8 Russian Songs


Benediction (Благословляю всё, что было)

by Alexander Blok (Александра Блока)


Благословляю всё, что было. Я лучше доли не искал.

О, сердце, сколько ты любило! О, разум, сколько ты пылал!

Пускай и счастие и муки Свой горький положили след.

Но в страстной буре, в долгой скуке — Я не утратил прежный свет.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


On all that’s past, a benediction. A better fate I have not sought.

O heart, you’ve loved with such conviction! O mind, how glowing what you’ve wrought!

Both joy and pain so unabating Their trace have left, at no small cost;

Yet both in passion and in waiting — the light that’s past has not been lost.



Me & Russia (Я и Россия)

by Velemir Khlebnikov (Велемира Хлебникова)


Россия тысячам тысяч свободу дала.

Милое дело! Долго будут помнить про это.

А я снял рубаху,

И каждый зеркальный небоскреб моего волоса,

Каждая скважина

Города тела

Вывесила ковры и кумачовые ткани.

Гражданки и граждане

Меня — государства

Тысячеоконных кудрей толпились у окон.

Ольги и Игори,

Не по заказу

Радуясь солнцу, смотрели сквозь кожу.

Пала темница рубашки!

А я просто снял рубашку —

Дал солнце народам Меня!

Голый стоял около моря.

Так я дарил народам свободу,

Толпам загара.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


Fair Russia’s granted us freedom a thousand times over.

Isn’t that something!

Good cause to reflect on a long time.

But I took my shirt off

and every glinting hair of mine glowed like a skscraper,

every pore of the whole body politic was greeting the news,

displaying shining red carpets,

All mankind and womankind who lay in my power,

exercised with thousands of snares, now stormed to the windows,

Igors and Olgas without prior orders,

seeking the sunlight, they see through the skin.

The dungeon of the shirt has fallen!

And I — I just took my shirt off!

I gave to my people the sun!

Naked I stood, stood by the ocean:

Thus did I grant the people their freedom:

I tanned the masses.



Песни Птиц (Songs of Birds)


Greeting (Привет)

by Afanasy Fet (Афанасия Фета)


Я п–пришёл к тебе с приветом, Рассказать, что солнце встало;

ч–что оно горячим светом по листам затрепетало;

 Рассказать, что лес проснулся, Весь проснулся, веткой каждой,

Каждой птицей встрепенулся И весенней полон жаждой;

Рассказать, что с той же страстью, как вчера, пришёл я снова,

что душа всё так же счастью, И тебе служить готова;

Рассказать, что отовсюду на меня весельем веет,

что не знаю сам что буду петь — но только песня зреет.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


I - I have come to you with greetings, For to say the sun has risen,

and - and its light so hot is quiv’ring in the leaves just like a prism;

For to say that all the forest, All the forest is awaking,

All the birds in all the branches For the spring their thirst are slaking;

For to say that I am here now, as before, with passion steady,

that my soul’s full of rejoicing, That to serve you it is ready;

For to say that from all over winds of joy on me are blowing,

that I do not know what I shall sing — just that a song is growing.



Quartet (Квартет)

by Ivan Krylov (Ивана Крылова)


Проказница-Мартышка, Осёл, Козёл, Да косолапый Мишка затеяли сыграть квартет.

Достали нот,  баса, альта, две скрипки, И сели на лужок под липки, Пленять своим искусством свет.

Ударили в смычки, дерут. а толку нет.

“Стой, братцы, стой!” кричит Мартышка. “Погодите! Как музыке идти? Веди вы так сидите.

Ты с басом, Мишенька, садись против альта; Я, прима, сяду против вторы;

Тогда пойдёт уж музыка не та: у нас запляшут лес и горы!”

Рассулись, начали Квартет; Он всё-таки на лад нейдет.

“Постой же, я сыскал секрет,” кричит Осёл, “Мы, верно, уж поладим, Коль рядом сядем.”

Послушали Осла, уселись чинно в ряд; А всё-таки квартет нейдёт на лад.

Вот пуще прежнего пошли у них разборы И споры, Кому и как сидеть.

Случилось Соловью на шум их прилететь.

Тут с просьбой все к нему, чтоб их решить сомненье:

“Пожалуй — говорят — возьми на час терпенье, чтобы квартет а порядок наш привесть:

И ноты есть у нас, и инструменты есть, Скажи лишь, как нам сесть!”

“Чтоб музыkантом быть, так надобно уменье И уши ваших по-нежней,” Им отвечает Соловей,

“А вы, друзья, как ни садитесь, Всё в музыканты не годитесь.”


English translation © by L. Lehrman


The wicked little monkey, the goat, the donkey, and Mishenka the clumsy bear decided they would play a quartet.

