Several Poems by Feodor Svarovsky in Translation

About the Author

Feodor Svarovsky was born in Moscow in 1971. At the age of 19, he emigrated to Denmark. In 1997, he returned to Moscow and worked as a journalist and editor at Vedomosti, then at the Paulsen Publishing House and Esquire. In 2007, he published his first book of poetry Все хотят быть роботами (Everybody Wants to Be a Robot). He is also the author of Путешественники во времени (Time Travelers, 2009); Слава героям (Glory to the Heroes, 2015). In  2011, Svarovsky participated in PEN’s New Voices reading series at the National Arts Club in NYC. He currently lives in Montenegro with his wife and amazing cats.

“When the Antarctic ice melts”

Fyodor Svarovsky hardly needs any introduction. One of the best contemporary Russian poets, he is well known in Russia, and readers admire his poetry, both romantic and metaphysical. He is a universal poet. The appeal to the world of nature and feelings, their projection into the future – these are the main components that create the versatility of Svarovsky’s poetry and cause the readers’ love.

As soon as Svarovsky’s first book, Everybody Wants to Be a Robot (Все хотят быть роботами), was published in 2007, it was an instant hit with literary critics and readers. Even among the diverse and vibrant voices of contemporary Russian poetry, his poems immediately stand out for their fantastic adventurous spirit and unusual poetic style. His book was nominated for the Andrei Bely Prize and won the prestigious Moscow Schyot Prize for the best debut poetry collection. Since then, Svarovsky has played a significant role in the revival of the ballad genre, or narrative poetry written in an “epic” mode. In the process of renewing the genre over the past decade, it has often been defined as a “New Epic”. It represents an original artistic approach to understanding complex reality as a scene of interaction between various forces and actors. Its main characteristics are a narrative text without an author’s linear voice or lyrical statement, the predominance of metaphysical meanings and unusual themes, and a fascinating plot. They were defined in the famous Manifesto (2008). This type of poetry, postmodern in nature, often refers to metaphysical forces beyond the control of the individual.

This trend in Russian poetry continues and flourishes in recent days. Many contemporary poets explore the long ballad genre at the new level of metaphysical comprehension of the world. Among them are such prominent poets as Maria Stepanova, Leonid Schwab, Arseny Rovinsky, Stanislav Lvovsky, Linor Goralik, Pavel Goldin, Andrei Rodionov, Sergei Kruglov, and others.

Drawing on the potential of the “new epic” form, Svarovsky’s first works were bizarre and sometimes grotesque – they introduced themes and heroes unusual for Russian poetry: robots fighting in civil wars, aliens stranded in the Moscow suburbs, or post-Soviet warriors acting in extraordinary circumstances and sometimes in timeless space. In the poetic space of Svarovsky’s first book, Everybody Wants to Be a Robot (Все хотят быть роботами), humans and robots, heroes and villains interact in bizarre circumstances, moving freely through time and space. Besides the unusual plot, some critics immediately noted the features of Anglophone postmodern literature: fragmented narrative, paradox, dry humor, and irony. One of the hallmarks of his first book was the attribution of infinite human emotions to robots, which expanded the poetic space to universal proportions. In one of the most poignant stanzas, the tragic situation in which the robot finds itself is described with almost human sentiment:

у роботов ангелов нет
никто не беспокоится
не летит
не закрывает
невидимыми крыльями
нас в пути
поэтому в тяжёлый момент

мы обращаемся напрямую
и вот я прошу
кислоты и воды
я тоскую

                    *                        *                   *

you know
robots don’t have own angels
no one worries
no one’s watching us
or covers us with
their invisible wings
on our path
so in times of need
we deal with it directly
and here I’m begging
for acid and water.
above all

I’m aching.

Written as contemporary ballads without the visible presence of the author, Svarovsky’s poems meet the aesthetic demands of postmodern literature. They address the realities of modern society, both technologically advanced and aesthetically sophisticated. The unusual settings and characters – space pirates, robots engaged in galactic wars, and humans communicating with robots – perfectly met the public’s desire for literary forms and characters beyond the usual lyrical standard.

This debut brought Svarovsky deserved fame, many of his poems became famous among readers, and the author became one of the most popular and admired poets in Russia. The reason for this phenomenon is not only the author’s poetic talent, but also his style, which appeals to the reader’s imagination. Svarovsky explained: “The author describes events whose reality or apparent fiction does not matter for achieving the aesthetic effect, since the main goal of the ‘new epic’ is mostly artistic – to provoke an aesthetic, emotional, or intellectual reflection”(Manifesto, 2008).

