtail),
we should not fish for pitiful pieces
but exert ourselves tooth and nail.
(stage performance, 1985)
 
 * * *
 My Hope, at this successive session
will you please play me something special
and make the blush come off my face,
just like a horse that goes the pace.
 
I beg of you please play me something
in order that there might be nothing :
nor notes, nor keys, nor peace, nor sky...
Am I unhappy ?
Itís a lie.
 
Weíre yet to cry and laugh and smile
but not give in
nor reconcile.
We havenít passed the main ascent
and havenít found each other yet.
 
These streets and lanes are
like your sisters
Your playing is their voice, for instance,
and midnight click of their heels ...
I have desirous eyes, it seems.
 
I like so much the way youíre playing
as if you were slowly fading...
But there is something in your fire,
I donít know what though I desire.


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