Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980) made his living as an actor (both stage and film), but he is most fondly remembered for the hundreds of songs he wrote and performed, accompanying himself on guitar. Here are my translations of a few of them. Mountain-climbing girl Moscow to Odessa 07 The sentimental boxer's song The weightlifter To sink to the bottom Magadan Be thankful The line The Muse's visit "They're buried in our memories, and held..." The air-streams A song about rumors Medley of early songs "It's all behind me -- holding cells and pens..." Bodaibo Don't take me away from the spring (*) "My fiancée, surely, will sincerely mourn me..." "Tell me why, you harlot, your makeup looks so fancy..." (*) "Red and blue and mauve and green..." Bolshoi Karetnyi (*) fragment Click here to see the originals (the specific versions I used). Mountain-climbing girl [audio] ---------------------- I asked, "Why would you bother to climb up there?" As you headed off, singing happy songs, "Mountains look just as beautiful from the air!" But you simply laughed, so I tagged along. Oh, how gentle and how sweet you were, My incredible mountain-climbing girl. How you smiled as you pulled me from that crevasse, My remarkable mountain-climbing lass. Then, for acting like such a clumsy oaf, I received two slaps right upside the head. But I knew that I had deserved them both -- So took no offense, but demurely said, "Oh, how gentle and how sweet you were, My dependable mountain-climbing girl. How you smiled as you rescued my sorry ass, My magnificent mountain-climbing lass." After that, every time we prepared to climb, You'd inspect my boots, you'd inspect my pick, You'd inspect my grapples and check the line, My distrustful mountain-climbing chick. Oh, how scornful and how harsh you were, My irascible mountain-climbing girl. How you frowned as you dragged me from the abyss, My implacable mountain-climbing miss. I kept up with you, though my body ached, You were straight ahead, just a step away; Thought I'd catch up and ask for a little break, Then I tripped and fell -- but had time to say, "Oh, you've taken me right atop the world, My invincible mountain-climbing girl. Now, we're roped together in perfect joy: Mountain-climbing girl, mountain-climbing boy." Moscow to Odessa [audio] ---------------- I'm set to fly from Moscow to Odessa; As usual, the plane is running late. And all I see are blue-clad stewardesses, like princesses, Who tell me to sit down, shut up, and wait. In Ashkhabad, the weather is just fine, In contrast with Odessa, where it's snowing; In Kishinev, the sun benignly shines, It's great out there -- but that's not where I'm going. I'm told: don't overestimate your chances, The heavens aren't being very nice. And now, they say again: the next Odessa flight's been canceled -- Apparently, the runway's turned to ice. In Murmansk, there is neither rain nor storm, In Kiev and in Lvov, green grass is growing. Tbilisi is enjoyable and warm, It's great down there -- but that's not where I'm going. Announcement: flight to Leningrad's now boarding! I need to reach Odessa by tonight -- But over there, they're issuing inclement-weather warnings, And are accepting no incoming flights! I need to go where snow-drifts are waist-high, Where thunder rolls and chilly winds are blowing; While somewhere else there might be sunny skies, And life is good -- but that's not where I'm going. They say the flight is ready -- stop the presses! -- And now I'm being ushered to my seat By beautiful and blue-clad stewardesses, like princesses, As cool as our entire civil fleet. They've opened every city known to man, Accessible by Tupolev or Boeing -- All clear are Paris, London, and Milan; New York's all clear, but that's not where I'm going. The pilot's voice immediately distresses: The flight's held up. I knew this couldn't last! The blue-clad stewardesses, like so many Miss Odessas, Now lead us calmly back into the past. One more announcement comes: delayed till eight! And passengers obediently say, "wake me"... But, damn, I can no longer bear to wait; So I fly off to any place that'll take me. 07 [audio] (1) -- It's as if I am running a fever; My heart's racing, a minute a mile -- As I anxiously grab the receiver, And the same old Oh-Seven I dial. Hello, operator. What's your name? Lizzie. Here's the area code, I hope the line is free. No, please do try again, I'm sure it won't stay busy, Ah, now someone's picking up... Honey, hi! It's me. Both impatient and angry I'm feeling, I don't care whether push comes to shove -- Why can't I, without onerous billing, Ever speak to the people I love? Operator, listen! We should be more