Like the heroes of ancient tragedies, his characters often face difficult choices and sacrifice themselves. The poet’s detached voice evokes emotions beyond our comprehension. Behind the captivating plot hides the timeless epic story of a man overcoming despair and tragic circumstances. Entertainment is replaced by compassion, and readers find themselves captivated by a dramatic story, as in the poem “Mongolia,” about the incredible bond between an old robot warrior and a little Japanese girl, Aiko, in a desolate land devastated by endless wars (Everybody Wants to Be a Robot). As a result, we react to the fantastic events in Svarovsky’s poems as if they really happened, and indeed we all coexist in a complex universe where time, space and nature are interconnected.

In Svarovsky’s recently published book, Glory to the Heroes (2015), new themes and metaphorical systems emerged. In the book’s preface, Oleg Pashenko emphasizes that Svarovsky has become more open about his Christian eschatological ideas, including the “image of water, sea or seashore as the Kingdom of God.”  His poetic style has become more sophisticated and reflected new ontological dimension of reality, “when a person sitting in front of the screen, writing or reading, and at the same time swimming or diving in the notional sea in such a way that the reality is not alien but exists as an additional dimension, as another layer of ontological freedom” (Pashenko,  Preface).

In an interview with Sergei Sdobnov about his book (Colta, Oct.25 2015), Svarovsky emphasized that ”for the postmodern and other consequent paradigms, time does not exist; like any other categories, it is an easily controllable part of artistic creation. Since the author isn’t identified with the text, his or her personal sense of time isn’t important.” In this respect, his poetry is in tune with the work of such Russian postmodern prose writers as Mikhail Shishkin, Valery Votrin, and others. The objects in them are only approximations to an ideal world.

Timelessness and the idea of a universal world in which man lives in absolute harmony with all living beings are embodied in his poetic texts. It echoes Plato’s idealistic conception of the unity of all things, but it is also an integral part of the poet’s Christian worldview:

life is love
people are immortal
and glory
glory to the heroes

Far from being a “banal slogan,” as the recent History of Russian Literature (Oxford: 2018) suggests, or an “irony,” this is one of the most powerful humanist messages in contemporary Russian poetry. As such, it can’t be trivially dismissed; it is the only way out of the crisis of human civilization in recent years. All this makes Svarovsky’s poetry relevant to our times, when we all suddenly realize that the survival of humanity depends on harmony with nature, on a return to humanity in politics and society, on refusing to mistreat animals and other living beings, on the love and heroism of the many nameless heroes who fight for all of us. This may seem idealistic in today’s cruel world, but ultimately only poetry can explain life in its entirety.

We are pleased to present some of Feodor Svarovsky’s poems in translation to English-speaking readers. Authentic poetry always loses some of its beauty and magic in translation, but we have tried to preserve as much as possible the originality of the poetic texts and the author’s voice.

Alice and Tiger

In my early childhood
it was absolutely necessary

to keep a super small dog
the size of my pinky

and honestly

a similarly sized little girl
so, they fit in my pocket

the dog was called Tiger
and the girl’s name was Alice
I loved them

I wanted to own a swimming pool too
but a weird-shaped one

with curves
with the houses
under the water

where we would be at home
and there
we would swim between the walls
in the crystal water
devoted to each other until death
and absolutely immortal

Day at the zoo


we went to the zoo
but we didn’t see a crocodile
because he was lying at the bottom of a concrete pit
and didn’t float up
and we didn’t see the hippo either
my parents said: look, there are his ears and nostrils
but I saw
neither ears
nor nostrils,
polar bears
and brown bears alike sat in their cages
the giraffe was cold
and didn’t come out
monkeys and lemurs were hiding
eagles were sleeping
capybaras were peeking out of their homes
with their backs to the audience
the elephant was standing in the distance
and it was hard to see him
just some pointless
and bulls
which could be seen everywhere
were posturing in plain sight
all of a sudden, I’ve got an upset stomach.
and they didn’t buy cotton candy for me

it was Saturday
on my birthday
seventy-two-and-a-half years


it was a special day
everything went awry from the start
giraffe had a stomach ache
crocodile had a toothache
monkeys and lemurs were bored and cold
eagles were sad and cold
capybaras were sleepy and cold
hippo was cold
brown bears were cold
and even polar bears were cold
and the elephant was appalled
deer and bulls
wandered in some despair
nobody remembers now who it was
but one of the animals
or not of them
but definitely someone
Animals, so be it, it is okay,
one day it will end
it will be over
and we’ll go

