Anonymous: Deor (From Old English)

This poem refers to stock characters — real and fictional — from Germanic lore. Some of the figures are now obscure, and most are not known directly from Old English versions of the story. I have modernized many of the names slightly, giving them forms that would be plausible as Modern English versions of the name.
Wayland (Old English Wēland, Old Norse Vǫlundr, Old High German Wiolant) was a smith renowned for his metal working ability. He was forced to work for Nithad (OE Niþhad, ON Níðuðr) who hamstrung him to stop his escape. Wayland avenged himself by killing the king's sons, raping his daughter Beadild (OE Beadohilde, ON Böðvildr).
Mathild and Geat are quite opaque. They appear to be famous lovers that met a tragic end, like Romeo and Juliet, or Layla and Majnun. The ablest guess is that they correspond to Magnhild and Gaute of a Scandinavian ballad tale recorded in the 19th century, but even if so the story as it was known to the poet's English audience may well have differed greatly from the version known from Scandinavia a thousand years later.
Thedrick is Theodoric, the Ostrogothic emperor who ruled in Italy from 493 to 526. The English knew him as a tyrant through Boethius and through Gregory's Dialogi. Ermenric is Eormanric the Goth, another famous tyrant, known to us from Beowulf and Widsith.

Fulk and Cain say in their History of Old English Literature
That the catalogue is an unfeeling construct is wholly a modern prejudice: Deor illustrates perhaps better than any specimen how the aggregation of seemingly random examples can be made to produce a lyrically effective work, expressing a profound sense of loss against a sweeping background of legendary history. The paratactic nature of the catalogue form in fact suits it admirably to the aesthetic of ironic juxtaposition. 
By Anonymnous
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

In Wormland, Wayland went through harrows,
The strongminded smith suffered in exile.
His soul-companions were sorrow and cold
In wintry exile. He ached for escape
When Nithad caught and crippled him,
And strung him down with severed sinews,
Binding a slave of the better man.

That passed in time. This can too. 

To Beadild's mind her brothers' deaths
Weren't as wounding as what she faced
Herself when she came to clearly see
That she was pregnant. That princess unmarried
Could not know what would come of her,
Tried not to recall the rape had happened.

That passed in time. This can too.

In a hundred songs we have heard the pang
Of Mathild and Geat who grew a bottomless
And baneful love   that banished sleep.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all know how Thedrick for thirty winters
Ruled the Merings and then no more.

That passed in time. This can too.

We all have heard of Ermenrick's
Wolfsick mind. He was one cruel king
Who ruled over the outland Goths.
His state was set in strung-up hearts 
As strongmen sat in sorrow-shackles
Awaiting the worst, wishing often
For a foe to liberate the land of their king.

That passed in time. This can too.

A man sits mournful, his mind ripped from joy,
His spirit in dark and deeming himself
Foredoomed to endure ordeals forever.
Then he may think how throughout the Midworld
The Wise God goes and works around:
Meting out grace, mercy and certain
Success to some, suffering to many.

Of myself I have this much to say:
I was songmaker for a time  to the tribe of Heden,
Dear to my master. "Deor" was my name.
For many seasons  I sang in that hall
To the heart of my king. But Heorrend now
Has reaped the riches and rights of land
That guardian of men  once granted me,
Stolen my place  with a poet's skill. 

That passed in time. This can too.

The Original:

Wēland him be wurman  wræces cunnade,
ānhȳdiġ eorl  earfoða drēag,
hæfde him tō ġesīþþe  sorge ond longaþ,
winterċealde wræce;  wēan oft onfond,
siþþan hine Nīþhād  on nēde leġde,
swoncre seonobende  on syllan monn.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Beadohilde ne wæs  hyre brōðra dēaþ
on sefan swā sār  swā hyre sylfre þing,
þæt hēo ġearolīce  onġieten hæfde
þæt hēo ēacen wæs;  ǣfre ne meahte
þrīste ġeþencan,  hū ymb þæt sċeolde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Wē þæt Mæþhilde  monġe ġefrūnon
wurdon grundlēase  Ġēates frīge,
þæt him sēo sorglufu  slǣp ealle binom.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Þēodrīċ āhte  þrītiġ wintra
Mǣringa burh;  þæt wæs monegum cūþ.

Þæs oferēode, þisses swā mæġ.

Wē ġeāscodan  Ēormanrīċes
wylfenne ġeþōht;  āhte wīde folc
Gotena rīċes.  Þæt wæs grim cyning.
Sæt seċġ moniġ  sorgum ġebunden,
wēan on wēnan,  wyscte ġeneahhe
þæt þæs cynerīċes  ofercumen wǣre.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Siteþ sorgċeariġ,  sǣlum bidǣled,
on sefan sweorceþ,  sylfum þinceþ
þæt sȳ endelēas  earfoða dæl.
Mæġ þonne ġeþencan,  þæt ġeond þās woruld
wītiġ dryhten  wendeþ geneahhe,
eorle monegum  āre geṡċeawaþ,
wīslīcne blǣd,  sumum wēana dǣl.

Þæt iċ bi mē sylfum  secgan wille,
þæt iċ hwīle  wæs Heodeninga scop,
dryhtne dȳre.  Mē wæs Dēor nama.
Āhte iċ fela wintra  folgaþ tilne,
holdne hlāford,  oþþæt Heorrenda nū,
lēoþcræftiġ monn  londryht ġeþāh,
þæt mē eorla hlēo  ǣr ġesealde.

Þæs oferēode,  þisses swā mæġ.

Manuscript of Dēor in the Exeter Book:

Mōdor Gōs: Bæ Bæ Sweart Scēap (Ænglisc)

Bæ Bæ Sweart Sceap
Mōdor Gōs
Ġeþēodde A.Z. Formann

Bæ bæ sweart sċēap
Hæfst þū ǣnġe wulle?
Gēa lēof, gēa lēof,
þrī saccas fulle.

Twā mīnum hlaforde
Ond āne his wīfe
Ac nāne þam earman ċilde
Būtan cotlīfe.


Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, marry, have I,
Three bags full;

One for my master,
One for my dame,
But none for the little boy
Who cries in the lane.

Mōdor Gōs: Jack ond Jill (Ænglisc)

Æþel ond Æþelrēd 
Mōdor Gōs
Geþēodde A.Z. Formann

Tō hylles toppe
For wæterstoppan
Clamb Æþel mid Æþelrēde
Æþelrēd ofhrēas
his hrycg adrēas
and Æþel fēoll æfter and blēdde.


Jack and Jill
Went up the hill
To fetch a pale of water
Jack fell down
And broke his crown
And jill came tumbling after

Mōdor Gōs: Ēa diðel-diðele (Ænglisc)

Ēa diðel-diðele
Mōdor Gōs
Ġeþēodde A.Z. Formann

Ēa diðel-diðele
catte ond fiðele. 
Ofer mōnan hlēop cū mid fisċe
ond se hundel lōh 
hira plegan þe drōh
þenden hlædel oþarn mid disċe


Hey diddle diddle
The cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed
To see such a craft
And the dish ran away with a spoon.

Kalman Kalocsay: Cassandra (From Esperanto)

By Kálmán Kalocsay
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

With a cool head and an unfevered brow, 
I cannot be diseased by the miasms
Of this time's fashionable enthusiasms. 
My mournful sight is far too lucid now.

There is no saving this grim human race.
Heroic courage and pious cataplasms
Will never cure it of the nasty spasms
That take it deathward at a soldier's pace.

We'll die hunting each other to the last
With bullets, rockets, bombs, and poison gas,
Damned undeserving of life's joy or love.

And after the hard sweepthrough of Destruction
Out of the wreckage a fresh race will move
The bricks of a new, different world's construction.

The Original:


Fridkapa mi jam estas kaj senfebra.
Ne povas min infekti la miasmoj
De la nuntempaj modaj entuziasmoj:
Tro klara estas mia vid' funebra.

Ne estas sav' por ĉi homar' tenebra.
Kurac' heroa, piaj kataplasmoj
Ĝin same ne sanigos el la spasmoj,
Kiuj ĝin portos al pereo nepra.

Forfalos ni en reciproka ĉaso
Per kuglo kaj per bombo kaj per gaso,
Damnitaj kaj ne indaj por vivĝuo.

Kaj post la trabalao de l' Detruo
El la ruinoj prenos freŝa raso
La brikojn por la nova mondkonstruo.

Avrom Suckever: Resto (Eljidigita)

Jen plia esperantlingva traduko, ĉi-foje el la jida. 

One more translation into Esperanto, this time from Yiddish.  

Avrom Suckever
Eljidigis A.Z. Foreman

Kiu restos? Kio restos? Restos pura vento,
Restos de blindulo foriranta la blindeco.
Restos ŝnureret' de ŝaumo, signo de la maro, 
Restos nubo fiksiĝita sur branĉet' de arbo.

