Katherine E. Young

Vladimir Kornilov (1928-2002) began writing “ideologically suspect poetry” at Moscow’s Gorky Literary Institute the late 1940s.  He later became a political dissident and sharp-eyed critic of both the Soviet Union and post-Soviet Russia. In “Forty Years Later,” Kornilov describes watching banned writer Andrei Platonov sweep the courtyard at Moscow’s Literary Institute (in real life, Platonov was a resident there, not a janitor); later, Kornilov himself was forced to shovel snow from city streets for his dissident activities.

Two poems by Vladimir Kornilov translated by Katherine E. Young:


Forty Years Later


A foundling of the worthless muses

And other brutes,

I languish all the livelong day

At the LitInstitute.


And dream up rhymes and other good-

For-nothing schemes . . . .

Outside the window, a janitor sweeps

The pavement clean.


Slouching, gaunt, and hollow-cheeked,

He’s gloomy, ill.

But to hell with him and all his woes—

I’m full of myself.


. . . And all the time he was the one

Whose words the Genius

Of Humanity* had banished from

The magazines.


Thus the writing of that time

Grew strangely inept,

While at the LitInstitute the yard

Was nicely swept.


. . . My whole life I looked into myself—

at others, rarely.

But all the same, his fate did touch

Something in me.


Now I’ve become a poet—good,

Bad, who knows? —

Declining like the century:

Forced to sweep snow.


Who envies either of our lives?

His life was destroyed

By m. tuberculosis, and mine—

By my wretched thyroid.


. . . I bear being outcast unbowed,

I kowtow to none,

But before you I’ll bow down,

Andrei Platonov.


And forty years later I pray:

In your distant heaven,

Forgive the folly of my youth,

Forgive everything—


My hubris, hard-heartedness, but mostly

Forgive the boredom

With which I gazed through that window

On your torment.


[*Stalin – trans.]





I’m not ready for freedom yet,

Am I the one to blame?

You see, there was no likelihood

Of freedom in my time.


My great-great granddad, my great-granddad,

My own granddad never

Dared to dream of

“Freedom now!”

None of them saw it: ever.


What’s this thing that they call freedom?

Does it bring satisfaction?

Or is it helping others first

And putting oneself last?


An overwhelming happiness,

Pride and envy expelled,

Throwing open one’s own soul,

Not prying in anyone else’s.


Here are oceans composed of sweat,

Himalayas of toil!

Freedom’s a lot harder than

Unfreedom to enjoy.


For years I, too, awaited freedom,

Waited till I trembled,

Waited till I ached—yet I’m

Unready, now it’s come.

Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards (University of Arkansas Press) and translator of Two Poems by Inna Kabysh (Artist’s Proof Editions).  Her translation of Russian poet Inna Kabysh won third place in the 2011 Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender competition. Her translations of Xenia Emelyanova were longlisted for the 2014 PEN/International New Voices Award. These translations of Vladimir Kornilov are forthcoming in The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry (Penguin Classics, 2015).

http://www.amazon.com/Penguin-Book-Russian-Poetry/dp/0141198303/ref=la_B000APH5K8_1_10?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1416527081&sr=1-10.  Young co-directs the DC Area Literary Translators network (DC-ALT). http://katherine-young-poet.com/



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