Sunday, April 14, 2024

Vladimir Mayakovsky — "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin" (1924)

The great poem "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin", dedicated to the leader of the 1917 Great October Socialist Revolution, was written by the 
renowned Soviet poet and playwright Vladimir Mayakovsky.  
The first fragments of the poem appeared in October 1924 in several Soviet newspapers, and it came out as a separate edition in February 1925 by Leningrad's Gosizdat. Mayakovsky himself dedicated it to the Russian Communist Party (Bolsheviks). 
 Vladimir Mayakovsky

The time has come.
I begin the story of Lenin.
Not because of grief 
is on the wane, but because
the shock of the first moment
has become a clear-cut,
weighted and fathomed pain.

Time, speed on, spread Lenin's
slogans in your whirl! 
Not for us to drown in tears,
whatever happens.
There's no one more alive
than Lenin in the world,
our strength, our wisdom.
surest of our weapons.

People are boats, although on land.
While life is being roughed
all species of trash from the rocks and sand
stick to the sides of our craft.
But then, having broken through
the storms mad froth,
one sits in the sun for a time
and cleans off the tousled seaweed growth
and oozy jellyfish slime.

I go to Lenin to clean off mine
to sail on with the revolution.
I fear these eulogies line upon line
like a boy fears falsehood and delusion.
They'll rig up an aura round any head;
the very idea- I abhor it,
that such a halo poetry-bred
should hide Lenin's real, huge, human forehead.

I'm anxious lest rituals, mausoleums and processions,
the honeyed incense of himage and publicity
should obscure Lenin's essential simplicity.
I shudder as I would for the apple of my eye
lest Lenin be falsified by tinsel beauty.

Write!- vites my heart, commissioned by
the mandate of duty.

All Moscow's frozen through, yet the earth
quakes with emotion.
Frostbite drives its victims to the fires.
Who is he? Where from? Why this commotion?
Why such honours when a single man expires?
Dragging word by word from memory's coffers
won't suit either me or you who read.

Yet what a meagre choice the dictionary offers!
Where to get the very words we need?
We've seven days to spend, twelve hours 
for diverse uses.
Life must begin-- and end.
Death won't accept excuses.
But if it's no more a matter of hours,
if the calendar measure falls short,
"Epoch" is a usual comment of ours,
"Era" or something of the sort.

We sleep at night, busy around by day,
each grinds his water
in his own pet mortar and so
fritters life away.
But if, single-handred, somebody can
turn the tide to everyone's profit
we utter something like "Superman",
"Genius" or "Prophet".

We don't ask much of life,
won't budge an inch unless required.
To please the wife in is the utmost
to which we aspire.
But if, monolithic in body and soul,
someone unlike us emerges,
we discover a god-like aureole
or appendages equally gorgeous.
Tags and tassels laid out on shelves,
neither silly nor smart-- no weightier 
than smoke.

Go scrape meaning out of such shells--
empty as eggs without wite or yolk.
How, then, apply such yardsticks to Lenin
when anyone could see with his very own eyes:
that "era" cleared doorways without even bending,
wore jackets no bigger than average size.
Should Lenin, too, be hailed by the nation
as "Leader by Divine Designation"?

Had he been kingly or godly indeed
I'd never spare myself, on protest bent;
I'd  raise a clamour in hall and street
against the crowds, speeches, processions
and laments.
I'd find the words for a thundering condemnation
and while I'd be trampled on, I and my cries,
I'd bomb the Kremlin with demands for resignation,
hurling blasphemy into the skies.
But calm by the coffin Dzerzhinsky appears.

Today he could easily dismiss the guard.
In millins of eyes shines nothing but tears,
not running down cheeks, but frozen hard.
Your divinity's decease won't rouse a mote of feeting.
No! Today real pain chills every heart.
We 're burying the earthliest of beings that ever came
to play an earthly part.
Eartly, yes; but not the earth-bound kind
who'll never peer beyong the precincts of their sty.
He took in all the planet at a time,
saw things out of reach for the common eye.
Though like you and I in every detail,
his forehead rose a taller, steeper tower;
the thoiught-dug wrinkles round the eyes went deeper,
the lips looked firmer, more ironical than ours.

Not the satrap's firmness that' ll grind us,
tightening the reins, beneath a triumph-chariot's wheel.
With friends he'd be the very soul of kindness,
with enemies as hard as any steel.
He, too, had illnesses and weaknesses to fight
and hobbies just the same as we have, reader.
For me it's billiards, say, to whet the sight;
for him it's chess- more useful for a leader.
And turning face about from chess to living foes,
yesterday's dumb pawns he led to a war of classes
until a human, working-class dictatorship arose
to checkmate Capital and crush its prison-castle.

