“What is joy?” (“Что такое счастье?”), Nikolai Aseev

Statue of Yuri Gagarin, Moscow


Nikolai Aseev (1889-1963) began his poetic life as a futurist. He was greatly influenced by Mayakovsky. In this late poem, written in 1957, he effortlessly produces the required Soviet optimistic formula. Four years after Stalin’s death, the USSR was, for a short time, indeed a place of optimism: it was leading the way in the space race, and life was beginning to improve considerably after the privations of the war and the years of terror. Aseev was still alive to see Gagarin go into space in 1961; he was perhaps fortunate to die before Brezhnev’s Era of Stagnation took hold.

What is joy? It is the bold connivance
that believes in worth of human deeds,
in the heat of passionate contrivance,
in the bread that satisfies our needs.

Yes, but doesn’t joy now go beyond this?
For the hopeful children of our time,
who of nature have become the masters,
joy is found in skywards questing climb!

Charge no entrance fee or other payment,
multitudes of suns with gleaming light,
open starry chambers, show your raiment,
Milky Way, prostrate yourself tonight!

It’s an age when calendar’s upended,
joy is mixed with sorrow now no more,
reign of death and rotting now has ended,
bracing air we’ll breathe for evermore.

When we’re back from star-bound expedition,
greeted by the earth with teary kiss,
news will come to us in late edition
from the depths of space because of this.

This, the kind of joy that now we’ll shoulder –
spaces will be lit with novel thought,
thus, the world alive will seem and bolder,
not a fearful darkness come to naught.


Что такое счастье? Соучастье
в добрых человеческих делах,
в жарком вздохе разделенной страсти,
в жарком хлебе, собранном в полях.

Да, но разве только в этом счастье?
А для нас, детей своей поры,
овладевших над природой властью,
разве не в полетах сквозь миры?!

Безо всякой платы и доплаты,
солнц толпа, взвивайся и свети,
открывайтесь, звездные палаты,
простирайтесь, млечные пути!

Отменяя летоисчисленье,
чтобы счастье с горем не смешать,
преодолевая смерть и тленье,
станем вечной свежестью дышать.

Воротясь обратно из зазвездья
и в слезах целуя землю-мать,
мы начнем последние известья
из глубин вселенной принимать.

Вот такое счастье по плечу нам —
мыслью осветить пространства те,
чтобы мир предстал живым и юным,
а не страшным мраком в пустоте.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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