Category Archives: Poetry

Louis Untermeyer – Einstein Among the Coffee Cups

Einstein with a coffee mug
(courtesy of Elevatorbob)

A poem Einstein Among the Coffee Cups by Louis Untermeyer (1885-1976) was included in his Collected Parodies (1926). An American poet, translator, parodist, critic and a children’s author, Untermeyer took on a no small work by parodying T.S.Eliot. Given that in 1948 Eliot was to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, one can say that Untermeyer had made a good choice.

In this poem Untermeyer parodies the sophisticated air of Eliot’s poems, his associations and a special fondness of Biblical and mythological allusions. The parody was inspired by such poems by T.S.Eliot as Preludes, Burbank with a Baedeker, Sweeney Erect, A Cooking Egg, Whispers of Immortality, Sweeney Among the Nightingales.

Deflective rhythms under seas
Where Sappho tuned the snarling air;
A shifting of the spectral lines
Grown red with gravity and wear.

New systems of coordinates
Disturb the Sunday table-cloth.
Celestine yawns. Sir Oliver
Hints of the jaguar and sloth.

A chord of the eleventh shrieks
And slips beyond the portico.
The night contracts. A warp in space
Has rumours of Correggio.

Lights. Mrs. Blumenthal expands;
Calories beyond control.
The rector brightens. Tea is served:
Euclid supplanted by the sole.

Poetry: Those Sleepless Nights

Those sleepless nights when ceiling is like a sky,
Heavy with floods of never ending thoughts,
Hiding the long-forgotten thunderbolts
Of memories and regrets that never die –

Those sleepless nights, with feelings running high,
When you’re but forced to re-enlist your faults;
When Fear creeps under the dingy vaults
Of splendid palace of your passing Time, –

Let those nights be blessed with your pain
And every loss, untimely and vain –
To err is human, have you never known?

Let rain pour down and flood your corridors,
Let thunder break the windows, walls and doors,
So you rebuild all that was overthrown.

Julia Shuvalova 2013

Elizabeth Barrett Browning – How Do I Love Thee?

This is the poem I shall be working on translating, most likely, in 2013. 2012 has resulted in a few good translations of poems, as well as some prose pieces. Among them – translations from Robert Burns, George Orwell, Vita Sackville-West, Omar Khayyam, and W. H. Auden, and a poem by contemporary poet and author Adrian Slatcher.

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.

I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.

I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Marshak of the Soviet Union: To Samuil Marshak’s 125th Anniversary

The famous Russian poet and translator Samuil Marshak was born on November 3, 1887. This year marks his 125th anniversary. He is particularly known to the Western audience and scholars as a translator who made Shakespeare’s sonnets and Robert Burns’s poetry available to the Russian readers. What is less known is his contribution to the tradition of children’s poetry in Russia, and this post will look at precisely this.

This wonderful person was once called “Marshak of the Soviet Union”. Indeed, together with Kornei Chukovsky, Agniya Barto, and Sergei Mikhalkov, he was the main children’s poet, and it would be hard to single out any one of the four. Possibly, Marshak and Chukovsky would stand apart since they had not merely drawn inspiration from the everyday life of Soviet children, but also from the endless well of world literature. And still Marshak stands out in his own right with his beautiful, melodic poems and plays in verses in which he reconstructed a magical world of childhood.

So below are links to the previous posts on this blog where Marshak work featured, as well as several books from my home library.

Samuil Marshak – In the Van (Translated into English by Margaret Wettlin)

Samuil Marshak – In the Van

Marshak’s translation of Love and Poverty poem by Robert Burns that became a famous song in the Soviet adaptation of Charley’s Aunt by Brandon Thomas.

Another translation of Robert Burns, this time The Little Black Boy.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s House (in Russian)
A beautiful fairy tale about the feline couple who once declined taking two orphaned kittens in the house. Then their house burnt down, and they had to look for shelter which they found with the kittens. A story of compassion, friendship, and the need of the family.

Samuil Marshak – Cat’s House

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knows (English translation by Peter Tempest)
A poetisation of the Soviet youth: a “hero” is a guy who acts according to circumstances, saving people, and shuns recognition.

Samuil Marshak – The Tale of a Hero Nobody Knows

Samuil Marshak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreaux (French translation by Catherine Emery) 
Short poems about animal cubs.