When the Antarctic Ice Melts

when the Antarctic ice melts

we will be happy
after many rainfalls
dry bones will become wet
gardens will bloom
on  Queen Maud’s land
on the Queen Victoria Peninsula –
white tents flitter in the wind
and meadows stretch from one lake to another –
the bird snatches fish and bread from our hands
everything will be be fine
all the dead will come back to life
all the good
except the bad
oh, glass cities
oh, the land rising from the ice
His Majesty the Emperor
is swinging
ankle-deep in warm water
towards the green coast

just a penguin

Glory to the Heroes

four Canadians
saved the world from a genetic catastrophe
one Armenian invented a new type of rocket fuel
and a treatment for cancer
one Russian sacrificed himself
he shut down the reactor and saved the international space station
one Englishman gave his liver to a wounded journalist
who came back from the California coup
one Tatar during the ethnic conflict in Southeast Asia
saved 240 Malaysian babies
one Frenchwoman died for the freedom of Phobos in the dungeons
of Deimos
one Cardian
was supposed to attack Earth on a neutrino-driven ship
after seeing the blue planet
he turned the ship toward the sun
life is love
people are immortal
and glory
glory to the heroes

Слава героям

четыре канадца спасли мир от генетической катастрофы
один армянин изобрёл новый вид ракетного топлива
и лекарство от рака
один русский пожертвовал собой
отключил реактор и спас международную космическую станцию
один англичанин отдал свою печень раненной журналистке
вернувшейся после переворота в Калифорнии
один татарин во время этнического конфликта
в Юго-Восточной Азии спас 240 малайских младенцев
одна француженка умерла за свободу Фобоса в застенках
один картадианин
должен был атаковать Землю на корабле с нейтринным приводом
увидев синюю планету
он развернул корабль в сторону солнца
жизнь есть любовь
люди бессмертны
и слава
слава героям


the elephant would never
start fighting the whale

not that the whale is stronger than the elephant
it’s that a war between them is impossible

these animals are brothers
together they swim under the water

the whale is young
and lively
the elephant is jovial and young

the whale’s fin cuts through currents in the depths
the elephant’s trunk flaps overhead

mermaids glide after them
they are the people and gorillas’ brothers

wrote about it

and Plato at the Academy spoke
of it

 Elena Dimov

Charlottesville, 2020

The Art of Poetry Translation

Foto2My original intention was to write about my work on the English translation of the poetry by contemporary Russian authors. In my mind poetry translation is walking a road alongside the author and his thoughts, imagery and poetic imagination, where a translator’s role in reproducing the author’s intention is of the same merit but usually not recognized.

Maria Rybakova expressed this process in a splendid metaphor:

the winds from the North and the West blow upon you,
your thoughts have just flown to Thrace,
but now waves carry you like a goddess on a shell to the shore of a

paper sea,
and no one recognizes you.

But the process of working on the novel–­in-verse Gnedich by Maria Rybakova and other poetic works by contemporary Russian poets has become part of a broader reflection on the art of poetic translation as a unique element of the creative process. This is especially important now if we want to draw the attention of the Anglophone world to the many brilliant but unknown in the West Russian poets. Almost unknown are the translated books of poems by contemporary Russian women poets.

Recreating the poetry’s imagery and meaning into another language connotes translator’s ability to reproduce both the poetry’s music and its essence. When beginning work on a translation, a translator typically has before his or her eyes an original text which incarnates the poet’s soul: the poet’s own thoughts, sense of reality, and metaphors born by a poetic perception of the world. In addition, this perception is always a unique snapshot of the universe.

The translator usually has the necessary knowledge and linguistic means for recreating the text in another language. However, reproducing the original poetry’s metaphors and epithets in the other  language, or what Brodsky called the “fringe” of a language that actually creates the poetry, suggests a departure from simple reproduction of the poetic work by linguistic tools to a new design thinking.

This often requires the translator’s creative ability to think metaphorically. Translators often have two solutions to this situation. The first approach is based on technically competent translation without touching the poetry’s subtext as the soul of the language.

