Ukrainian Poets

This is from a book called Words for War: New Poems from Ukraine. Of course, the poems here come from the 2014 war, not the current one. How sad for this poor, tattered country.

When a country of — overall — nice people
turns — slowly — fascist
nice people don’t notice this transformation all at once

As when a person we know intimately
goes, next to us, through
an imperceptible process of aging. Imperceptibly, new wrinkles
slice the skin, frightening, deep.

Nice people nod when they run into each other,
and try, more and more, to lower their eyes,

until finally, raising them becomes an inhuman gesture.

Lyudmyla Khersonska
translated by Valznya Mort


Watching news of the ongoing invasion of the Ukraine, where my father was born, reminds me of the fragility of the equilibrium we take for granted.

For today’s poem, I’ve selected a translation of a Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, who also lived in troubled times. It seems appropriate for all those who are standing their ground in the Ukraine. The Russian follows the English.


Lot’s Wife

And God’s luminous messenger, larger than life,
led the one righteous man along the black mountain.
But regret cried out to his wife:
“It’s not too late, you can still catch a glimpse
of Sodom, the red rooftops of home,
the square where you sang, the yard where you spun,
the tall house, its windows abandoned—
the house where your sons and daughters were born.”

She looked back—a sudden arc of pain stripped her eyes of sight,
fused her feet to the ground—
her flesh became transparent salt.

Who will mourn this nameless woman? She seems the least of all we lack.
Yet I, for one, can never forget
how she gave her life for one look back.

Anna Akhmatova, 1924

Лотова жена

И праведник шел за посланником бога, Огромный и светлый, по черной горе.
Но громко жене говорила тревога:
Не поздно, ты можешь еще посмотреть На красные башни родного Содома,
На площадь, где пела, на двор, где пряла, На окна пустые высокого дома,

Где милому мужу детей родила.

Взглянула – и, скованы смертною болью, Глаза ее больше смотреть не могли;
И сделалось тело прозрачною солью,
И быстрые ноги к земле приросли.

Кто женщину эту оплакивать будет?
Не меньшей ли мнится она из утрат?
Лишь сердце мое никогда не забудет
Отдавшую жизнь за единственный взгляд.

Translated by Meryl Natchez
Poems from the Stray Dog Cafe, 2013