thorough! Here's another number... Where, dammit, could she be? To hell with all the phone lines, I'm flying out tomorrow! Ah, now someone's picking up... Honey, hi! It's me. Like an icon to me is the phone, now, The directory's now my Koran. Operator, you're now my Madonna, Turning far into near, on demand. Operator, please! Tonight you cannot falter, Getting through tonight is crucial, can't you see? You're my angel now, so don't step off the altar -- Ah, now someone's picking up... Honey, hi! It's me. What, a problem again with the cable? A repair crew has just been dispatched? That's OK -- I am willing and able To begin every evening from scratch! Operator, yes, I know at night it's hardest, I've lost track of time here, I've been up since three; Yes, of course, yes, yes, I will accept the charges! -- Now connecting... Please stand by... -- Honey, hi! It's me. The sentimental boxer's song [audio] (2) ---------------------------- Left hook, right hook, an uppercut, A jab to start round nine; Boris Budkeyev's kicking butt -- Alas, that butt is mine. I'm hoping I survive this round, I'm praying for the bell. Another jab, I'm on the ground, And I'm not feeling well. Budkeyev was thinking, while punching my nose, That life is as pretty and sweet as a rose. "Four, five, six, seven..." goes the count, I stagger to my feet; My fans don't think I can surmount His lead, and fear defeat; I'm not conserving strength, by plan, For later in the fight -- I just can't hit my fellow man, I just don't think it's right. Budkeyev was thinking, while stomping my toes, That life is as pretty and sweet as a rose. The fans have filled the air with boos, I'm letting down their hopes. Budkeyev's sure he cannot lose, And I am on the ropes. He's a Siberian, I bet, They're really hard to shake. I asked him, "Aren't you tired yet? Sit down and take a break!" But he would not listen, for he's one of those Who think life's as pretty and sweet as a rose. He keeps on landing jabs and hooks, He's prancing all around; I bob and weave, but now it looks Like someone's going down. He's reached complete exhaustion, and Collapses with a sigh; The referee lifts up my hand, Which hadn't hurt a fly. He thought, as he lay there, that life's like a rose... For some, like a rose -- and for some, it just blows. The weightlifter [audio] (3) ---------------- to Vasiliy Alexeyev Weightlifting's not a recent innovation. Recall how, once, a Greek of some renown Picked his opponent up, in desperation, And held him for a while, then tossed him down. Applause will come -- for me, or for another? As if a victim's neck, I grip the bar. I want to tear Antaeus from his mother, Just like that first athletic superstar. No graceful mustang, I! I'm hard as marble; And all my movements are constrained and slow. The barbell, the overloaded barbell, Forever's both my partner and my foe. I wouldn't wish a task this uninviting On anybody else. There's not much hope! As I approach the heavy weight, I'm fighting A heavy feeling: what if I can't cope? Both it and I look like we're made of metal, Though only it is metal to the core. Once I walked up, and once the dust had settled, I saw the dents my steps left in the floor. I don't have time to stand around and marvel. Will I earn shame or glory? I don't know. Ultimately, that's up to the barbell, My only partner and my only foe. It looks impressive when you knock your foe down. But in my sport, it's not so cut and dried. Here's what's unfair about this final showdown: I'm down below; the barbell is up high. That sort of win's much like a loss, I reckon. Yet victory is very simply found: I must hold on for three more painful seconds, Then slam the barbell down onto the ground. My ears are ringing, and my thoughts are garbled, And everything is swaying to and fro. As if by magnets drawn, down weighs the barbell, My faithful partner and relentless foe. Still, it creeps upwards, slowly losing power; My muscles, though, near bursting as they swell. While from their seats, as if from lofty towers, Spectators scream: "Just drop it, what the hell!" I ascertain the judges' satisfaction; My iron god goes down -- I've done my work. I was performing that habitual action Sadistically called the "clean and jerk." To sink to the bottom [audio] --------------------- Aches and complaints, you name 'em, I've got 'em, Sicker of everything I've never been. Wish I could sink, like a sub, to the bottom, And disappear from all radar screens. A friend poured me drinks, though I kept refusing; He kept repeating, "This, too, shall pass." He hooked me up with one of his floozies -- "She'll help you, just like the booze in your glass." But neither helped me feel