Another approach is when translators create their own poetic work using tropes and images from the original work. Brodsky called them “espousing certain poetics of their own” and was unhappy with this kind of poetry translation. Both approaches could not lead to success in the art of poetic translation. Unlike other forms of literary translation, a successful translation of the poetic form requires absolute harmony between the original and the translated version.

In my opinion, the key part in a successful translation of the original poetic imagery is the metaphorical thinking of the translator. This suggests the same level of metaphorical representation of reality as in the original.

The ability to recreate a poetic image in another language implies the translator’s creation of the adequate symbol in consonance with a poet’s own inner world. It depends primarily on the translator’s creative and linguistic potential and metaphorical vision of the world. In this case we observe the successful union of the two creative potencies, when the translator is able to re-create a unique work in another language, as was the case with Homer’s Illiad translated by Gnedich. And this brings us back to the beginning of this essay: the translator’s own work is sometimes as good as the original, but remains out of the readers’ sight, “and no one recognizes it.” But these questions are open to discussion.

Elena Dimov, Ph.D.

Featured pictures by Alexander Borisenko

Strelna Elegy by Joseph Brodsky

Translated by Margarita Dimova












Light of the palaces and castles, the palaces and castles’ light,
the flowerbed of brick roses, blooming in the winter,
what native scenery of sudden losses,
what a beautiful whistling from years past.


As if you see someone’s footprints, long familiar,
on the snow in the sleeping land,
as if in front you is not the shore you longed for,
but the former land of clamorous love.

As if I will forget myself and everyone else,
and you have already left, even said goodbye,
as if you have left from here forever,
as if you have already died far away from this beach.

You suddenly came into the train
and saw for a moment the sunset and the roofs,
but I still stand waist-deep in the water,
and listen to the distant and beautiful thundering of wheels.

You are here no more. And will be no longer.
The light of oblivion flies back to the golden funeral feast,
in the land of sorrow and pain,
a beautiful radiance on an unknown life.

The street lamps still glow white in the darkness,
the same ship is freezing in the bay.
The new snow is whirling and the goats bleat,
as if this new life will not pass you.

You are here no more, and will be no longer.
It’s time for me to leave this place for the new path.
There is no oblivion. Nor is there pain or sorrow.
You are here no more, thanks be to God.

They bring me a horse and with my foot in the stirrup
I see in front me the same golden Strelna,
the bay still glowing white in the darkness.
The new snow whirls and the goats are bleating.

In the Tsars’ Village in wintertime
a shadow of vain love appears before me
and life runs again in January’s darkness
like the frozen wave to the beautiful shore.

Joseph Brodsky (1960)


Vladimir Vysotsky


“But I am certain of what is false and what is sacred,
I understood it all a long time ago.
My way is straight, just straight, guys,
And luckily there is no other choice!”
-Vladimir Vysotsky

Vladimir Vysotsky (1938-1980) was one of the greatest bards in Russian history whose influence and popularity among Russian people during the second half of the 20th century was unprecedented. It is still not understood in full, even now more than 40 years after his death. Vladimir Vysotsky was an actor and a balladeer; he wrote and sang his own songs, always with a guitar, in the Russian genre of bard poetry. As Vysotsky himself explained it to the audience: “I write author’s songs and I believe them to be a specific genre. Generally speaking, they are not songs  but poems on a rhythmical base…The point is that author’s songs give me a chance to tell  what worries me, what is of concern to me, that sort of thing.”(1)

What was so unusual about the balladeer Vysotsky’s music and personality that made his songs the voice of the Russian soul and  himself a true folk hero? He had no official status as a poet in the official Soviet hierarchy, as if he were completely invisible in the eyes of the authorities. He was not a member of the Writer’s Union, and did not belong to the official establishment, which would usually generate prestige and money. He sang his ballads in his free time and traveled, giving concerts all around the Soviet Union. But his voice is still alive in recordings and Russians continue to mourn the great bard who wrote to Russian people: “People!  I loved you! Be merciful!“(2)


Where are your seventeen years?
On Bolshoi Karetnoi.
Where are your seventeen troubles?
On Bolshoi Karetnoi.
Where is your black revolver?
On Bolshoi Karetnoi.
And where are you not today?
On Bolshoi Karetnoi.

