Three Poems

Translator: 

Bazhanov

The Geese

The geese bid farewell to the tundra
with heavy-hearted cries.
For them it will be very difficult,
no, it is not for them to bask under an African sky,
it is for them to dream of the North
with its snow and May showers,
with the caress of endless swamps,
with the noise of mountain rivulets.
The North, extreme though it may be,
teaches the soul to be proud.
Here are the lifelong moorings
of everyone who is familiar with the waves.
It is here that the birds’ lives begin,
where the Saami reside!

 

October Morning

October morning, fresh and light,
the sun crumbled into sparkles,
the birch nuzzles up to the dawn with its cheek,
having sensed autumn close by.

She thought of something, she looks with longing
at the spruces, at the proud pines,
but Autumn, with a rude and ruthless hand,
plucks out the yellow leaves.

I pity you, it’s too bad it came to this,
following autumn — hazy winter.
And anyway you threw off your scanty clothes:
you could not stand to wear them in the frost!

The snows come through and cover everything,
like a fur coat on a young girl’s shoulders,
and the frost will be a loyal friend to you,
a gallant prince!

 

December

In the polar night you can hear the voice
of worlds yet unknown!
In the December forest there gloriously breathes
the frost, the ozone — and I am living well!

Translations from the Russian
By Naomi Caffee

Askold Bazhanov is a Skolt Saami poet writing in the Russian language. He was born in 1934 in the village of Notozero, Murmansk district, Russia. After the Second World War he relocated to Leningrad to study in the Department of the Peoples of the North, a special sector for ethnic minorities created under the auspices of Gertsen State Pedagogical University. Upon returning home to the historically Saami lands near Lovozero township, he began writing poetry while working in various occupations: as a miner, a railroad technician, a tractor operator, and a reindeer herder. His best-known publications include Solntse nad tundroi (Sun over the tundra, 1983) and Belyi Olen’ (The white reindeer, 1996). The main themes of his poetry include the struggle to preserve indigenous cultural identity in the face of encroaching modernity; surviving the hardships of collectivization, war, and economic exploitation; and the intimate, spiritual connections between humans and the natural world. His work has been translated into English and various dialects of Saami.

Naomi Caffee is a PhD candidate in Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is currently writing a doctoral dissertation on the literature of ethnic minorities in the former Soviet Union.Editorial note: These translations were first published alongside their Russian originals in the bilingual collection Stikhi i poemy o saamskom krae (Verses and poems on the Saami land), ed. Michael Riessler & Elisabeth Scheller, with an essay by Johanna Domokos (Berlin: Kleine Saamische Schriften, 2009). Reprinted by permission of the translator. The photo of Bazhanov is from the Finno-Ugric Cultural Center of the Russian Federation (www.finnougoria.ru).

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