any less rotten: It made my head hurt, she made a scene. Wish I could sink, like a sub, to the bottom, And disappear from all radar screens. Aches and complaints, you name 'em, I've got 'em, Now, even singing sharpens my pain... Wish I could sink, like a sub, to the bottom, And send out signals never again. Magadan [audio] ------- You think I am a sedentary man? Believe me, you are very wrong on this one. I'll tell you how I went to Magadan, Listen! How I saw the bay of Nagaisk, and The highways... If there's sleet, if there's snow, if there's ice, then -- It's my way. I told a friend, "I'll visit when I can." My promise was as good as etched in granite. I knew, someday, I'd get to Magadan, Dammit! I would see the bay of Nagaisk, and The highways... If there's sleet, if there's snow, if there's ice, then -- It's my way. Like from the plague, from my own self I ran. The rumors flew -- my plane flew even faster. I spent my first three days in Magadan Plastered! But I saw the bay of Nagaisk, and The highways... If there's sleet, if there's snow, if there's ice, then -- It's my way. I didn't give my enemies a chance, I didn't slit my wrists or have a seizure. I simply told myself, "There's Magadan. Be there!" Then I saw the bay of Nagaisk, and The highways... If there's sleet, if there's snow, if there's ice, then -- It's my way. I could've stayed at home, as I had planned, While keeping all my girlfriends here from straying. Instead, I flew away to Magadan, Saying: "I will see the bay of Nagaisk, and The highways... If there's sleet, if there's snow, if there's ice, then -- It's my way." I knew that I'd get frostbite, not a tan; I knew my wallet, too, would suffer badly. But still, I chose to fly to Magadan, Gladly! And I gazed at the bay, at the slopes, at The highways... You've not seen them? Then you're a dope, that's What I say. Be thankful [audio] ----------- Who cares that your old lady's always nagging? Who cares that you are breaking out in hives? Who cares that, once again, you're off the wagon? Be thankful that, at least, you're still alive. Big deal -- your only jacket doesn't wear well. Big deal -- the nightmares tortured you till five. Big deal -- somebody mugged you in the stairwell. Be thankful that, at least, you're still alive. Yeah, yeah -- your poker partner died of scurvy. Yeah, yeah -- you're looking pale and sleep-deprived. Yeah, yeah -- you spent a week-end on a gurney. Be thankful that, at least, you're still alive. So what if you've got footprints on your forehead? So what if your career just took a dive? So what if your cholesterol is horrid? Be thankful that, at least, you're still alive. No sweat -- you never learned to play the fiddle. No sweat -- another summons has arrived. No sweat -- your head is hurting you a little. Be thankful that, at least, you're still alive. It's true that it's my fault, and I am sorry. It's true -- you can't achieve unless you strive. It's true. I only have a single worry: To whom should I give thanks that I'm alive? The line [audio] -------- The people grumbled, and complained, and whined; They kept demanding justice be observed: "For hours, we've been standing in this line, While those who came up later have been served." It was explained to them, with motives purest: "Dear friends! Please leave, and don't clog up our queue. Those who are eating, those are foreign tourists. Whereas -- forgive me -- who the hell are you?" But people grumbled, and complained, and whined; They kept demanding justice be observed: "For hours, we've been standing in this line, While those who came up later have been served." The manager, again, was very tender: "Dear friends! I'm begging you, please think this through. Those who are eating, those are council members. Whereas -- forgive me -- who the hell are you?" Still, people grumbled, and complained, and whined, And kept demanding justice be observed: "For hours, we've been standing in this line, While those who came up later have been served." The Muse's visit [audio] (4) ---------------- I'm ready to explode at any moment, Filled to the brim with uncreative ire. The Muse dropped by tonight -- a happy omen -- But then, a short while later, she retired. I honestly can't blame her for departing, I know she had good grounds to walk away: The Muse, at night, in some strange man's apartment! God knows what all the gossipers might say. Yet, I can't help but feel depressed and weakened, And, I'll admit it, just a little piqued. At Blok's, I hear, she hung out every week-end, At Balmont's, she would stick around for weeks. I'd hurried to my desk, for greatness famished -- A stroke of genius I, for once, might nab! But when she left, my