Kiu restos? Kio restos? Restos parolero
Por reherbi sian kreon kun geneza vero. 
Restos vjola roz' en sia propra honor' nure. 
Sep herberoj el la herbo ĝin komprenos pure.

Pli ol ĉiuj steloj de ĉi tie ĝis la nord'
Restos tiu stelo, kiu falas en larm' for. 
Ĉiam gut' de vin' en sia kruĉo ankaŭ restos. 
Kiu restos? Restos Di'. Ĉu ne sufiĉa estos?

La Originalo:

װער װעט בלײַבן? װאָס װעט בלײַבן? בלײַבן װעט אַ װינט,
בלײַבן װעט די בלינדקײט פֿונעם בלינדן, װאָס פֿאַרשװינדט.
בלײַבן װעט אַ סימן פֿונעם ים: אַ שנירל שוים,
בלײַבן װעט אַ װאָלקנדל פֿאַרטשעפּעט אויף אַ בוים.

װער װעט בלײַבן? װאָס װעט בלײַבן? בלײַבן װעט אַ טראַף,
בראשיתֿדיק אַרויסצוגראָזן װידער זײַן באַשאַף.
בלײַבן װעט אַ פֿידלרויז לכּבֿוד זיך אַלײן,
זיבן גראָזן פֿון די גראָזן װעלן זיך פֿאַרשטײן.

מער פֿון אַלע שטערן אַזש פֿון צפֿון ביז אַהער,
בלײַבן װעט דער שטערן, װאָס ער פֿאַלט אין סאַמע טרער.
שטענדיק װעט אַ טראָפּן װײַן בלײַבן אין זײַן קרוג.
װער װעט בלײַבן? גאָט װעט בלײַבן, איז דיר ניט גענוג?

Emily Dickenson: "Ne tiu mondo ĉi finfinas" (Elangligita)

Ĉar mi emis ŝangeton de paŝo, pensis mi, ke estus amuza ion elangligi. 

Since I felt like a change of pace, I thought it would be fun to translate something from English into Esperanto. 

"Ne tiu mondo ĉi finfinas"
Emily Dickenson
Elangligis A.Z. Foreman

Ne tiu mondo ĉi finfinas.
Speco postestaras.
Kiel muziko nevideblas. 
Sed, kiel son', realas. 
Embarasas, signodonas —
La filozof' — nescias —
Kaj tra enigm' kribrila — fine
La sagacec' trairas.
Ne ĝin divenas la kleruloj.
Por ĝin atingi — l' homoj frontis
La mokon de generacioj
Kaj la krucumon, montris
Ke 'l fid' ekglidas, ridas, resaltas
Ruĝiĝas se vidatas
Plukas branĉeton de pruvpeco,
De ventflag' vojon petas.
Ho, gestoj ŝvelas elkatedre —
Kaj halelujoj grandas.
Ne trankviligas drog' la denton
anime mordetantan.

La Originalo:

This World is not Conclusion.
A Species stands beyond --
Invisible, as Music --
But positive, as Sound --
It beckons, and it baffles --
Philosophy -- don't know --
And through a Riddle, at the last --
Sagacity, must go --
To guess it, puzzles scholars --
To gain it, Men have borne
Contempt of Generations
And Crucifixion, shown --
Faith slips -- and laughs, and rallies --
Blushes, if any see --
Plucks at a twig of Evidence --
And asks a Vane, the way --
Much Gesture, from the Pulpit --
Strong Hallelujahs roll --
Narcotics cannot still the Tooth
That nibbles at the soul --

Kálmán Kalocsay: Autumnal Park (From Esperanto)

Written sometime between 1939 and 1945

Autumnal Park
By Kálmán Kalocsay
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

The fall has never been this beautiful.
The trees parade the park in lavish gowns
Decked with a thousand shades of colorful. 
All the reds, yellows, oranges and browns
Sparkle up in a gentle sheen of sun.
With sheaves of light stroked to a blarney croon, 
Like airy harps the leaving branches thrum
The melody of a mysterious rune. 

I drown amid the great idyll. On me
The leaves come falling from the linden tree.
Peopleless nature has me lullabied
Until the big dumb blatant rumbles fall
On my head from a world in flames outside. 
History marches hard upon us all. 

Audio of me reciting this translation in English

Audio of me reciting this poem in Esperanto

The Original:

Aŭtuna parko

Neniam tiel belis la aŭtuno.
Paradas pompe en la park' la arboj
per milnuanca bunto de la farboj,
oranĝkoloro, flavo, ruĝo, bruno
fajreras en la milda bril' de l' suno,
kaj sub karesa flato de lumgarboj
la branĉoj zumas kiel aerharpoj
la melodion de mistera runo.

Mi dronas en ĉi granda idilio,
surfalas min folioj de tilio,
kaj la natur' senhoma min enlulas.
Sed min defore trafas nun murmure
obtuza bru'. La mondo tie brulas,
la historio marŝas al ni dure.

Tadeusz Borowski: Farewell to Maria (From Polish)

Farewell to Maria
By Tadeusz Borowski
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Tadeusz Borowski was imprisoned at Auschwitz. His fiancée Maria, in Birkenau. Tadeusz worked as a roofer and managed to see her on occasion. As the war wore on, he was moved to Duatmergen, and then to Dachau where he was liberated by the allied advance.

If you are living, then remember
that I still am. But do not come
to me. In this black swollen night 
snowflakes stick to the panes like gum.

Wind wheezes. Naked tree-shapes smack
the windows. Over me like smoke
from blown-out towns and battle fronts
the boundless deaf blunt darkness floats.

Horridly quiet. Why've I lived
so long? Now, only bitter pain. 
Do not come back. My love all went 
up in the crematorium flame. 

There you were mine. Your body, covered
in abscesses and scabies, rose 
up like a cloud. There you were mine,
from heaven, from fire. Burned out. Case closed.  

You will not come back to me. Neither
will the fog-drunken wind return.
The dead won't rise from common graves, 
the brittle ash cannot unburn.  

Don't. Don't come back. It was all play,
theatrics, figments of the mind!
Your love is circling over me
like human smoke above the wind.  

Tadeusz eventually learned that Maria had made her way to Sweden. The two finally married in 1946. Five years later, he became involved with another woman. Three days after the birth of their daughter, Tadeusz stuck his head into an oven and gassed himself to death. 

The Original:

Pożegnanie z Marią

Jeżeli żyjesz -- to pamiętaj,
że jestem. Ale do mnie nie idź.
W tej nocy czarnej, opuchniętej
śnieg się do szyb płatami klei.

I gwiżdże wiatr. I nagi kontur
drzew bije w okno. I nade mną
jak dym zagasłych miast i frontów
płynie niezmierna, głucha ciemność.

Jak strasznie cicho! Po cóż było
aż dotąd żyć? Już tylko gorycz.
Nie wracaj do mnie. Moja miłość
jest zżarta ogniem krematorium.

Stamtąd cię miałem. Twoje ciało
w świerzbie, w flegmonie tak się pięło
jak obłok wzwyż. Stamtąd cię miałem,
z niebiosów, z ognia. Przeminęło.

Nie wrócisz do mnie. Razem z tobą
nie wróci wiatr, co mgłą się opił.
Nie wstaną ludzie z wspólnych grobów
i nie ożyje kruchy popiół.

Nie chcę, nie wracaj. Wszystko było
grą naszą, złudą, czczym teatrem.
Krąży nade mną twoja miłość
jak dym człowieka ponad wiatrem

Anonymous: Wall of Verse (From Latin)

Graffito on a Wall in Pompeii
Anonymous (1st cent. AD)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

O Wall! I am amazed that you
Have not collapsed in disaster,
Holding the dead weight of so many
A ponderous poetaster.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Latin

The Original:

Admiror, ō pariēs, tē nōn cecidisse ruīnīs
quī tot scriptōrum taedia sustineās.

Marina Tsvetaeva: Jealousy Attempt (From Russian)

Jealousy Attempt
By Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

How's life with the other     woman? 
Simpler, yeah? A stroke of oars
by a long coastline, and even
memory of me unmoors

as a floating island (in the
sky, not on the waters)! Poor
spirits, souls! You should be solely
sisters and not paramours. 

How's life with an ordinary
woman, with your goddess gone?
Having overthrown the Empress 
thou thyself hast left the throne. 

How's life? Are you flinching, twattering?
Do you even get up? Why, 
what a tax of deathless tackiness!
Can you manage it, poor guy?  

"Squabbles and hysterics! That is
it! I'm living on my own."  
How's life with just anybody, 
you who were my Chosen One?  

Food more edible, more fitting?
If you get fed up, don't whine!
How's life with a craven image,
after trampling your Sinai? 

How's life with a stranger of this
world? Dear as your rib? Don't lie.   
Or is shame like Zeus' reins now
raining lashes round your eye? 

How's life? How's your health? How do you
sing still? Are you getting by 
with that sting of deathless conscience?
Can you manage it? Poor guy. 