Vysotsky was born in Moscow on January 25, 1938 in the family of a military officer. As a child,  he spent several years in Eastern Germany with his father’s family. After his return to Russia,  he lived in the hideous creation of the Soviet regime, the communal apartment, with several other families on Bolshoi Karetnoi Street. He studied at an actors’ school, and after his graduation worked as an actor in several theaters.  The famous director Lyubimov  took him on as an actor in the Moscow Theatre of Drama and Comedy on Taganka in 1964. In 1971, Vysotsky received the role of Hamlet and played it till his death. Well-liked by the public, he never received any official recognition. His salary of 170 rubles at the theater was not even enough to pay for the rent. He also played various movie and television roles, among them captain Zheglov in the popular serial Mesto vstrechi izmenit nelzia (1979).

But as he had told in the interview at Pyatigorsk TV studio in 1979,  the poetry meant for him more than “anything else: “Mostly inspiration comes to me, usually at night… when I’m working on poems. As long as I live, as long as I think, I will of course write poems, write songs.” (3)

He started to write and sing songs as a student in the 60’s. It was his  “courtyard hooligan” songs which made him famous very fast. (4)   By 1967 the entire country already knew about Vysotsky. Sometimes there were the dubious texts, but their simplicity and humor made them popular very quickly:

I happened to be walking around
And I hurt two people by chance,
They took me to militia grounds
Where I saw her…and broke down at once.

At the beginning,  they were songs written for his friends. As Vysotsky explained: “I began with songs that were called by many street songs or even gutter songs (blatnoi) for some reason. Doing so, I  paid tribute to the urban romance. Generally speaking, when I began to write my songs, I had no idea that I would write for such an audience as I have now – in great halls, palaces and stadiums. In those days my songs were intended for a narrow circle of very close friends. We were a bunch of students then…the atmosphere was one of trust, complete ease, and what is most important friendliness”( 5).

Among his close friends at that time were Igor Kochanovskii, Andrei Tarkovskii, Oleg Strizhenov, Lev Kocharian, Vasilii Shukshin; all of them became actors and writers. Later, appeared  friends who would stay with him for his entire life,  the actor Vsevolod  Abdulov and the artist Michail Shemiakin. And among them the young Vysotsky sang:
I was the soul of bad company.
And I can tell you, that
My last, first and middle names
Were well known to the KGB. (6)

Indeed, the company spent a lot of time drinking, singing songs, and wandering through public parks, and from that time Vysotsky became addicted to alcohol.

There would be more of them in the future: songs about criminals, workers, athletes and scientists, even about animals – dozens of them – written with such grace and humor that they quickly spread among listeners. It became an unrivaled encyclopedia of Russian urban life in the middle of 20th century embodied in the poetic form.

Russian Bard

Some critics view his poetry as a phenomenon of Soviet mass culture, based on the incorporation of Vysotsky’s phraseology into everyday Russian language. The characters from his songs and their vocabulary became a prominent feature of the linguistic scene in Russia. (7)

But who was Vladimir Vysotsky for the Russian people and for Russian culture in general? The bard’s influence on Russian mass culture in the  the second half of the twentieth century was enormous, not just that of a singer or poet, it definitely went beyond the limits of mass culture. It was much more complex and touched the very nerve of the Russian soul at the end of the Soviet era.

His friend, the artist Mikhail Shemiakin, expressed this idea very clearly: “Vysotsky was a great poet… He did what no one before him had done – a synthesis of the absolutely reckless Russian soul with the clear abstract thinking of a brilliant philosopher.”(8)

The transformation from actor to great bard did not happen immediately, but was the result of many factors that influenced Vysotsky in the 1970s. Russian post-war society at the time was in a deep ideological and moral crisis. The emergence of Vysotsky, who had extraordinary charisma, tremendous talent, a strong personality, and most importantly, spoke the truth in his songs, gave Russians a cultural hero.

However, only by considering Vysotsky’s ability as a poet to penetrate to the depths of the human soul and “bring to the surface eternal themes” of humanity can we get an explanation for the great love that ordinary Russian people felt for him. Sometimes it was his immense humor provoking laughter or his reckless nature sounded  in the songs,  but it were always the words of truth. Vysotsky said in one of his songs: “I do not lie by any of my words” and considered himself as the servant of the pure Word. Yuri Andreev wrote that Vysotsky’s songs, in their fundamental essence, were” the assertion of the prevalence of the good in life and in every person“, and of the “overthrow of evil of any kind  even at the price of one’s own life”.

