Sonnet – “I have by fame and infamy been tested” (Сонет – “Я испытал и славу и бесславье”), Ilya Selvinsky


Ilya Selvinsky (1899 – 1968) was a Jewish Soviet poet who charted a difficult course, especially under Stalin. This poem was written in 1957: Stalin was dead; Khrushchev had condemned the cult of personality and the Purges at the Twentieth Party Congress the year before; and the war-shattered economy was now growing rapidly. It’s open to question whether Selvinsky is here rehearsing the mantra that the Soviet Union was “building Communism”, or whether he’s giving voice to his scepticism that he will ever see it.

It’s a pity “Communism” lacks the stress on the final syllable that Коммунизм” has…

I have by fame and infamy been tested,
I’ve suffered war and passion’s trials long;
With Yugoslavs I’ve games of dice contested,
And Chukchi hunter’s sung to me his song.

I’ve heard the smoky octaves of the tiger,
The simian Nazi soldier’s deadly bawl,
With Emperor Peter I was at Poltava,
And I have talked with Faust about it all.

It seems that in this world I have been carried
For aeons now, a thousand years I’ve tarried…
I’ve seen it all before. What now is left?

But gazing through the future’s mist’s blue prism,
The blessing that
.  without I
.     am bereft
Is just to get one glimpse of Communism.


Я испытал и славу и бесславье,
Я пережил и войны и любовь;
Со мной играли в кости югославы,
Мне песни пел чукотский зверолов.

Я слышал тигра дымные октавы,
Предсмертный вой эсэсовских горилл,
С Петром Великим был я под Полтавой,
А с Фаустом о жизни говорил.

Мне кажется, что я живу на свете
Давнее давнего… Тысячелетье…
Я видел все. Чего еще мне ждать?

Но, глядя в даль с ее миражем сизым,
Как высшую
.  хочу я
.     благодать —
Одним глазком взглянуть на Коммунизм.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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