How's life with that piece of market
produce? What all did it cost?
After the Carrara marble
how's life making out with dust

of punk plaster? (God was hewn from
stone but he's been smashed to bits)
How's life with the hundred thousandth,
after knowing Lilith's lips? 

Sated with her market novelty? 
You've grown cold to magic wits,
so how is life with that earthly
woman, who has got no sixth 

sense? Cross your heart: are you happy?
No? In shallow pits? How sad 
is your life dear? Is it hard as
my life with another   man? 

The Original:

Попытка Ревности
Марина Цветаева

Как живется вам с другою, -
Проще ведь? - Удар весла! -
Линией береговою
Скоро ль память отошла

Обо мне, плавучем острове
(По небу - не по водам)!
Души, души! - быть вам сестрами,
Не любовницами - вам!

Как живется вам с простою
Женщиною? Без божеств?
Государыню с престола
Свергши (с оного сошед),

Как живется вам - хлопочется -
Ежится? Встается - как ?
С пошлиной бессмертной пошлости
Как справляетесь, бедняк?

"Судорог да перебоев -
Хватит! Дом себе найму".
Как живется вам с любою -
Избранному моему!

Свойственнее и сьедобнее -
Снедь? Приестся - не пеняй...
Как живется вам с подобием -
Вам, поправшему Синай!

Как живется вам с чужою,
Здешнею? Ребром - люба?
Стыд Зевесовой вожжою
Не охлестывает лба?

Как живется вам - здоровится -
Можется? Поется - как?
С язвою бессмертной совести
Как справляетесь, бедняк?

Как живется вам с товаром
Рыночным? Оброк - крутой?
Полсе мраморов Каррары
Как живется вам с трухой

Гипсовой? (Из глыбы высечен
Бог - и начисто разбит!)
Как живется вам с сто-тысячной -
Вам, познавшему Лилит!

Рыночною новизною
Сыты ли? К волшбам остыв,
Как живется вам с земною
Женщиною, без шестых

Чувств?..Ну, за голову: счастливы?
Нет? В провале без глубин -
Как живется, милый? Тяжче ли,
Так же ли, как мне с другим?

Marina Tsvetaeva: André Chénier (From Russian)

André Chénier (poem 1 of 2)
By Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Chénier went up to meet the guillotine, 
And I'm alive. That is a dreadful sin.
There are times that steel over everyone. 
He is no bard who sings as bullets spin.
He is no father, trembling at the gate,
Whose arms rip battle-armor off his son. 
There are times when the sun is deadly sin. 
It is no human who today lives on.

- April 4, 1918

Audio of me reciting this translation in English

Audio of me reciting this poem in Russian

The Original:

Андрей Шенье

Андрей Шенье взошел на эшафот.
А я живу — и это страшный грех.
Есть времена — железные — для всех.
И не певец, кто в порохе — поет.
И не отец, кто с сына у ворот
Дрожа срывает воинский доспех.
Есть времена, где солнце — смертный грех.
Не человек — кто в наши дни — живет.

-4 апреля 1918

Marina Tsvetaeva: Homesickening (From Russian)

By Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Ah, longing for the homeland's air... 
A languor long exposed  as hooey!
I absolutely do not care 
about where I am absolutely 

alone. Nor down what street of stone 
I shlep a simple shopping basket 
to a house that doesn't know it's home 
any more than hospital or barracks.  

I do not care what human faces  
I — a caged lion — bristle to, 
nor from what crowded human spaces 
I am at last forced out into 

myself, my own subjective I,  
a polar bear in tropic rain.  
Where I don't fit in  (and won't try)
where I'm's all the same.  

And I'm not taken in by my   
old mother tongue, its milky croon.  
I do not care which language I'm   
misunderstood in, or by whom. 

Some reader, gluttonous for mass  
newsprint? Some gossip-milker? Please!
He is a twentieth century man 
and I am ere all centuries,  

I, stunned as a log that remains of 
an alley's long defunct tree-range.
All folks are strange, it's all the same and 
maybe what is most samely strange 

is the same native things I had.   
Each sign of mine, and every trace  
and date: wiped out as by a hand. 
So too the soul born in...someplace.   

My country took so little care 
of me: no spy, however sharp,  
however hard he searched the bare 
soul in me, would find one berth mark.  

Each house is strange, each altar bare.  
It's all the same, all one and weary. 
But if beside the roadway there 
is a bush — say —a rowanberry... 

The Original:

Тоска по Родине
Марина Цветаева

Тоска по родине! Давно
Разоблаченная морока!
Мне совершенно все равно —
Где — совершенно одинокой

Быть, по каким камням домой
Брести с кошелкою базарной
В дом, и не знающий, что — мой,
Как госпиталь или казарма.

Мне все равно, каких среди
Лиц ощетиниваться пленным
Львом, из какой людской среды
Быть вытесненной — непременно —

В себя, в единоличье чувств.
Камчатским медведем без льдины
Где не ужиться (и не тщусь!),
Где унижаться — мне едино.

Не обольщусь и языком
Родным, его призывом млечным.
Мне безразлично, на каком
Непонимаемой быть встречным!

(Читателем, газетных тонн
Глотателем, доильцем сплетен...)
Двадцатого столетья — он,
А я — до всякого столетья!

Остолбеневши, как бревно,
Оставшееся от аллеи,
Мне все — равны, мне всё — равно;
И, может быть, всего равнее —

Роднее бывшее — всего.
Все признаки с меня, все меты,
Все даты — как рукой сняло:
Душа, родившаяся — где-то.

Так край меня не уберег
Мой, что и самый зоркий сыщик
Вдоль всей души, всей — поперек!
Родимого пятна не сыщет!

Всяк дом мне чужд, всяк храм мне пуст,
И всё — равно, и всё — едино.
Но если по дороге — куст
Встает, особенно — рябина ...

Sergei Yesenin: Letter to His Old Mother (From Russian)

Yesenin's poetry was much beloved of the Soviet criminal underworld. Probably no other poet was so quoted in prison tattoos. According to Varlam Shalamov, this poem and a few others were known by heart by "every literate criminal" (каждый грамотный блатарь) not long after the poet's death. As every action has an equal and opposite reaction, so an underworld culture riddled with misogyny also produced an obsessive cult of the mother. The mother here is entirely fictional. The poem has nothing to do with Yesenin's actual relationship (strained and difficult) with the actual woman that give birth to him. 

Letter to His Old Mother
By Sergei Yesenin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Are you alive and well still, momma
I am alright. Greetings. Tonight 
I hope your cottage is still bathing
In that ineffable evening light.

I've heard you're awful worried for me,
That you've been hiding your distress,
And often walk out on the highway
In your old-fashioned peasant dress,

And often see the same recurring 
Dream, as the evening shadows start,
Of some punk in a bloody bar-fight
Sticking a switchblade* through my heart.

Don't worry, ma. It is just nasty
Imagination. Even I
Am not a diehard enough drunkard
To not see you before I die.

I'm still your son, love you as always
And all I dream of is to come
Back in one piece from gnarly anguish
And look again on our old home.

I'll come back as the spreading blossom
Of spring makes our white garden grow. 
But please don't wake me at first morning
Light, like you did eight years ago.

Don't stir up dreams forever done with. 
Don't fret about what never was. 
I learned too early in my life to 
Stick it out through exhausting loss.

And don't teach me to pray. Why bother?  
The old days are long gone in night. 
You're my one joy and comfort, mother. 
You are my one ineffable light.

So best forget that awful worry,
Don't sink yourself in such distress. 
Don't walk so much out on the highway
In that old-fashioned peasant dress.

* - the original here says "Finnish knife." So named because it was developed from the puuko, a bodkin used by Finnish woodsmen, the Russian "Finnish knife" or finka was extensively modified to make it useful for fighting: with a long blade, a clip-point back, and a large handguard. This made it convenient for amateur assassination, as its design meant that even those who couldn't handle a knife very well could stab somebody and not accidentally cut themselves. It became a "gangster's blade" so strongly associated with the criminal underworld that it was banned in the Soviet Union in the 30s. The NR-40 combat knife used by the Soviet Army during WWII is a mass-produced version of this infamous gang weapon.

The Original:

Письмо Матери

Ты жива еще, моя старушка?
Жив и я. Привет тебе, привет!
Пусть струится над твоей избушкой
Тот вечерний несказанный свет.

Пишут мне, что ты, тая тревогу,
Загрустила шибко обо мне,
Что ты часто ходишь на дорогу
В старомодном ветхом шушуне.

И тебе в вечернем синем мраке
Часто видится одно и то ж:
Будто кто-то мне в кабацкой драке
Саданул под сердце финский нож.

Ничего, родная! Успокойся.
Это только тягостная бредь.
Не такой уж горький я пропойца,
Чтоб, тебя не видя, умереть.

Я по-прежнему такой же нежный
И мечтаю только лишь о том,
Чтоб скорее от тоски мятежной
Воротиться в низенький наш дом.

Я вернусь, когда раскинет ветви
По-весеннему наш белый сад.
Только ты меня уж на рассвете
Не буди, как восемь лет назад.