Samuil Marchak – Petits d’animaux derriere les barreaux


Mikhail Lermontov – I Come Out To the Path, Alone…

On July 27, 1841 the great Russian Romanticist poet Mikhail Lermontov had been killed at the duel in Pyatigorsk. In his short lifetime, filled with romance, military service, and bitterness, he composed numerous poems, several long poems (Demon, Valerik) and ballads, plays (The Masquerade), short stories, and a novel The Hero Of Our Time that has long been in Russian school curriculum.

The poem “I Come Out To the Path, Alone” was composed in 1841 – the year Lermontov died, and prophetically carries the gloom of predestination. It successfully marries Russian melancholy with the Romanticist fighting spirit. The disillusioned protagonist foresees his death but wishes it would lead to eternal life where he could join and enjoy the Nature.

The poem was put to music and has long been a popular romance. It also featured in The Life of Klim Samgin becoming the epitome of the spiritual searches and disillusionment of all Gorky’s characters, caught up in the ever changing Russian life at the turn of the 19-20th cc.

The song in the extract is performed by Marina (Natalia Gundareva) and Kutuzov (Andrejs Zagars). The poem was translated into English in 1995 by Yevgeny Bonver.

I come out to the path, alone,
Night and wildness are referred to God,
Through the mist, the road gleams with stone,
Stars are speaking in the shinning lot.

There is grave and wonderful in heaven;
Earth is sleeping in a pale-blue light…
Why is then my heart such pined and heavy?
Is it waiting or regretting plight?

I expect that nothing more goes,
And for past I do not have regret,
I wish only freedom and repose,
I would fall asleep and all forget…

I would like to fall asleep forever,
But without cold sleep of death:
Let my breast be full of dozing fervor
For the life, and heave in gentle breath;

So that enchanting voice would ready
Day and night to sing to me of love,
And the oak, evergreen and shady,
Would decline to me and rustle above.

A Russian Literature Reading List – Where to Start

Some time ago on Reddit someone asked where they could start with Fyodor Dostoevsky, or Russian Literature in general. Good advice was given even before I joined, and obviously I added my two pence. I thought I’d share my recommendations with you, in case you also want to start on your Russian reading list. I’m sure you know it anyway, but recommendations are based on my personal reading experience.

I can also say that I’m in the process of making ready a project dedicated to Russian children’s books, tales, poetry, illustrations. What I’m finishing is just a preliminary stage, and ahead lies a wonderful opportunity for everyone to get a glimpse of Soviet/Russian childhood through the words and images.

So, first come the advice for those who are interested in Fyodor Dostoevsky:

“my suggestion re: Dostoyevsky would be to try his shorter stories first: Nevsky Prospect, Belye Nochi, Netochka Nezvanova. From there I’d go to The Idiot, this is the work that is most often cited, studied and mentioned by Western writers.

Crime and Punishment is on Russian school curriculum, but it might require a bit of acquaintance with Russian philosophy of the time. Dostoyevsky was a spokesperson for “pochvennichestvo”, a current in philosophical thought after 1860 that invested Russian people with a messianic role in saving the mankind from the rotten bourgeois morals, and instructed intelligentsia to embrace the masses through religion and ethics. I’m not discarding C&P, just saying that it contains some very specific commentary.

Also, Dostoyevsky had a soft spot for gambling, and I read that he actually earned some of his money through that. The best thing, he wrapped the entire experience in a novel The Gambler.

One last thing about Dostoyevsky: he’s mostly read as a very serious writer, very concerned with the harsh reality of life. But I tend to agree with those critics who say he’s often very ironic, and that even very serious things could be written with tongue in cheek”.

Speaking of the latter passage, about Dostoevsky’s humour: I recently read a collection of his unfinished work, all short stories. One of them tells a very peculiar story of a Russian civil servant who got swallowed by a crocodile. I may tell it in another blog post.