inspiration vanished, As did three roubles (maybe, for a cab?) I run from room to empty room, still shaking -- Though I've forgiven her, I'm hopping mad. For greener pastures I have been forsaken; Perhaps, my hospitality was bad? The giant cake (from grief, no doubt) has crumbled; Myself, I am exhausted and confused. My no-good neighbors, in the meantime, stumbled Upon the rum I'd meant to serve the Muse. So now I'm bored, as night turns into morning; I sorely miss that quirky Muse of mine. She took French leave of me, without a warning, But still, she gave me two amazing lines. These lines are proof no poet ranks above me, And wide acclaim is sure to come my way: "Thou art so very temperate and lovely. Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" [Untitled] [audio] (5) -------- They're buried in our memories, and held For centuries: events, and dates, and faces. But memories run deep, as deep as wells -- Look in. Whose face is that? You can't quite tell; Keep staring, and you're still hard-pressed to place it. Who can say what's false and what is valid? An unbiased court alone could learn. Please be careful when the past is tallied; Do not break that fragile earthen urn. Oftentimes, in my mind, still awaken Certain sayings from the war; Like, "A sapper can be once mistaken -- And no more." Half-heartedly, some rummage through the past, While some try to recall it, without pleasure; And others would much rather take a pass; So, undiscovered it remains, alas -- Like a forever-hidden ancient treasure. Like a flood, the years have been unsparing; No more signposts keeping you on track. In the past, you just might lose your bearings, And might never find a pathway back. Now and then, in my mind, still awaken Certain sayings from the war; Like, "A sapper can be once mistaken -- And no more." Don't be so quick to dole out blame just yet! For digging's hard, and folks have cause to loathe it. They wish not to conceal, but to forget: Amidst the years there lies another threat -- So many rusty mines, still unexploded. In the minefield of a bygone era Caution is especially prescribed. Minefields never give you room for error; If you err, you won't come out alive. To this day, in my mind, still awaken Certain sayings from the war; Like, "A sapper can be once mistaken -- And no more." Just one wrong move -- a clock will start to tick, And then, all hell breaks loose a minute later... Explosions are too sudden to predict. If only we're alert enough, and quick, To, just in time, remove the detonator! Even now, mines still can be detected In the Earth that's sleeping safe and sound. May they be by able hands collected, And blown up where people aren't around. This is why, in my mind, still awaken Certain sayings from the war; Like, "A sapper can be once mistaken -- And no more." The air-streams [audio] [modern-day cover] (6) --------------- Lucky me that the engines kept humming so loudly; I was left by myself, one on one with my shame -- I'd forgotten my rifle was not fastened soundly, And did not promptly exit the plane. My instructor was quick to deliver a kick To my lazy and cowardly rear. He was mumbling the usual, "Don't be such a chick," -- So I guessed, though I couldn't quite hear. My cheeks are hotly blazing, The rushing wind outroars me. And, like an ice-cold razor, Freezing air-streams race towards me. As, silently, I'm screaming, The dreadful noise escorts me. Cavorting and careening, The air-streams rise towards me. It's as if I've been grabbed by a skillful magician. Now, the air-streams -- not I -- have control of my limbs; And I gladly assume every crazy position, And obey every one of their whims. Is there any good reason I'm plunging through space? Maybe later, it might become clear. But, for now, the horizon stares right in my face, While the clouds seem to scatter in fear. My cheeks are hotly blazing, The rushing wind outroars me. And, like an ice-cold razor, Freezing air-streams race towards me. I'm having trouble breathing; The dreadful noise escorts me. Advancing and receding, The air-streams rise towards me. From the heights of the stratosphere, down into nowhere -- I was inside the airplane, and then I was gone; I walked up to the edge, and I blindly stepped over, To the free-fall I said, "Bring it on!" I will break through this lightless and smothering gauze, With my parachute yet undeployed. But one can't really call this a "free-fall," because What I'm falling through isn't a void! My cheeks are hotly blazing, The rushing wind outroars me. And, like an ice-cold razor, Freezing air-streams race towards me. My eyes are almost bleeding; The dreadful noise escorts me. Eternal and unfeeling, The