Не буди того, что отмечталось,
Не волнуй того, что не сбылось, -
Слишком раннюю утрату и усталость
Испытать мне в жизни привелось.

И молиться не учи меня. Не надо!
К старому возврата больше нет.
Ты одна мне помощь и отрада,
Ты одна мне несказанный свет.

Так забудь же про свою тревогу,
Не грусти так шибко обо мне.
Не ходи так часто на дорогу
В старомодном ветхом шушуне.

Yevtushenko: Babi Yar (From Russian)

This is poem, about the largest single massacre of the Holocaust, is extremely famous, in no small part because of how infamous it made Yevtushenko in the Soviet Union. Accordingly, it has been translated a great deal. There are a number of Hebrew translations including fine versions by Ze'ev Geisel, Shlomo Even-Shoshan and Arie Aharoni. I've been able to find three different Yiddish versions, as well as four German ones, including one by Paul Celan. The poet Julius Balbin won a prize for his Esperanto translation. There are also at least a dozen English versions that I have been able to find. For me personally, the most moving translation of all is the Yiddish version by Zyame Telesin, though it omits the second to last stanza.
For this translation, I was asked by the donor to "give an idea of what was being lost in [previous English] translations." Now, the problem of using translation to show what is lost in translation is a bit like Heisenberg uncertainty. Certain things are inevitably impossible to do or show at the same time. The only answer is to give multiple translations. So I have included a literal prose translation following the original text, along with lexical commentary, and transcription. One way in which my translation conveys something lost in other versions is in respecting the metrical form of the original. See my note on this after the commentary.
This is a poem that remains resonant in part because of the extraordinary level of antisemitism still to be encountered among Russians, both in the diaspora and in Russia. Translating it took a lot out of me. It was also one of those times where the poem I was translating so seized me that I found myself translating as much from the gut as from the head. This is also the reason why sound like I do in my audio recording. If it seems like I am trying to hold back tears, it is only because I am.

Babi Yar
By Yevgeni Yevtushenko
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Requested by Ruth Blumenthal

No monuments stand over Babi Yar, 
A sudden drop sheer as a gross graveslab.  
I am here terrified.  
         Today I am 
As old as all the Jewish people are. 

Now it seems that I am 
          an Israelite.
There I am wandering Ancient Egypt's lands,  
And there I perish, pierced and crucified, 
And to this day bear nail-scars on my hands.  
And Dreyfus too is 
          there I have been
Sentenced, sold out  
         by petty philistines. 
I am behind bars,  
        rounded up and battered,
I have been
     hounded, hunted, 
           slandered, spat on, 
And demoiselles dolled up in Brussels lace 
Shrieked as they poked their parasols in my face.  
And now I am   
      a boy in Białystok.
Blood runs across the floor. Blood on the wall.  
The bar-room rabble-rousers run amok    
Reeking of onion and hard alcohol. 
Boots kick my body aside, helpless. Head gushing, 
I plead in vain with thugs of the pogrom 
To hoots of      
      "Smash the fucking kikes! Save Russia!" 
And some grain-seller beats and rapes my mom.   
My People! Russian nation!  
           I know, 
Are internationalist at the core,  
But men with filthy hands too often boomed 
Your clean sweet name into a jingo roar.   
I know the good, the kindness of your land.   
How vile it is     
     that, with no pinch of scruple,
those pompous antisemites tried to brand    
themselves a "Union of the Russian People."  
It seems that what I am is  
           Anne Frank 
      as a fragile April branch.
And I love. 
     And I need no puffy phrase.
I need for us 
     to meet each other's gaze. 
So little we can see or smell,  
              we who
Have been denied the sky,  
           denied the leaves. 
But we can do so much: 
          to tenderly
Embrace each other in a darkened room.  
"They're coming!"  
      "Don't be scared.  
             That's just the clamor
of early spring. 
         It is spring coming here!  
Come here.  
     Give me a kiss, quick."
              "Are they ramming
The door?"  
     ", that's cracking ice you hear." 

The wildgrass rustles over Babi Yar. 
Trees stare down stern,   
            cold as day. 
All things scream silent here.  
            Hat in my arm, 
I feel myself now  
       slowly growing grey. 
 And I myself  
      am one all-out soundless scream 
For the thousand buried thousands in this char. 
I'm every old man 
           shot in this ravine,
I'm every baby   
      burned in Babi Yar. 

No fiber in me  
      will forget this ever. 
Let the Internationale  
         thunder forth
When we have buried, finally and forever, 
The final antisemite on this earth. 

There is no Jewish blood in me, it's true.  
But with their callous ossified revulsion 
Antisemites must hate me like  
           a Jew
And that is why I am    
         a real Russian.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Russian

The Original:

Бабий Яр

Над Бабьим Яром памятников нет. 
Крутой обрыв, как грубое надгробье. 
Мне страшно. 
      Мне сегодня столько лет,
как самому еврейскому народу. 
Мне кажется сейчас - 
          я иудей.
Вот я бреду по древнему Египту. 
А вот я, на кресте распятый, гибну, 
и до сих пор на мне - следы гвоздей. 
Мне кажется, что Дрейфус - 
             это я.
Мещанство - 
      мой доносчик и судья.
Я за решеткой. 
      Я попал в кольцо.
И дамочки с брюссельскими оборками, 
визжа, зонтами тычут мне в лицо. 
Мне кажется - 
       я мальчик в Белостоке.
Кровь льется, растекаясь по полам. 
Бесчинствуют вожди трактирной стойки 
и пахнут водкой с луком пополам. 
Я, сапогом отброшенный, бессилен. 
Напрасно я погромщиков молю. 
Под гогот: 
     'Бей жидов, спасай Россию!' -
насилует лабазник мать мою. 
О, русский мой народ! - 
           Я знаю -
По сущности интернационален. 
Но часто те, чьи руки нечисты, 
твоим чистейшим именем бряцали. 
Я знаю доброту твоей земли. 
Как подло, 
     что, и жилочкой не дрогнув,
антисемиты пышно нарекли 
себя "Союзом русского народа"! 
Мне кажется - 
      я - это Анна Франк,
     как веточка в апреле.
И я люблю. 
     И мне не надо фраз.
Мне надо, 
    чтоб друг в друга мы смотрели.
Как мало можно видеть, 
Нельзя нам листьев 
         и нельзя нам неба.
Но можно очень много - 
           это нежно
друг друга в темной комнате обнять. 
Сюда идут? 
     Не бойся - это гулы
самой весны - 
      она сюда идет.
Иди ко мне. 
     Дай мне скорее губы.
Ломают дверь? 
       Нет - это ледоход...
Над Бабьим Яром шелест диких трав. 
Деревья смотрят грозно, 
Все молча здесь кричит, 
           и, шапку сняв,
я чувствую, 
     как медленно седею.
И сам я, 
    как сплошной беззвучный крик,
над тысячами тысяч погребенных. 
Я - 
  каждый здесь расстрелянный старик.
Я - 
  каждый здесь расстрелянный ребенок.
Ничто во мне 
      про это не забудет!
        пусть прогремит,
когда навеки похоронен будет 
последний на земле антисемит. 
Еврейской крови нет в крови моей. 
Но ненавистен злобой заскорузлой 
я всем антисемитам, 
         как еврей,
и потому - 
     я настоящий русский!


Nad Báb'im Yárom pámyatnikov net.
Krutóy obrýv, kak grúboye nadgrób'e.
Mne stráshno. Mne sevódnya stóko let,
Kak samomú yevréyskomu naródu.
There are no monuments over Babi Yar. A sheer bank, like a crude headstone. I'm scared. I am today as many years old as the Jewish people themselves are. 
Pamyatnik like English "monument" can refer to sculptures, statues, "linguistic monuments" attesting dead languages, and the like. Its semantics are a bit closer to Latin monumentum, though. It transparently contains the root of the word for "memory." It ensures that something gone is not forgotten. What English-speakers call a "roadside memorial" is in Russian called a pridorozhnyi pamyatnik.

Grubyi like English "crude" can refer to physical roughness, unpolished or makeshift craftsmanship, the inexactness of an estimate, personal uncouthness and the like. But it carries a bit more judgmental force than the English word. It corresponds to "gross" in such English expressions as "gross error" (grubaya oshibka), "gross flattery" (grubaya lest'), or "gross violation of the law" (gruboye narushenie zakona), and sometimes to "rude" as when one says "It is very rude of you" (eto ochen' grubo s vashey storony). Gruboye slovo may be a "harsh, coarse word", or it may be the sort of "rude word" that parents are uncomfortable hearing from children.

nadgrobie is literally an "overgrave." It is anything that stands over the interred dead. It may be a headstone. It may also be used to refer to an inscription or epitaph placed on such a stone.

In choosing the phrase gruboye nadgrob'e, Yevtushenko is not merely suggesting that the ravine's sheer drop is a rough or inept thing to remember the massacre by. Nor is it merely evocative sound-play (repeating the gr-b consonantal pattern.) There is something distasteful, profane, obscene about it. The more so as the rough and underspecified nadgrobie contrasts with the exalted pamyatnik.