They got some music, a bass, viola, two fiddles, then found a field and sat’n the middle —

To charm the world with art — all set!

They scrape the strings with hair and wood, but it’s no good.

“Wait, brothers, stop!” exclaims the monkey, somewhat heated,

“How can we play it right when you’re so wrongly seated?

First fiddle, Mishenka, should be beside the bass, adjacent, thus our tone enhancing;

Then we’ll make music when we’re all in place, And all who listen will be dancing!”

In place now, the quartet begin, But what comes out is such a din!

“Well, let me put my two cents in!” the donkey cries. “Let’s try it sitting räther one behind the other!”

They listen to the donkey and sit all in a row, But just the same they cannot make it go!

But worse than ever now they start opinions stating, Debating How each of them should sit.

Attracted by their noise, a nightingale alit.

They all appealed to him to solve their doubts, complaining:

“Oh please, good sir,” they said, “without your patience straining, help our quartet to get on with it:

The music we have got, we’ve got the instruments, now tell us how to sit!”

“To be musicians, first you must acquire some training And ears that simply aren’t for sale,”

Replied to them the nightingale, “But you, my friends, for music aren’t fit No matter how you choose to sit.”



Nightingale in a Dream (Соловей во сне)

by Gavril Derzhavin (Гаврила Державина)


Я на холме спал высоком, Слышал глас твой, соловей,

Даже в самом сне глубоком внятен был душе моей:

То звучал, то отдавался, То стенал, то усмехался В слухе, издалече он;

И в объятиях Калисты, Песни, вздохи, клики, свисты Услаждали сладкий сон.

Если по моей кончине В скучном, бесконечном сне,

Ах! не будут так, как ныне, Эти песни слышны мне;

И веселья, и забавы, Плясок, ликов, звуков славы Не услышу больше я,

Стану жизнью наслаждаться, Чаще с милой целоваться, Слушать песни соловья.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


While asleep upon a hill, I hear your voice, O nightingale,

Even in that deepest slumber It stirs me with its mournful wail —

First a cry, an echo after, Then a sigh, then peals of laughter In my ear, or so it seems.

In Callisto’s arms I’m lying — I hear singing, whistling, sighing And delightful are my dreams.

When ‘tis time my end were nearing, Boring will be endless sleep,

Ah! then will come to my hearing No more songs with tones so deep.

Then the gaiety, the romances, Joy-exulting songs and dances Never more shall me regale,

So, enjoy it while you can then, Kiss your love a bit more often, Listen to the nightingale.



My University (Мой Университет)

by Vladimir Mayakovsky (Владимира Маяковского)


Французский знаете. Делите. Множите. Склоняете чудно. Ну и склоняйте!

Скажите — а с домом спеться можете? Язык трамвайский вы понимаете?...

Я жирных с детства привык ненавидеть, всегда себя за обед продавая.

Научатся, сядут — чтоб нравиться даме, мыслишки звякают лбёнками медненькими.

А я говорил с одними домами. Одни водокачки мне собеседниками.

Окном слуховым внимательно слушая, ловили крыши — что брошу в уши я.

А после о ночи и друг о друге трещали, язык ворочая — флюгер.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


You know French perfectly.  Math and logistics too.  You study so well, you do.  Well, so go study!

But listen: what building stories do you know?  Or songs of trolley cars, tell me where did they go?...

I’ve always hated the fat and the faded because since childhood I’ve sung for my supper.

You learn how to sit, and how to please a lady, Trifling thoughts worthlessly rattling like ivory copper.

But I with my audience of only a building Outside all the towers see what tomorrow will bring.

With rapt attention, the whispering window gnomes would catch my poems with condescension.

And later, they’d chatter on about each other, while dangling their tongues like weathercock fighters.



Winter Morning (Зимнее Утро)

by Alexander Pushkin (Александра Пушкина)


Мороз и солнце; день чудесный!

Ещё ты дремлешь, друг прелестный —

Пора, красавица, проснись:...

Вечор, ты помнишь, вьюга злилась,

На мутном небе мгла носилась;

Луна, как бледное пятно,

Сквозь тучи мрачные желтела,

И ты печальная сидела —

А нынче... погляди в окно:

Под голубыми небесами

Великолепными коврами,

Блестя на солнце, снег лежит;

Прозрачный лес один чернеет,

И ель сквозь иней зеленеет,

И речка подо льдом блестит.


English translation © by L. Lehrman


Arise, my darling, day is breaking.

The frost, the sunshine — it’s exquisite!

It’s time, my lovely one, for waking....

Last night, remember how the blizzard

Across the dark’ning sky was raging!

The moon, pale yellow, shone astride

The murky clouds of gloom presaging.

You seem’d so sadden’d, hope forsaking.

And now, just... take a look outside:

Beneath the azure firmament,

Resembling a magnificent

White carpet, glist’ning lies the snows.