And now, the Russian Literature reading list:

  • Alexander Pushkin, The Little Tragedies (one is about Mozart and Salieri)
  • Mikhail Saltykov-Schedrin, The History of a Town (a very satyrical take on Russian history)
  • Leonid Andreev, Judas of Iskariot (the story was written long before The Last Temptation of Christ or Jesus Christ Superstar, but has certain similarities)
  • Maxim Gorky, The Life of Klim Samgin (the story of Russian intelligentsia from the end of 19th c. through the first two Revolutions)
  • Nikolai Gogol, The Government Inspector (a play about the pervasive corruption, deceit, and bureaucracy)
  • Alexander Griboyedov, Woe from Wit (a play in verses; good if you can read Le Misanthrope by Moliere before this one, b/c then you can compare)
  • Anton Chekhov, short stories and plays (Seagull is best-known, so try Ivanov and The Cherry Orchard)
  • Alexander Hertzen, What to Do? (a novel)
  • Ivan Goncharov, Oblomov (a novel)
  • Ivan Bunin, The Cursed Days (a diary of the build-up to the October Revolution and a few years after, until Bunin’s emigration)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, Ivan Vassilievich Changes the Occupation (play, was turned into a brilliant film)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Days of the Turbines (play, adapted to screen)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Flight (play, adapted to screen, starring Mikhail Ulyanov and Alexei Batalov)
  • Mikhail Bulgakov, The Heart of a Dog (a short novel, adapted to screen)
  • Isaac Babel, Konarmia (a short novel about a Jewish journalist (Babel) accompanying and narrating the accomplishments of the Red Army in Poland and Ukraine)
  • Vladimir Mayakovsky, My Discovery of America (notes on the voyage to America, 1925-1926)
  • Andrei Platonov, Chevengur (I don’t know if it’s translated; if you manage to find it, it’s a kind of continuation of WE by Zamyatin, in the sense that Chevengur is a dream communist place where things sadly don’t go as “communist” as they should; quite a surrealist story)
  • Mikhail Sholokhov, The Fate of a Man (WW2, adapted to screen, directed by and starring Sergei Bondarchuk)
  • Mikhail Sholokhov, Quiet Flows the Don (the life of cossacks from approx. 1912 through the Civil War; adapted to screen 3 times!)
  • Boris Vassilyev, Tomorrow Was the War (WW2, adapted to screen)
  • Boris Vassilyev, The Dawn Is Silent Here (WW2, adapted to screen)
  • Alexander Kuprin, The Garnet Bracelet (a short story)
  • Ivan Turgenev, Fathers and Sons
  • Leo Tolstoy, Kreutzer Sonata (a short novel studies the position of a man and a woman in the society; a Russian Symbolist poet Konstatin Balmont was unhappily married when he read this Tolstoy’s novel, and it impacted him so that he tried to commit suicide; he survived and went on to become a really great lyrical poet).

As I said on Reddit, I have hard time enjoying contemporary Russian Literature, however, Andrei Bitov, Anatoly Rybakov, Grigory Gorin, Joseph Brodsky, Andrei Voznesensky are a must.

The Yellow Lily of Summer

A friend of mine, painter Svetlana, sent me this photo from her home garden. This sun-brimming ‘portrait’ of a lily marks the beginning of summer and brought to mind this Shakespearean sonnet:

Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lease hath all too short a date:

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And oft’ is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d:

But thy eternal Summer shall not fade
Nor lose possession of that fair thou owest;
Nor shall Death brag thou wanderest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou growest:

So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

William Shakespeare, sonnet no. 18

Pedro Saenz – La Tumba del Poeta

Pedro Saenz, The Poet’s Tomb
Pain of the Matador (photo by Greg Wesson)

The painting by Pedro Saenz La Tumba del Poeta reminds me of two things. One, is Pain of the Matador monument in Madrid; another is a poem by Nikolai Zabolotsky written shortly before his death when he and Alexander Tvardovsky visited Italy and stopped in Ravenna by Dante’s tomb. I translated this poem but I’m still slightly unhappy with two stanzas, so I’ll omit them.

To Florence-mother always a stepson,
I chose Ravenna as my final home.
Stranger, accuse me not; let Death alone
Torment the soul of the cheating one.

I didn’t take my broken lyre with me.
It rests in peace among my native people.
Why then you, Tuscany, for whom I’ve longed so deeply,
Now on my orphaned mouth are kissing me?

Go on, almight bellman, ring your bells!
The world is still awash with blood-red foam!
I chose Ravenna as my final home
But even here I found no rest.