Mne kázhetsa seychás - ya iudéy.
Vot ya bredú po drévnemu Yegíptu.
A vot ya, na kresté raspyátyi, gíbnu,
I do sikh por na mne - sledý gvozdéy.
It seems to me now: I am a Jew. There I am wandering over Ancient Egypt. And there, crucified on the cross, I perish, and to this day I bear on me the traces of the nails.  
Russian has a number of words to refer to Jews, ranging from the respectful to the reprehensible, and three different ones appear in this poem. Yevrey which occurs in adjectival form in the previous stanza is the neutral word for "Jew." The word Iudey which occurs here is a somewhat elevated word for "Jew" often used in a specifically religious rather than ethnic sense. The difference may be sensed, and translated, more clearly in the derived adjectives: Yevreyskiy is "Jewish" but Iudeyskiy is "Judaic." Etymologically it means "Judean" and can also set a Biblical mood in contexts where "Israelite" would be used in English.

"And thou shalt remember that thou wast a slave in the land of Egypt..."
- Deut 15:15.

Mne kázhetsa, chto Dréyfus - éto ya.
Meshchánstvo - moy donóschik i sud'yá.
Ya za reshótkoy. Ya popál v kol'tsó.
Zatrávlennyi, opl'óvannyi, obólgannyi.
I dámochki s bryussél'skimi obórkami,
vizzhá, zontámi týchut mne v litsó.
It seems to me that Dreyfus is me. The (bourgeois) philistinry is my snitch and judge. I (was/am) sentenced. I fell into the circle. Hunted/badgered, spat-on, slandered. And little ladies in Brussels frills, squealing, poke umbrellas in my face. 
 "Bourgeois philistinry" here translates the Russian meshchanstvoMeshchanstvo has no exact translation into English or — as far as I know — into any other Western European language, though the German Spießbürgertum comes close.
Originally in the 17th and 18th centuries, meshchanstvo referred to a class or estate, encompassing the lower economic bracket of city-dwellers, including peddlers and dislocated peasants. In the nineteenth century, as the term became more or less the equivalent of "petty bourgeoisie," it developed a looser pejorative sense, denoting a state of being rather than of budget: vulgar greed, prejudice, a surfeit of superficiality and a pretense of profundity. Particularly after the revolution, the word also came to encompass "narrow-mindedness, philistinism" with a strong tone of careerist conformism. It is both a class judgement and not a class judgement. One approximate English translation, though out of place in a text like the one translated here, would be "Babbittry."
Almost all English verse-translations of this poem have used the term "philistines," presumably because the play on Israel's ancient enemies and modern philistine crudity suggests itself very readily. I could think of nothing better than to add the word "petty."

Mne kázhetsa - ya mál'chik v Belostóke.
Krov' l'ótsa, rastekáyas' po polám.
Beschínstvuyut voždí traktírnoy stóyki
I pákhnut vódkoy s lúkom popolám.
It seems I am a boy in Białystok. The blood spills, pours about the floor(s). The leaders of the tavern-bar commit outrages and smell of onion and vodka, half each.  
This and the following stanzas refer to the Białystok pogrom of 1906 in what was then the Russian Empire. During the pogrom, between 81 and 88 Jews were killed, and about 80 were wounded. It was one of a series of violent outbreaks against Jews between 1903 and 1908, including pogroms in Kishinev, Odessa and Kiev.

 "leader" has extremely loaded resonance. During the Soviet period, vožd' became tightly associated with communist leadership, as in Stalin's title vožd' naróda "The People's Leader." Today, this association has so smirched the term that, like German Führer or Italian duce it tends to be avoided in favor of the English loanword líder (and so on with e.g. líderstvo "leadership.") In the poem, its use is ironic. These petty voždi don't know how petty they are.

Ya, sapogóm otbróshennyi, bessílen.
Naprásno ya pogrómshchikov molyú.
Pod gógot: "Bey Zhidóv, Spasáy Rossíyu!"
nasíluyet labáznik mat' moyú.
I, thrown aside by the boot, am powerless. In vain I plead with the pogrommists. Under the gaffaw: "Beat the Zhids. Save Russia." A grain-marketer violates my mother. 
Pogromshchik means of course "participant in a pogrom" but it also preserves whiffs of the semantic range of "rioter, mobber."

"Kike" in my verse-translation is the closest thing I could think of to Russian zhid. Other translators have rendered this term with Yid which has much less force to my ear. Some have done far worse and simply rendered it as "Jew." Which is a bit like a translator into Spanish rendering the English word "nigger" as "negro."

The Russian word zhid is harsher, more venomous, and far more nastily commonplace than any word referring to Jews in English. Modern English doesn't really have words that fully translate the level of disrespect, viciousness, and entrenched casual loathing expressed in the anti-semitic slurs of Russian, or of other Eastern European languages. Take everything that comes to your mind when you hear a white American casually refer to a black American as a "nigger." Or even when you saw the word written out in full just now. Zhid in modern Russian is like that, but for Jews.

Philological digression:
This was not always the case. Zhid is the inherited Slavic word for Jews, and only became pejorative in Russian in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It is even present in Russian Jewish family names like Zhidenko and Zhidanov, though many such families have now changed their names.
The pejorative sense began among the upper classes before making its way down the social scale like shit through a colon. In most other Slavic languages, the word is often neutral. Polish Żyd, for example, (pronounced identically to the Russian word) is no more pejorative than English Jew. Only in the plural are there gradations: żydowie (respectful), żydzi (neutral), żydy (pejorative.) This was traditionally true of the word in Ukrainian and Belorusian. (Nikita Khruschev was once shocked to hear educated Jews in Ukraine use the word to describe themselves.) But today, the semantic bleed-over from Russian has made Ukrainian and Belorusian Jews no less uncomfortable with the word than Ukrainian and Belorusian anti-semites are now fond of it.
Here endeth the digression.

Bey zhidov i spasay Rossiyu "Beat the Zhids and Save Russia" was the unofficial slogan of the Chornaya Sótnya, the Black Hundreds. (Interesting fact: Yiddish translations of this poem simply transliterate the Russian here.)

One way to describe the Black Hundreds is as an ultra-right xenophobic nationalist movement that arose in the Russian Empire in the wake of moderate social liberalization at the beginning of the twentieth century. Another way would be to say: picture the Ku Klux Klan, except that none of the people being lynched, shot, raped and tortured have dark skin.
The Tsar himself believed in the Black Hundreds and called them a "shining example to all of justice and order." A few government ministers supported them too, but most deeply despised them. If for no other reason than that government ministers and bureaucrats were a vent - albeit a secondary one - for the Black Hundreds' spleen.
The Orthodox Church tended to support them. It is often said that this support was less than total. This is technically true. It is also technically true that "Donald Trump's administration does not support or endorse white nationalists." In both cases the more important truths are those which the utterers of such pieties are loath to face.

The verb nasílovat' has been rendered as "beat up" or the like in all previous English translations of this poem that I have seen. I am not at all sure why this is. It is true that the verb does mean that. But when, as here, construed with a feminine object, it generally means "rape." And I see no reason why that should not be the sense here.

O Rúskiy moy naród! - Ya znáyu - ty
po súschchnosti internatsionálen,
no chásto te, chi rúki nechistý,
tvoím chistéyshim ímenem bryatsáli.
Oh my Russian people! I know, you are international(ist) by nature. But often those whose hands are unclean have rattled your cleanest name about. 
Internatsional'nyi "international." This Latinate loan is a bit more loaded, more political, than its native synonym, meždunarodnyi.

Bryatsat' imenem "rattling a name" is a bit more aggressive than "name-dropping" but just as pretentious. (Bryatsat' oruzhiem is "saber-rattling.")

Ya znáyu dobrotú tvoyéy zemlí.
Kak pódlo, chto, i zhílochkoy ne drógnuv,
antisemíty pýshno nareklí
sebyá "Soyúzom Rússkovo Naróda!"
I know the kindness of your land. How vile that, not having flinched by so much as a vein, the antisemites pompously/ styled themselves the "Union of the Russian People."
"Union of the Russian People" was the largest and most important of the Black Hundredist political organizations.

Pyshnyi here rendered as "pompous" can in other contexts mean "sumptuous" with a strong undertone of "overdoing it" or "puffy" in a physical sense. There is a gaudiness implied here.

Mne kázhetsa - ya - eto Ánna Frank,
prozráchnaya, kak vétochka v apréle.
I ya lyublyu. I mne ne nádo fraz.
Mne nado, chto b drug v drúga my smotréli.
It seems to me that I, I am Anne Frank, transparent as a little branch in April. And I love too. And I don't need phrases. I need for us to gaze at each other. 

