What Was It? (Что это было?), Daniil Kharms


Daniil Ivanovich Kharms (1905-1942) was a surrealist – as this poem clearly shows. It’s perhaps not surprising that he didn’t thrive in the Moscow of the thirties. He died of starvation in a psychiatric hospital during the siege of Leningrad. Only with glasnost’ were his works published in Russia.

Somehow, the liberties taken here (there’s no “what’s more” or “disaster” or “rearranging” of the hooks in the original) seem justifiable – they certainly don’t make the poem less intelligible!

I walked in winter through a quagmire,
Hat and
Specs I wore.
And someone swept along the river
On clinking metal hooks,
What’s more.

I ran to river all the faster,
Towards the woods he running veered,
Two planks attached to feet – disaster –
He sat
And, bouncing,

And long I stood beside the river,
And long I thought, while holding specs:
“Those planks were very strange;
I cannot
Explain or rearrange
Those hooks!”


Я шел зимою вдоль болота
В галошах,
В шляпе
И в очках.
Вдруг по реке пронесся кто-то
На металлических

Я побежал скорее к речке,
А он бегом пустился в лес,
К ногам приделал две дощечки,
И исчез.

И долго я стоял у речки,
И долго думал, сняв очки:
“Какие странные
И непонятные

Translation by Rupert Moreton


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