air-streams rise towards me. And the wind whispers glibly, "Do nothing, don't worry, Wait a bit -- and you'll softly descend from the skies." Only three hundred meters are left, I must hurry, For the wind's surely telling me lies! So I pull on the ring, and get tugged by the straps, And the previous few minutes are moot. There may be no such thing as a free-fall, perhaps -- But I'm still free to open my 'chute! My cheeks are nicely cooling; My eyes can open wider; The air-streams, now, feel soothing, As I gaze sadly skyward. The lonely stars up there seem To quietly ignore me, As I drink in the air-streams That slowly rise towards me. A song about rumors [video] ------------------- Oh, the rumors that keep battering our senses! Oh, the gossip that brings thinking to a halt! Rumors say that, soon, all things will get expensive -- maybe double! -- Especially potatoes, milk, and salt. Like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. Deep underground, they've built a brand-new city, In case, I gather, of atomic war; While, by an order of the Health Committee -- nosy bastards -- No public baths will open anymore. Like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. Mamykin, I've been told, will do hard labor, For drunkenness, corruption, or some such. I hear, as well, that they'll arrest your neighbor -- that poor devil -- Because he looks like Beria too much. Like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. The Earth, some people claim, is getting hotter; And harmful rays are coming from our phones. French spies, they say, have poisoned all the water -- but with vodka, While bread, these days, is made of scales and bones. Like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. Some scary lies are whispered by deceivers; Some scary tales, passed on by the naive. Bad rumors never fail to find believers, -- for some reason, -- The good, however, nobody believes. So, like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. Always growing, like malignant tumors, Rumors echo far and wide across the land. I hear gossip that there'll soon be no more rumors -- never ever; I hear rumors that all gossip will be banned. But... like mosquitoes In the air, Rumors greet us Everywhere, And the toothless hags repeat 'em Street to street and square to square. Medley of early songs [audio] (7) --------------------- [Untitled] -------- It's all behind me: holding cells and pens, The prosecutor and the judges three; And now I wait, and now I wait, to find out -- where will I be sent? Where'll I be sent, to work for free? Mom starts weeping, "Where, oh where?" She keeps on mumbling in despair, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent? Mom starts weeping, "Where, oh where?" But I, myself, don't really care, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent. To Magadan, the mail comes slightly faster; To Vorkuta, it takes an extra week or two. But over there, but over there, the place is full of greedy bastards, So, either way, my parcels won't get through. Mom is weeping, "Where, oh where?" She keeps on mumbling in despair, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent? Mom is weeping, "Where, oh where?" But I, myself, don't really care, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent. The guards walk in -- I hear them through my slumber -- They wake me up and hurry me away; And so right now, right here and now, this means that I'll be taken somewhere -- Exactly where, the scoundrels wouldn't say. Mom's still weeping, "Where, oh where?" She still keeps mumbling in despair, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent? Mom's still weeping, "Where, oh where?" But I, myself, don't really care, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent. The din grows louder; now, we're at the station. Thank God, at least, I've some tobacco left; And now we're told, and now we're told, that Kola is our destination -- Or maybe someplace else in the North-West. Mom's still weeping, "Where, oh where?" She still keeps mumbling in despair, Oh where, oh where, will I be sent? Mom, stop weeping, "Where, oh where?" Here's what should be our only care: Oh when, oh when, will I be home again? [Bodaibo] ------- You left yesterday, for a week or so; I don't miss you, though, in the least -- For I'm now in transit to Bodaibo, In a cattle car headed East. You won't weep for me, you won't call my folks, But, my dear, I don't give a damn -- For the next ten years I'll be pounding rocks, Mining gold for our Motherland. Now the wheels have stopped, and at last I'm here, No more tracks or ties, only turf... I would like to cry, but I have no tears, There are no more tears left on Earth. You