Kak málo mózhno vídet', obonyat'!
Nel'zya nam líst'yev i nel'zyá nam néba.
No mózhno óchen' mnógo - eto nézhno
drug druga v tyómnoy kómnate obnyát'..
So little we can see, smell. We are forbidden the leaves, and forbidden the sky. But we can do a lot — that is, can tenderly embrace each other in a dark room.

Syudá idút? Ne bóysya — éto gúly
samóy vesný — oná syudá idyót.
Idí ko mne. Day mne skoréye gúby.
Lomáyut dver'? Net — éto ledokhód...
They're coming here? Don't be afraid — that's the booms of spring itself — it's coming here. Come to me. Give me your lips quickly. They're breaking down the door? No — it's ice moving...  
Nad Báb'im Yárom shélest díkikh trav.
Derév'ya smótryat grózno, po-sudéyski.
Vsyo mólcha zdes' krichít, i, shápku snyav,
ya chúvstvuyu, kak médlenno sedéyu.
Over Babi Yar is the rustle of wild grasses. The trees stare sternly, judge-like. Everything here screams silently. Hat taken off, I feel myself greying slowly with age.
I sam ya, kak sploshnóy bezzvúchnyi krik,
nad týsyachami týsyach pogrebyónnykh.
Ya - kázhdyi zdes' rasstrélyannyi starík.
Ya - kázhdyi zdes' rasstrélyannyi rebyónok.
And I am myself like an all-out soundless scream above the thousands of thousands interred. I am every old man shot dead here. I am every child shot dead here.
The impact of the final two lines of this stanza depends not only on word-order ("I am every here-shot-dead old man. I am every here-shot-dead child") but also the general tendency in Russian to shunt the most salient piece of information to the end of the noun-phrase.

Loath to present bad poetry as representing good poetry, in my verse-translation I have basically rewritten this stanza, particularly the final line where I mention the burning of babies. If called to justify it, I can only say that it worked in my head. It also happens to be historically accurate. Most of the bodies were incinerated, and many babies were actually burned alive. The victims were buried under a layer of earth after being machine-gunned. But witnesses report that the earth was still moving because so many people who were merely wounded were shifting about underneath. Babies were simply tossed into the cadaver-heap without being shot. Two days later, the earth-layer was removed and the bodies, living and dead, were all covered with a flame-accelerant and burned.

Nichtó vo mne pro éto ne zabúdet!
"Internatsionál" pust' pogremít,
kogdá navéki pokhorónen búdet
poslédniy na zemlé antisemít.
Nothing in me will forget about this. Let the "Internationale" thunder up when the final antisemite on this earth has been interred for all of time.
The Internationale is a socialist anthem, of which a Russian translation was the Soviet anthem until 1944.

Yevréyskoy króvi net v kroví moyéy.
No nénavisten zlóboy zaskorúzloy
ya vsem antisemítam, kak yevréy.
I potomú — ya nastoyáshchiy rússkiy.
There is no Jewish blood in my blood. But hated with inveterate malice by all antisemites I am like a Jew. And that is why I am a real Russian.
These four lines are the most powerful in the poem, and I think I want them inscribed on my grave when I am dead.

The two middle lines of this stanza derive much of their effect from the word order. Line three if taken on its own could be paraphrased as meaning "I am like a Jew to all antisemites."

Zaskoruzlyi (here translated as "inveterate") has a semantic range that runs from "calloused, hardened" to "unfeeling" as well as "backward, retrograde." It is mightily rhymed with russkiy "Russian" which, particularly in this context, should be taken to mean "ethnic Russian."

It is worth quoting Telesin's Yiddish translation of these lines:

Loyt mayne blutn bin ikh nit keyn Yid.
Nor ongefilt mit sine mit gerekhter
Bin ikh a Yid far dem Antisemit.
Un ot derfar bin ikh a Rus an ekhter.

On The Poem:

The story of the poem begins with Anatoly Kuznetsov, author of Babi Yar: A Document Novel about the Babi Yar massacre. Kuznetsov wrote in a letter to his Israeli translator Shlomo Even-Shoshan:
Вы не слышали о стихотворении Евтушенко «Бабий Яр»? Мы с ним вместе учились, и однажды, будучи в Киеве, я повёл его в этот жуткий овраг. Там не осталось ничего, кроме золы, которая выглядывает из-под песка чёрными жирными пластами – немцы сожгли трупы в печах, сложенных из памятников разрушенного ими очень красивого еврейского кладбища на Лукьяновке. Тогда Евтушенко и написал своё стихотворение. 
You've heard about Yevtushenko's poem "Babi Yar"? We studied together, he and I, and one day when we were in Kiev, I took him to that beastly ravine. There wasn't anything left, apart from the ash which was still visible in unctuous layers from under the sand. The Germans had incinerated the corpses in furnaces made out of the tombstones from a beautiful Jewish cemetery in Lukyanovka which they destroyed. That's when Yevtushenko wrote his poem.  
In another letter, Kuznetsov wrote
"Before Sept. 29, 1941, Jews were still slowly being killed in camps behind a façade of legitimacy. Treblinka, Auschwitz etc. were later. From Babi Yar onward they they became the fashion. You know how they did this, right? They put out an order to all Jews in the city to appear in the vicinity of the freight yard with all their belongings and valuables. Then they cordoned them off and started machine-gunning them. In that swarm, a great many Russians, Ukrainians etc.  died, as did those who had come to see their friends and loved ones "off to the train." They didn't kill the children. They buried them alive, and didn't finish off the wounded. The fresh earth was still moving over the grave-ditches. In the ensuing two years, Russians, Ukrainians, Gypsies and people of all nationalities were executed in Babi Yar. The belief that Babi Yar is an exclusively Jewish grave is incorrect, and Yevtushenko gave only one aspect of Babi Yar in his poem. It is an international grave."  
До 29 сентября 1941 года евреев медленно убивали в лагерях, соблюдая видимость законности. Треблинка, Освенцим и т.д. были после. С Бабьего Яра они вошли во вкус. Надеюсь, Вы знаете, как это было? Они вывесили приказ всем евреям города явиться с вещами, ценностями в район товарной станции, затем оцепили и начали расстреливать. В этом "потоке" погибло масса русских, украинцев и др. – провожавших близких и друзей "на вокзал", детей не убивали, а закапывали живыми, раненых не добивали. Земля над рвами шевелилась. Затем два года в Бабьем Яре расстреливали русских, украинцев, цыган, в общем, людей всех национальностей. Мнение, что Бабий Яр – это могила только людей еврейской национальности, – неверно, и Евтушенко в своем стихотворении отразил лишь один аспект Бабьего Яра. Это – могила интернациональная.
Kuznetsov's writings have often been seized on — including by the Soviet government — as an indictment of Yevtushenko's poem, a fact which mortified and disgusted him. As Viktor Nekrasov pointed out: "No, Jews weren't the only ones executed at Babi Yar. But it was only Jews who were executed just for being Jews." (Да, в Бабьем Яру были расстреляны не только евреи, но только евреи были расстреляны здесь лишь за то, что они были евреями.)

Yevtushenko focused on the Jewish aspect of the massacre, and this was provocative precisely because discussion of it was so suppressed in the Soviet Union. It was part of a larger international tragedy to be sure, just as it was part of a larger Jewish tragedy which was in turn international. Nothing about this is unique, and that is precisely the point.

On the centennial of the massacre Yevtushenko said the following an interview: know, at Zima Station where I was born in Siberia, there were Jewish, Muslim and Orthodox Christian cemeteries side by side. I never heard the word "Zhid." I heard it for the first time in Moscow. People asked me "how can you be friends with that little Zhid sitting one desk behind you?" I asked "who're you talking about." Nobody believed me. This was not a political poem on my part. My upbringing laid the groundwork for it. Insulting other nations in my family just wasn't done. I think that the fact that we are marking the anniversary [of it] on such a high level ought to be a great moral reproach to everyone.Right now there are so many instances of xenophobia, aggressive anti-internationalism, all over the planet, including, unfortunately, my native country which I so love and to which I dedicated so many poems. When I wrote "Babi Yar" they started attacking me for supposed anti-patriotism, saying that I didn't love the Russian people and concentrated on people of Jewish nationality. You know that apart from the different nationalities which divide us, we are all ultimately earthlings! All religions are based on human brotherhood. I would have this terrible anniversary remind us of that.       
....у нас в семье, в Сибири, на станции Зима, где я родился, были рядом и еврейское кладбище, и мусульманское, и православное.Я никогда не слышал слово "жид", услышал его впервые в Москве, меня спросили, как ты можешь дружить с этим жиденком, который сидит с тобой за одной партой. Я даже спросил, кто это такой. Мне не поверил никто.Это не было политическое стихотворение с моей стороны, оно было подготовлено моим семейным воспитанием, в семье у меня просто не водилось оскорбления других наций.Я думаю, что то, что сейчас мы отмечаем годовщину на таком высоком уровне, должно быть нам всем большим нравственным укором.Сейчас столько случаев ксенофобии, агрессивного антиинтернационализма, везде на планете вообще, и, к сожалению, на моей родине, которую я так люблю и которой посвятил так много стихов.Когда я написал "Бабий Яр", меня стали атаковать за якобы антипатриотизм, что я не люблю русский народ и сконцентрировался на людях еврейской национальности. Вы знаете, помимо разделяющих нас национальностей, мы все, в конце концов, земляне! Все религии основаны на человеческом братстве. Я хотел бы, чтобы об этом нам напомнила эта страшная годовщина.
It is worth noting that the way Yevtushenko writes about Jewish suffering here can readily be matched by the way Yiddish and Hebrew poets in the US wrote about the suffering of Blacks and American Indians. As the poem's preoccupied memory unwinds history like a long scroll in the brain, the parallel is uncanny.