Everything around Vysotsky was extraordinary, especially his ability to connect to ordinary people and to evoke a sense of trust. As Shemiakin remembered: “Volodya [Vysotsky] wrote about everything. He had never been at war, never did time in the camps, and never hacked at coal in the mines. But he has sensed everything vividly, and this emotion combined with the great poetic genius deeply touched the soul of the former warriors, prisoners…His entire work is that of one of the greatest analysts of the Russian land.“(9)

This young man carrying a guitar could potentially be seen anywhere in the Soviet Union, including Siberia and the Far East. He sang his songs, talked to people, and somehow during his journey he understood very important things about his country and the human soul. Most importantly, his poetic genius permitted him to embody this knowledge into his songs. In doing this, he succeeded in bringing his understanding at a very high level of communication. Vysotsky’s struggle to bring the words of goodness to the world was one of epic proportions and as a tribute to the great bard we should say that he succeeded.

Political Vysotsky

As Vysotsky became older, the themes of his songs changed with him. From the end of 60’s, the “hooligan” Vysotsky gave place to the analyst Vysotsky, a citizen of his country and a warrior. He made the progress extraordinarily swift. His songs evolved into complex ballads creating a panorama of Russian life. Vysotsky’s poetic universe consisted of thousands of characters, put into different situations, struggling and loving, suffering and laughing. It included fairy tales and war stories, ballads and parables. With the analytical eye of a thinker he recognized the disconnected state of his country.  His poetic genius allowed him put the feelings of many into words.

Much was written about his travelings around Russia. It had stimulated his growth as an artist and as a public figure in Soviet society.  What he understood during his contacts with the people, he was determined to bring to his listeners. Vysotsky said once: “I believe that these songs became so well-known precisely because of the desire to tell  something very important, that’s why people listen to them, that’s why they are drawn to them”.  His songs were powerful because they could explain the true nature of the current state of the Soviet Union to anyone:

It’s my fate till the end, till the cross,
Shout till I’m coarse, after that only numb,
To pursue and argue, till the mouth has froth,
That it’s all wrong, that it’s not right!

That the hucksters are lying about Christ’s mistakes,
That until the flagstone would press into dirt,
Three hundred years under the Tartar yoke were all a waste,
That was just it – hundreds years of indigence and shame.

But there was Ivan Kalita who did what he could,
And not only one but many who stood up to all,
The sweat of goodwill and the revolts in vain.
Pugachov, blood, and misery again…

Let the people not get it at first,
I’ll repeat it again even in the image of a fool.
But sometimes even the theme isn’t worth it,
And the vanity is the same old vain…

I am breaking my nerve, guys, to do what I can,
And someday one of you may for me light a candle,
For the naked nerves’ sting as I sing and I choke,
For the jolly manner in which I am joking…

Was he Soviet or anti-Soviet? We did not discuss it with him. Most accurately, he was neither…. He simply could not tolerate unfairness and evil in any form “ (10).

Vysotsky often used metaphors in his songs: The Parable of the Truth and Lie, Wolf Hunt (1968), The Old House (1969), The Apples of Paradise (1973), but the listeners usually understood the true meaning within the songs. In 1975 he wrote Kupola (The Domes) – his  prayer for Russia, which he devoted to Mikhail Shemiakin.

His songs were accepted by the Russian people as desperately needed words of truth about themselves, about the society in which they lived, about their hope and desperation, and about philosophical problems of the fate of individuals. It was never about abstract ideas, but always the personal choice between good and evil.

Marina Vlady

I would not compare anyone with you.
Even kill, shoot me for that!
Look how I am admiring you
Like the Madonna of Rafael!

It was like a gift from above to Vysotsky that, in the midst of his popularity as an actor and bard, among all turbulence of his life, in 1968 he met Marina Vlady, a beautiful French actress of Russian origin. Marina became his soul mate. They were married in 1970; it was the third marriage for both of them. Their life together was described in Marina’s memoir Vladimir or the Interrupted Flight; it was one of the poignant love stories of the 20th century. Marina was his guardian angel until his death. A lot was said about her by the Russian media, but her love had kept him alive for twelve years.

Interrupted Flight

With smiles they were breaking my wings,
My scream sometimes was like a wail.
And I was numb from pain and helplessness,
And could just whisper: thanks to be alive!

