11 October 2017

It is in fact a coffin, that dark wood... / А лес в неведомых дорогах —

Lev Loseff, Yuz & Irina Aleshkovsky, Hanover, NH, USA, October 16, 1994

It is in fact a coffin, that dark wood
with paths untrod.
Thus taught us, on his hen’s legs stood,
Professor Propp.

Morning was nigh before I slept; once more
I visited that corner of my nightmare
where a log hut, which nothing could surprise,
was hopping from one hen’s leg to the other,
turning its rear, as was its wont, towards
the forest with its fir trees all unshaven
(which meanwhile creaked and champed and moaned, that forest,
a bit bear-like, covered in sergeant’s chevrons,
outstanding member of the frontier force),
the hut just stood there with its windows blinking, 
and then it said, ‘This duel is appalling!’
What dream is this? Why’s Aleshkovsky in it?
Where is that squad of craftsmen marching to?
And what the craft that they are being taught?
They’re coming here.
                                  Greetings to thee, O tribe of
the young, that I know not. May God not grant
that I live long enough to see thy mighty

(Translation © 2017 G.S. Smith)

From Чудесный десант (The Miraculous Raid), 1985

Vladimir Propp (1895-1970), author of the classic The Morphology of the Folk Tale (1928, translated into English only in 1958) was still teaching at Leningrad University in the late 1950s, when Lev Loseff was an undergraduate there.
‘…once more I visited…’ is instantly recognisable to educated Russians as the opening phrase of an elegiac late poem by Pushkin; the last two sentences of Loseff’s poem refer to its valedictory ending.
‘This duel is appalling’ is a quotation from Chapter 50 of the novel The Hand (1977, published 1980; translation by Susan Brownsberger, 1989), by Loseff’s friend Yuz Aleshkovsky. ‘The Hand’ is the nickname given by Stalin to the direct-speech narrator, a veteran NKVD hitman.

А лес в неведомых дорогах —
на деле гроб.
Так нас учил на курьих ножках
профессор Пропп.

Под утро удалось заснуть, и вновь
я посетил тот уголок кошмара,
где ко всему привычная избушка
переминается на курьих ножках,
привычно оборачиваясь задом
к еловому щетинистому лесу
(и лес хрипит, и хлюпает, и стонет,
медвежеватый, весь в сержантских лычках,
отличник пограничной службы — лес),
стоит, стоит, окошками моргает
и говорит: “Сия дуэль ужасна!”
К чему сей сон? При чем здесь Алешковский?
Куда идут ремесленники строем?
Какому их обучат ремеслу?
Они идут навстречу.
                                   Здравствуй, племя
младое, незнакомое. Не дай
мне Бог увидеть твой могучий

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