Poetic Form

The original poem is written in rhymed stanzas of iambic pentameter, but you wouldn't know it from most of the translations in English. Most of the translators of the poem into Yiddish,  Hebrew, and German, have seen fit to reproduce something of its formal properties. Even Balbin's Esperanto version is compelled to pay some mind to form. But all but one of the English versions I have seen illustrate one of the most irritating flaws of 20th century English-speaking literary elites, and that is the tendency to treat rhyme much like TV-viewers treat commercial breaks: if they're there, tune them out; if not, it's one less distraction. What makes this flaw so damaging is that so many critics have mistaken it for a  point of pride. Because the way this poem is formatted in printed editions obscures the formal features in favor of semantic pacing, I have given it it linearly stanza-by-stanza in my transcription.

It is often said that it is easier to rhyme in Russian than English. This is true. What is less often noted is that what counts as a rhyme is rather different in the two languages. The minimal requirement of modern Russian rhyme is identity between a stressed vowel and adjacent consonant. Any further similarity is appreciated (and very often present) but not strictly necessary for rhyme-license.  Thus e.g. démon rhymes with akadémik.

This poem itself has rhymes like nébo/nézhno and naródu/nadgrób'e. It also has some ingenious over-complete rhymes such as po polám "across the floors" with po-polám "at halves." This latter is a bit like rhyming herder with heard her or killer with kill her. 

In translating Russian poetry that uses this kind of minimal rhyming, as a good deal of it does after the 19th century, I think the English translator is neither obligated to stick to the full or near-full rhymes of English, nor fully licensed in abandoning rhyme altogether. If one followed the same rule for English, then pairs like orange/forage, demon/redeemer, blood/love, deathwish/breathmint, delay/lame, raygun/raider, Canada/canister would be admissible rhymes. And, well, why not? Why not go a bit further and say that assonance is all that is strictly necessary? There are some hiccups, of course. English doesn't have nearly the kind of vowel-reduction in unstressed syllables that Russian has (well, standard Russian anyway.) Unstressed syllables tend to sound more like each other in any case in Russian, much more so than in English. But Modern Polish verse, which has less vowel-reduction than English, also uses such rhyming practice. With some latitude, and if one isn't too much of a moron in their technique, this seems doable to me. Particularly when mixed in with such rhymes as people/scruple when necessary. 

Boris Pasternak: Winter Night (From Russian)

Winter Night
By Boris Pasternak
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

It snowed, it snowed across the world
At every turning.
A candle on the table burned,
A candle, burning.

As midgeflies swarm in summertime
Toward a flame,
Snowflakes swarmed from the dark outside
Against the pane. 

The blizzard etched the glass with whirled
Arrows and circles.
A candle on the table burned,
A candle, burning. 

And shadows lay together on
The lighted ceiling:
Entwining feet, entwining arms,
Twined fate and feeling.

Two slippers from the bed slid off
And clattered down,
The nightlamp wept its waxen drops
Upon the gown.

And all was lost in snowy murk
Snowgrey and blurry.
A candle on the table burned,
A candle, burning. 

A draft blew on the flame. Temptation's
Heat raised aloft
Two wings that cast, as would an angel's,
A shadow's cross. 

It snowed through February's end,
At every turning. 
Time and again the candle burned. 
A candle, burning. 

Audio of me reciting this poem in Russian

The Original:

Зимняя ночь

Мело, мело по всей земле
Во все пределы.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

Как летом роем мошкара
Летит на пламя,
Слетались хлопья со двора
К оконной раме.

Метель лепила на стекле
Кружки и стрелы.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

На озаренный потолок
Ложились тени,
Скрещенья рук, скрещенья ног,
Судьбы скрещенья.

И падали два башмачка
Со стуком на пол.
И воск слезами с ночника
На платье капал.

И все терялось в снежной мгле
Седой и белой.
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела.

На свечку дуло из угла,
И жар соблазна
Вздымал, как ангел, два крыла

Мело весь месяц в феврале,
И то и дело
Свеча горела на столе,
Свеча горела. 

Marina Boroditskaya: On-Call Translation (From Russian)

On-Call Translation
By Marina Boroditskaya
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

Another commissioned translation. Incoming!
And an alien poet, like aliens from space,
Will enter your atmosphere, space-suit on fire,
And land as a crib on your desk in your face.

Get cracking, then. Pump his chest with your palms, 
Try and find life in this thing from out there. 
Start the heart's rhythm, give mouth-to-mouth,
Till he starts breathing the harsh local air.

Seems this one will live. But others do die. 
And who'll hear you out, if it all just fizzles,
How the muse's honey congealed in your breast,
And refused to be poured into alien vessels?

The Original:

И опять принесут заказной перевод,
И поэт иноземный, как инопланетный,
Прожигая скафандр, в атмосферу войдет
И подстрочником ляжет на стол кабинетный.

Что ж, ладонь на ладонь, жми на впалую грудь,
Силясь жизнь уловить в странном облике внешнем,
Слабый ритм ухватить, что-то влить и вдохнуть,
Чтобы смог он дышать в резком воздухе здешнем.

Этот ладится жить, а иной и помрет,
И кому объяснишь, коль пойдут пересуды,
Как густеет в груди поэтический мед,
Как не хочет он литься в чужие сосуды?

Marina Tsvetaeva: My Verse (From Russian)

My Verse
By Marina Tsvetaeva
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

My verse written so early in my life
I didn't know I was a poet yet,
My verse which burst off, like drops from a fountain,
Or sparks from rocket jets;

And burst like tiny demons through the holy
Sanctum where sleep and incense come together;
My verse that went on about death and youth
In lines unread as ever,

Thrown all around amid the dust of bookstores, 
Unpurchased then or now by anyone,
My verse in store like precious wine awaits
Its time. Its time will come.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Russian

The Original:

Моим стихам, написанным так рано,
Что и не знала я, что я - поэт,
Сорвавшимся, как брызги из фонтана,
Как искры из ракет,

Ворвавшимся, как маленькие черти,
В святилище, где сон и фимиам,
Моим стихам о юности и смерти,
- Нечитанным стихам! -

Разбросанным в пыли по магазинам
(Где их никто не брал и не берет!),
Моим стихам, как драгоценным винам,
Настанет свой черед.

Vyacheslav Ivanov: Love (From Russian)

By Vyacheslav Ivanov
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

We are two tree-trunks lightning struck alight,

Two flames of midnight woodland by the sea.
We are two meteors soaring through the night,
The two-tipped arrow of one destiny, 
We are two steeds whose rein a single right
Hand holds. One spur pricks them to harmony.
We are the two eyes of a single sight,
Two quavering wings of a sole reverie.

We are two shades that come to grieve together
Over the marble of a godly tomb
Where ancient Beauty rests in peace forever.
The two-voiced lips where single mysteries cross, 
We are one Sphinx that both ourselves subsume. 
We are two arms of one united cross.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Russian

The Original:


Mы – двa грозой зaжжённыe стволa,
двa плaмeни полуночного борa;
Mы – двa в ночи лeтящих мeтeорa,
Oдной судьбы двужaлaя стрeлa.
Mы – двa коня, чьи дeржит удилa
Oднa рукa, – однa язвит их шпорa;
двa окa мы eдинствeнного взорa,
Meчты одной двa трeпeтных крылa.

Mы – двух тeнeй скорбящaя чeтa
Haд мрaмором божeствeнного гробa,
Гдe дрeвняя почиeт Крaсотa.
Eдиных тaйн двуглaсныe устa,
Ceбe сaмим мы Cфинкс eдиный обa.
Mы – двe руки eдиного крeстa.

Miguel Hernandez: The Soldier and the Snow (From Spanish)

From Hernandez' days serving in the Republican Army in the Spanish Civil War. 

The Soldier and the Snow (1937)
By Miguel Hernandez
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

December has frozen up its two-edged breath
and chuffs it from the frozen heavens' shoulders
like a dry fire unwinding into thread
like a vast ruin coming down on soldiers.

Snow where the horse leaving a hoofprint trail
is solitude of grief that gallops still.
Snow of decrepit claws, split fingernails,
complete contempt and heavenly ill will.

It bites, hews and cuts through with an edgeways
and bloodshot marble ax's awful blow. 
It falls, spills out like a ruptured embrace
of wings and canyons, solitude and snow.