don't have to wait, you don't have to mourn, Don't be sad that I'm in the can; Just remember, now and forevermore: God forbid our paths cross again. I will tough it out till my term expires, I'll come out alive -- that, I'll bet! But as I sleep on plank-beds behind barbed wire, I will try my best to forget. Here, the cold is bad and the wind is worse, And blue forests are my only views... At my back are six thousand kilometers, And ahead -- ten years of the blues. [From: Don't take me away from the spring] ---------------------------------- The spring had barely started, I felt so easy-hearted, I thought I'd leave the whole world in my dust; Then came along two fellows, In yellow, in yellow, "Get dressed," they said to me, "and come with us." I begged the sergeant, as I packed my things: "Please don't take me away from the spring!" Till May they kept on pressing For me to start confessing, For forty days, to "I don't know" I stuck; Then came the sudden crusher, When they arrested Masha -- And then I knew that I was outta luck. [Untitled] -------- My fiancée, surely, will sincerely mourn me, And my friends will settle any debts I owe; Some will take my songs and they will sing them for me, And may I be honored even by my foes. No more books to read, no more pens to write with, Even my guitar is out of tune. I cannot go leftward, I cannot go rightward, I can't see the sun, and I can't see the moon. I can't go outside -- I've been disempowered, -- Only from the door and to the wall. I cannot go upward, I cannot go downward, I can see a sliver of sky, and my dreams -- that's all. Dreams about how, someday, I'll regain my freedom, My guitar once more'll sound true and clear; Who will I be met by? How will I be greeted? And what songs will I, then, get to hear? [From: Untitled] -------- Tell me why, you harlot, your makeup looks so fancy, Tell me why you're sporting a shiny blue beret? Don't you try to hide it -- you are going dancing, And you've got two tickets, I saw that right away. You should know by now that I adore you greatly, For your sake, I'm spending in crime my nights and days -- So I hate to say it, but I've noticed lately That you tend to cheat a bit too often for my taste. [Untitled] -------- Red and blue and mauve and green, Jade and quartz and tourmaline, Anything to keep you away from other men; Shirts and skirts and crinolines, Silken robes and denim jeans, But you just gave me vodka, and some cognac now and then. Even though I wasn't rich, I tried to scratch your every itch, Many times I asked, "Is this enough for you, my love?" Your usual response to which -- You lying, scheming, thieving bitch -- Was just to give me vodka and yell, "No, it's not enough!" The money came perpetually, It fell on you torrentially, Banknote after banknote, emeralds and gold; I played it safe, essentially, But still got caught, eventually -- Now, for a quarter-century, my life's been put on hold. Know that I intensely loathe You and all your stupid clothes, You're the only reason why I'm wearing white and black; Screw you and your sacred oath, Screw you and your mother, both! Live the way you want to -- I am never coming back! [Bolshoi Karetnyi] ---------------- Where were you at seventeen? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where've your troubles always been? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. Where's your big black .38? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where aren't you today? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. Do you still recall that House, my friend? You'll remember always Where it stands. I would say that anyone's life was lived in vain, If he never walked Karetnyi Lane -- Because... Where were you at seventeen? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where've your troubles always been? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. Where's your big black .38? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where aren't you today? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. Now, Karetnyi Lane is Not the same; It has been repainted And renamed. But anyplace you go and no matter what you find, Karetnyi Lane is always on your mind -- Because... Where were you at seventeen? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where've your troubles always been? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. Where's your big black .38? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. And where aren't you today? On Bolshoi Karetnyi. ----------------------------------------------------------------------- © Serge Elnitsky, 2003-15 BACK to "translations"

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