Julia Shuvalova © 2012

Gavin Ewart – Shakespearean Sonnets

Michelle Puelo, Shakespeare In His Study

Back in 1976 and 1977, a celebrated British poet Gavin Ewart composed two sonnets in free verse, mentioning and contemplating William Shakespeare. In case you are unfamiliar with this name, here is what the 1989 edition of the International Authors and Writers Who’s Who tells us. Gavin Buchanan Ewart was born in on February 4, 1916 in London and received his BA and MA in Classics and English from the University of Cambridge. For a number of years he was the Chairman of the Poetry Society, and in 1984 became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He died on October 26, 1995.

Tidying Up (1976) is distinct for its choice of words: the lyrical hero tells us that some thoughts just lay, reposed, in his mind, “awaiting collection”, for they are not of a kind to be uttered (and he explains what he means). Shakespeare, Ewart claims, “owes his power to them”. These thought may well be the product of the author’s psyche, but they should also ideally be informed by the author’s travels and perambulations. If, contrary to the advice in Shakespeare’s Universality (1977), the author fails to get out and about, he “gets stuck in his own psyche” and thus “bores everyone – and that includes himself”.

The illustration is somewhat Baconian Shakespeare In His Study by an American artist Michelle Buelo.

Tidying Up (1976)

Left lying about in my mind, awaitingn collection,
are the thoughts and phrases that are quite unsuitable
and often shocking to all Right-thinking people –
penetrated by a purple penis for example
(almost a line?); and how it’s almost certain,
for Swift’s hints, that the big sexy ladies of Brobdingnag
used Gulliver as an instrument of masturbation.
Hence a tongue-twister: Glumdalclitch’s clitoris.

Though not always decorous, there’s a lot of force in phrases.
A good many poems stem from them; they start something.
More than anything Shakespeare owes his power to them
(his secret, black and midnight hags and hundreds more),
they almost consoled him – though life is pretty bloody
(the multitudinous seas incarnadine).

Shakespeare’s Universality (1977)

In one sense Shakespeare’s ‘universality’ was accidental –
due to the fact that he wrote plays. When you have so many characters
you’re bound to have so many views of human life.
Nobody can say ‘Why are all your poems about moles?’
or tell you you’re very limited in your subject matter.
A playwright’s material (unless it is outrageously slanted)
usually deals with a group of opinions; people can never say
‘Of course this play is entirely autobiographical’.

It’s interesting that Shakespeare’s Sonnets, which are
(I think we can’t doubt) completely based on his life,
are by a long way his least satisfactory verse.
It’s better for a writer, in most cases, to go out and about.
If he gets stuck in his own psyche for too long
he bores everyone – and that includes himself.

Walking in Wisteria Tunnel; Reading Haiku

I was reading Nabokov this morning, a translation of his celebrated Dar. It opens with a beautiful passage describing the appearance of a rainbow after the rain, particularly noting the puprle hues. I’ve always loved purple skies.

Then suddenly I found this amazing photo of wisteria tunnel in Japan. It is located in Kawachi Fuji Garden. The Japanese celebrate a few floral festivals, one is a very popular sakura matsuri, the cherry blossom festival; and another is fuji matsuri, or wisteria festival. As Garden Design explains, “The wisteria at these parks are Wisteria floribunda, which grow with powerful clockwise-twining stems. In Japan, these varieties bloom in this order: ‘Usubeni fuji’ (light pink), ‘Murasaki fuji’ (purple), ‘Naga fuji’ (long), ‘Yae kokuryu’ (double-petaled black dragon), and ‘Shiro fuji’ (white)”.

I wish I could be so good with plants and flowers!

In Moscow, we have the lilac bushes in full bloom at this time of the year. Sadly, you can make money on them, so the branches with flowers quickly get cut and sold. Tulips are also blooming, and it’s a beautiful time of the year now that the pollen settled down.

Garden Design via

I wondered if there was ever any haiku commemorating wisteria, and you know, there is! It’s not coming from a Japanese but from a lovely lady, Andromeda Jazmon Sibley. She composed the poem for the National Poetry Month 2010, and on her blog she writes about “multiculti kids’ books and poetry”.

Evening tea;
rain on the wisteria
until sun breaks through
~Andromeda Jazmon Sibley.