This violence split from winter's core, this bite
of hunger sick of being hungry and cold,
bullies the naked with eternal spite
that is white, silent, dark, starved, deadly and old.

It would soften down forges, hatreds, fires, 
would stopper up the seas, bury all loves,
and throws up huge slow gauzy barriers,
soundless statues, glass shards in hostile droves.

I would unspool the heart of wool now turning
in textile mill and warehouse till it pours
to cover bodies that ignite each morning
with voices, faces, boots and rifle-bores.

Clothes for bodies that may go naked, all 
dressed in nothing more than the ice and frost
and wizened stone to block cruel beaks that fall
in pallid flight with pallid pecking thrust.

Clothes for bodies that silently withstand
this whitest onslaught with their bones of red,
because these soldiers' bones are solar brands,
because they're fires with foot and eye and head.

Cold lurches forward and death's leaves fall dead. 
A soundless din I hear rains here below
where on the white snow, life is red and red
sets the snow steamy, sows fire in the snow.

So much they are like crystal rock unbroken
that only flame can shape them in fire's clash,
that fight with icy cheekbones and mouths open,
and turn all back to memories of ash.

Audio of me reciting this poem in Spanish:

The Original:

El Soldado y la Nieve

Diciembre ha congelado su aliento de dos filos,
y lo resopla desde los cielos congelados,
como una llama seca desarrollada en hilos,
como una larga ruina que ataca a los soldados.

Nieve donde el caballo que impone sus pisadas
es una soledad de galopante luto.
Nieve de uñas cernidas, de garras derribadas,
de celeste maldad, de desprecio absoluto.

Muerde, tala, traspasa como un tremendo hachazo,
con un hacha de mármol encarnizado y leve.
Desciende, se derrama como un deshecho abrazo
de precipicios y alas, de soledad y nieve.

Esta agresión que parte del centro del invierno,
hambre cruda, cansada de tener hambre y frío,
amenaza al desnudo con un rencor eterno,
blanco, mortal, hambriento, silencioso, sombrío.

Quiere aplacar las fraguas, los odios, las hogueras,
quiere cegar los mares, sepultar los amores:
y se va elevando lentas y diáfanas barreras,
estatuas silenciosas y vidrios agresores.

Que se derrame a chorros el corazón de lana
de tantos almacenes y talleres textiles,
para cubrir los cuerpos que queman la mañana
con la voz, la mirada, los pies y los fusiles.

Ropa para los cuerpos que pueden ir desnudos,
que pueden ir vestidos de escarchas y de hielos:
de piedra enjuta contra los picotazos rudos,
las mordeduras pálidas y los pálidos vuelos.

Ropa para los cuerpos que rechazan callados
los ataques más blancos con los huesos más rojos.
Porque tienen el hueso solar estos soldados,
y porque son hogueras con pisadas, con ojos.

La frialdad se abalanza, la muerte se deshoja,
el clamor que no suena, pero que escucho, llueve.
Sobre la nieve blanca, la vida roja y roja
hace la nieve cálida, siembra fuego en la nieve.

Tan decididamente son el cristal de roca
que sólo el fuego, sólo la llama cristaliza,
que atacan con el pómulo nevado, con la boca,
y vuelven cuanto atacan recuerdos de ceniza.

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: On Her Self-Portrait (From Spanish)

On Her Self-Portrait
By Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

 This colorful dissemblance that you see
immodestly display art's excellence,  
flowing under false colors' sophistry, 
is the wily deceptor of your sense.  
 This thing where flattery canvassed to belay 
the horror of the years, prevail upon 
time to refrain its rigors day by day 
and conquer old age and oblivion, 
 is but an artifice of vanity.
It is a flower fragile in the wind. 
It is a gambit against destiny. 
 It is a stupid labor ill-deployed.
It is zeal gone to waste and, in the end,  
it is cadaver, shadow, dust and void.  

The Original:

A su retrato

Procura desmentir los elogios  que a un retrato de la Poetisa inscribió la verdad,  que llama pasión

 Este, que ves, engaño colorido,
que del arte ostentando los primores, 
con falsos silogismos de colores 
es cauteloso engaño del sentido; 
 éste, en quien la lisonja ha pretendido
excusar de los años los horrores, 
y venciendo del tiempo los rigores, 
triunfar de la vejez y del olvido, 
 es un vano artificio del cuidado,
es una flor al viento delicada, 
es un resguardo inútil para el hado; 
 es una necia diligencia errada,
es un afán caduco y, bien mirado, 
es cadáver, es polvo, es sombra, es nada. 

Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz: You Stupid Men (From Spanish)

You Stupid Men 
By Sor Juana Ines de la Cruz (1651-1695)
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear Maya Zapata recite the original Spanish

You stupid men who blame
woman, not reasoning
enough to see the thing
you cause is what you shame. 

With ardor gone half-mad
you court her to get lewd. 
Why do you want her good
when you bid her be bad?

You break down her resistance
then talk your pieties
about her loose caprice, 
when it was your persistence.  

Hysterical male lovers'
valor is like boys who
dream up a bugaboo 
then hide under the covers. 

In your moronic pride
you seek your prize: to play us
for a thigh-spread whore like Thais
then Lucretia as your bride. 

What weirder thing has been
than tantrums of a leerer
who smudges up the mirror
then carps that it's not clean? 

You constantly turn on 
their favor and disdain. 
They hold back, you complain. 

They give in, you poke fun.

We lose no matter what
our answer to men's pitch.    
Say no and you're a bitch. 
Say yes and you're a slut. 

You idiots play your sleazy
game's double standard rule:
this woman you call cruel.
that one you slur as easy.

What's the best temperament 
if she seeks your affection? 
You're hurt by her rejection. 
You rage at her consent. 

But with the rage and pain 
that your wants reveal of you,
she'd do well not to love you,
so go ahead. Complain. 

Upon their liberty
your pangs of love put wings.
Then after dirty things
you want their purity? 

Who is at fault in all
the errant ecstasy?
She who falls for his plea
or he who pleads her fall?

Whose guilt is greater in 
the act where two souls stray?
The girls who sin for pay
or men who pay for sin? 

Don't get all shocked. Just don't,
at your guilt when you take her.
Care for her as you make her
or shape her as you want.

Stop propositioning
and then you might have reason
to accuse those that seize on
you for some sordid thing. 

I know what arms of evil
make war on our defenses. 
Your promise and pretenses 
join world and flesh and devil. 


S1: Wordplay. The phrase sin razón means either "bereft of reason" or "without just cause".  The first two lines could be taken to read either "stupid men who groundlessly accuse women" or "stupid men who accuse irrational women." Ocasión is to be taken in its moralizing sense of a situation which provokes temptation in which wrongdoing is liable to occur.

The Original:


Arguye de inconsecuentes el gusto y la censura de los hombres que en las mujeres acusan lo que causa

Hombres necios que acusáis
a la mujer sin razón,
sin ver que sois la ocasión
de lo mismo que culpáis:

si con ansia sin igual
solicitáis su desdén,
¿por qué queréis que obren bien
si la incitáis al mal?

Combatís su resistencia
y luego, con gravedad,
decís que fue liviandad
lo que hizo la diligencia.

Parecer quiere el denuedo
de vuestro parecer loco
el niño que pone el coco
y luego le tiene miedo.

Queréis, con presunción necia,
hallar a la que buscáis,
para pretendida, Thais,
y en la posesión, Lucrecia.

¿Qué humor puede ser más raro
que el que, falto de consejo,
él mismo empaña el espejo,
y siente que no esté claro?

Con el favor y desdén
tenéis condición igual,
quejándoos, si os tratan mal,
burlándoos, si os quieren bien.

Opinión, ninguna gana;
pues la que más se recata,
si no os admite, es ingrata,
y si os admite, es liviana.

Siempre tan necios andáis
que, con desigual nivel,
a una culpáis por crüel
y a otra por fácil culpáis.

¿Pues como ha de estar templada
la que vuestro amor pretende,
si la que es ingrata, ofende,
y la que es fácil, enfada?

Mas, entre el enfado y pena
que vuestro gusto refiere,
bien haya la que no os quiere
y quejaos en hora buena.

Dan vuestras amantes penas
a sus libertades alas,
y después de hacerlas malas
las queréis hallar muy buenas.

¿Cuál mayor culpa ha tenido
en una pasión errada:
la que cae de rogada,
o el que ruega de caído?

¿O cuál es más de culpar,
aunque cualquiera mal haga:
la que peca por la paga,
o el que paga por pecar?

Pues ¿para qué os espantáis
de la culpa que tenéis?
Queredlas cual las hacéis
o hacedlas cual las buscáis.

Dejad de solicitar,
y después, con más razón,
acusaréis la afición
de la que os fuere a rogar.

Bien con muchas armas fundo
que lidia vuestra arrogancia,
pues en promesa e instancia
juntáis diablo, carne y mundo.

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