Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sad Russian Poetry Night

No one can be as gloomy as a Russian poet. Go on, I dare you, try to beat this...

 Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека (Блок)

 Night, street, street-lamp, drugstore (Alexander Blok)

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

A meaningless dull light about.

Живи ещё хоть четверть века -
Всё будет так. Исхода нет.
You may live twenty-five years more;

All will still be there. No way out.

Умрёшь — начнёшь опять сначала,
И повторится всё, как встарь:
You die. You start again and all

Will be repeated as before:

Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.
The cold rippling of a canal.

The night. The street. Street-lamp. Drugstore.

What do you think?

I encountered this poem years ago and it's dragged itself around in my head ever since. All the Russian poems I treasure are similarly mournful: последний тост (Last Toast) by the long-suffering Anna Akhmatova, и скучно и грустно (Weary and Sad) from Mikhail Lermontov, the allegedly-written-in-blood До свиданья, друг мой, до свиданья (Goodbye, My Friend, Goodbye), composed a day before Sergiy Yesenin's death. 

Last year my Russian teacher insisted I memorize a poem for one of our lessons. I memorized Yesenin's poem, since it was mostly intact in my brain anyways. For someone who tends to be rather somber herself, she wasn't amused. Next week, she ordered, you're to memorize another Yesenin poem- Собаке Качалова (To Kachalov's Dog). I only got through the second stanza. To Kachalov's Dog is about a friendly and loyal dog, so there must be equally upbeat creations out there... but they just don't have that same je ne sais quoi about them.

Anyway, gloomy thoughts for a gloomy Friday night. I can be fine for days, living life, then wham! homesickness for Ukraine hits in a thousand tiny little memories. Tonight D is at his company's holiday party and I'm sitting at home. The last two years we celebrated together with his company in Odessa, one year with Go-go dancers, the following with a mafia theme. That company is having their party again in a few days (with a Superhero/Antihero theme) but we're not on that guest list anymore. The corporate party at his new company means drinking beer at someone's house, no girlfriend invited.

I could go out somewhere tonight or watch Netflix, but no. It has been declared Sad Russian Poetry Night. A light drizzle outside, cheap white wine inside, the perfect settings for such poems. And the poets are amazing- they suffered so terribly (both Yesenin and Lermontov were dead by 30, Akhmatova's life was full of divorces, death, and denouncements by the government, her only son imprisoned) yet they created such beautiful and lasting work.

If the conditions line up for you to have a Sad Russian Poetry Night this weekend, here are a few links to get you started:

Also worth checking out is the work of Taras Shevchenko, a renowned Ukrainian poet. This page offers lots of his poems. He's got some sad ones too (more of a patriotic kind of disappointment), and the poem Calamity Again seems like it could have been written this very year.


  1. Is there really such a thing as happy Russian poetry? ;) Even the relatively cheerful ones manage to sneak in a line or two about the futility of life or some such happy philosophy.