Who were “they” in this famous song? During his lifetime, the authorities’ oppression of Vysotsky was tremendous. As the actor Bortnik from Taganka remembered, it seemed as though the invisible evil of Soviet empire was trying to suffocate Vysotsky at every level (11). Marina wrote that his poems have never been published in Russia during his life; his songs were removed from soundtracks, his concerts canceled, his book and record deals revoked at the last moment.

His humor and ability to laugh through the most difficult times as well as the connection with the ordinary people from all corners of  the Soviet Union helped him to overcome the failures but the level of stress was enormous.

What Vysotsky did in these conditions would not have been possible for anybody else: over thirteen years he held more than 500 personal concerts in the Soviet Union. From 1973 he started traveling abroad, first to France and Europe, then to the USA in 1978 and 1979, Canada and other countries. In New York he met with Joseph Brodsky and two of them spent a lot of time together.  Ironically, the meeting of two last greatest Russian poets of the 20th century happened in America.

The repression only added to his charisma in the eyes of the Russian people, who saw the sole hero against the oppressive regime. During his last years he had all the moral and material support of the Russian people: it was not possible for the authorities to either expel him or silence him. But “it was his unusual, suffering, vulnerable soul” – according to Shemiakin’s words – “that made him suffer because of all the unjustness he saw in the world.”  In 1972 he wrote one of his most tragic songs, Capricious Horses, full of reflection on the fate of the individual.

The wave of popularity and the material success of the preceding years did not mean a lot to him. Excessive oppression, stress, and addiction led to his early death. Vysotsky died on July 25th  during the Moscow Olympic Games. The authorities did not write a word about his death, but people somehow found out and several hundred thousand people came to bid their farewell to him.

Vysotsky stated in his last poem to Marina in summer 1980 that his mission in life was fulfilled:

…I have a lot to sing to the Almighty.
I have my songs to justify my life”

By Elena Dimov.

Translations of the poems by Oleg Dimov

Resources and collection of Vysotsky’s songs

Britannica about Vysotsky

Capricious horses


Along the ledge, on a brink of a precipice.
I lash my horses, drive them on.
Somehow the air is not enough for me,
I drink the wind, I swallow the fog,
Feeling with a reckless delight, that I am vanishing, vanishing.
Slow down my horses, slow down!
Don’t listen the tight whip!
But somehow I got the capricious horses –
I didn’t finish living; I will not end my song.
I will let my horses drink water,
I will finish sing my verse.
For a moment, somehow I will stand
on the edge….
 I will go like a feather from a hand – the hurricane will sweep me,
And the galloping horses will pull my sleigh on the morning snow.
Pace yourselves, my horses, do not hurry,
Let my last way to the shelter will be longer, just a little!
Slow down, my horses slow down!
The whip and lash are not your overseers!
But somehow I got the capricious horses –
I didn’t finish living; I will not end my song.
I will let my horses drink water,
I will finish sing my verse.
For a moment, somehow I will stand
on the edge. We’ve come in time: no late comings to God, –
Why then angels sing with such vicious voices?
Or is it a ringing bell got numb from sobbing?
Or is it me, crying to the horses not to carry the sleigh so fast?!
Slow down my horses, slow down!
I beg you, do not ran at such fast pace!
But somehow I got the capricious horses –
I didn’t finish living; I will not end my song.
I will let my horses drink water,
I will finish sing my verse.
For a moment, somehow I will stand
on the edge.


1. Vladimir Vysotsky. On My Songwriting. In: Hamlet with a Guitar. Sergei Roy. Moscow, 1990, pp.201, 203.
2.Vladimir Vysotsky.  Pesni i stikhi. V.2. New York, 1983, p.140.
3.Vladimir Vysotsky: Poet,Chelovek.Aktior. M., 1990.

4.Cherniavsky, G. I. Politics in Poetry of the Great bards. “Russian Studies in Literature”, vol.41, no.1, Winter 2004-5. p.63-65.
6.Resources and collection of Vysotsky’s songs
7.Hamlet... pp. 10-11.
8. Vladimir Vysotsky. Vse ne tak. Memorialnii almanakh-antalogia. Moscow, 1991, p.42.
9. Hamlet... p. 315
10. Vladimir Vysotsky v zapisiah Michaila Shemikina. N.Y., 1987. p.67.
11.  Vse ne tak. Moscow, 1991, p.36