The only darkness to be seen —

The woods; through frost the woods are green,

While ‘neath the ice the river glows.



 Untitled (Без названия)

by Galina Leybovich (Галины Лебовича)

text reprinted by permission of Galina Leybovich


Думаю, всё жизни неспроста. Что-то даст плоды. А что-то – всуе.

Нe напишешь с чистого листа И для красоты не дорисуешь.

День пройдёт. И век пройдёт. И внук Эхом отзовётся. Всё весомо.

Ты сегодня. Здесь. Не зря. Не вдруг. Карандаш в руке. А если сломан?...


English translation © by L. Lehrman


Naught in life, I think, is purposeless. Some things will bear fruit, some aimless sawing.

Writing doesn’t start with emptiness. Beauty’s not what’s sought when one starts drawing.

Days go by. And centuries too. The child Turns away with sighs unthought, unspoken.

You are here. Today. Not random. Wild — Pencil in your hand. And if it’s broken?...



An Elizabeth Gurley Flynn Love Song Cycle

7 poems edited for music by Leonard Lehrman

texts reprinted by permission of Mary Licht

commisioned by Corliss Lamont

with thanks to Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall

and the Tamiment Library at New York University

to Helene


i. If I can step within


If can step within the iron circle of your will,

Past your reserves, to enter in your heart,

Warm at its steady glow my lonely woman’s heart,

Hold on my breast your weary head,

I will be happy to give to you a space,

But half the happiness you will give to me.

I long to share with you my strength,

Harmonize your spirit with my calm.

You will be better able to go on.

Oh! Dear one, try to move along this strange new path a while.

Give me your hand, and let me lead you on its shining way,

Reach stronger, happier heights to view our sacred cause.

If l can step within the iron circle of your selfless will,

Past your reserves, to enter in your fighting heart,

Warm at its steady glow my lonely ever-loving woman’s heart,

Hold on my breast your weary head to rest,

I will be happy to give to you a space,

But half the happiness you will give to me.



II. To my Jewish friend in Pittsburgh


You have the simplicity of a child,

And a thousand years of subtle social sensitivity,

The swift slender hands of an artist,

Smouldering romantic eyes of a poet,

Will to endure, courage of warfare,

Will of a Bolshevik, nerves of a woman,

The quick darting mind of pure logic,

Canny in politics, bred for a martyr,

Naive and loveable, frail but unyielding,

Fire drives and consumes you. I would really not change you.



III.  The beauty of love


The beauty of love

The duty of love

The tenderness of love

The sadness of love

The joy of love

The pain of love

The oneness of love

The aloneness of love

The hate of love

The love of love.



IV.  I lock my heart against you


I lock my heart against you — throw away the key,

I cannot spend my mind or strength on you or anyone.

Everyone has to learn to stand on their own soul’s feet —

Alone and unafraid!



V. Won’t you unlock


[A Communist Love Poem]

Won’t you unlock your warm and tender lips whose kisses are so sweet?

To say some words of love, once in a while?

Why must you be so mute?

Is it a language strange and feared to you, who have no fear?

Have you not heard its nuances and flow?

Why won’t you try it now?

Why must love masquerade as servant to a casual need?

Why try to stifle it newborn, in friendship’s groove?

Dear comrade, stay a little while with me,

Fold up your tireless wings and light within my arms,

Shut out the world of struggle and of pain.

We will be stronger to return again.


(partial repeat of iv)

Alone and unafraid!



VI. To Carlo


[To Carlo [Tresca]. South Beach (After 14 Years)]

I am alone — and being alone am brave!

Gone are the nights of lonely waiting and of tears

Of anxious worry and a comrade’s fears.

To him who did not come, so long ago.

The same tide beats against the waiting sands,

The same moon glides from Coney’s lurid crown,

Red Mars nearer yet far. shines peaceful down,

My heart is free — tonight I do not care!....

I do not miss the kisses or the tears,

Only the faith, that died so slow and hard!


(partial repeat of iv)

I lock my heart against you — throw away the key...

Everyone has to learn to stand on their own soul’s feet...



VII. On “Equality”


How can a man refuse a flame and huddle to a spark?

How they love “yes” women! They fear to be outshone.

Afraid to be overshadowed, possessed, dwarfed out,

Only a brave man, mentally sufficient and strong,

can be calmly equal with a proud intelligent passionate woman.



Love Is Not All

from Fatal Interview

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

text reprinted by permission of Norma Millay Ellis


Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink

Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;

Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink

And rise and sink and rise and sink again;

Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,

Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;

Yet many a man is making friends with death

Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It may well be that in a difficult hour,

Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,

Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,

I might be driven to sell your love for peace,

Or trade the memory of this night for food.

It may well be. I do not think I would.







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