We and he had the same ideals to cherish.
Then why is it, no kin of his, I'd welcome death,
crazy with delight would gladly  perish
so that he might draw a single breath?
And not I alone. 
Who says I'm better than the rest?
Not a single soul of us, I reckon, in all the mines 
and mills from East to West would hesitate 
to do t he same as the slightest beckon.
Instinctively, I shring from tram-rails to quiet corners,
giddy as a drunk who sees the lees.
Who would mind my puny death among these mourners
lamenting the enormouseness of his decease?

With banners and without, they come, as if all Russia
had again turned nomad for a while.
The House of Unions trembles with their motion.
What can be the reason? Wherefore? Why?
Snow-tears from the flags' red eyelids run.
The telegraph's gone hoarse with humming mournful rumours.
Who is he? Where from? What has he done, this man,
the most humane of all us humans?

Ulyanovb's short life is well known to men in every
country among every race.
But the longer biography of Comrade Lenin
has still to be written, rewritten and retraced.
Far, far back, two hundred years or so, 
the earthliest beginnings of Lenin go.
Hear those brazen, peremptory tones with their
century-piercing motif?
It's the grandfather of Bromley's and Goujon's,
the first steam locomotive.
Capital, His Majesty, uncrowned, as yet unknown
declares the gentry's power overthrown.

The city pillaged, plundered, pumped gold into 
the bellies of banks, while at the workbenches lean and
humped, the working class closed ranks.
And already threatened, rearing smokestacks to the sky,
"Pave your way with us to fortunes, grip us tighter!
But remember: he is coming, he is night, 
the Man, the Champion, the Avenger, the Fighter!"

And already smoke and clouds get mixed together
as when mutineers turn orderly detachments into crowds,
until the tokens of a storm begin to gather--
the sky brews trouble-- ugly smoke blacks out the clouds.
Mid beggars a mountain of good arises.
The manager, bald beast, flips his abacus, blurts out "crisis!"
and pins up a list: "DISMISSED..."
Fly-blown pastries in dustbins found graves, grain-- in granaries
with mildew cloyed, while past the windows of Yeliseyev's,
belly caved in, shuffled the unemployed.
And the call came rumbling from shack and slum, covering
the whimper of kiddies: "Come, protector! Redressor, come!
And we'll go to battle or wherever you bid us!"


Grandsons will ask, "What does Capitalism mean?"
just as kiddies today, "What's a Gendarme, Dad?"
So here's capitalism as then he was seen, portrayed for
grandsons full-size in my pad.
Capitalism in his early years wasn't so bad-- 
a business-like fellow.
Worked like blazes-- none of those fears that his snowy cravat
would soil and turn yellow.
Feudal tights felt too tight for the youngster; forged on no worse
than we do these days; raised revolutions and with gusto
joined his voice in the Marseillaise.


Capital's days were eroded and gnarled by time outblazing
searchlight arcs, till time give birth to a man named Karl--
Lenin's elder brother Marx. 
Marx! His portrait's gray-framed sternness grips one.
But what a gulf between impressions and his life!
What we see immured in marble or in gypsum seems a cold
old man ong since past care and strife.
But when the workers took-- uncertain yet in earnest--
the first short steps along their revolutionary path, 
into what a giant, blazing furnace Marx fanned up his mind
and heart!
As if he'd drudged whole shifts in every factory himself
and, callousing his hands, each tool and job had handled,
Marx caught the pilferers of surplus value with their pelf,

Where others quailed, eyes dripped too low in awe to peer up
even as high as a profiteer's umbilicus, Marx understook to lead
the proletariat into class war to slay the golden calf, by then a bull,
immense and bellicose.
Into the bay of communism, still fogged with blinding mystery,
we thought the waves of chance alone could bring us from our hell.
Marx disclosed the deepest laws of history, put the proletariat at the helm.


We're no longer timid as newly-born lambkins; the workers' wrath
condenses into clouds, shashed by the lighting of Lenin's pamplets,
his leaflets showering on surging crowds.
The class drank its fill of Lenin's light and, enlightened, broke from
the gloom of millennia.
And in turn, imbibing the masses' might, together with the class
grew Lenin.
And gradually, enriched by the fertile communion, they bring young
Vladimir's pledge to realisation, no longer each on his own, but a Union
of Fighters for Working Class Emancipation.

Leninism spreads ever wider and deeper.
Lenin's disciples work miracle after miracle, the underground's grit
traced in blood-drops seeping through the dust and slush of the 
endless Vladimirka.

Today we spin the old globe our way. 
Yet even when debating in Kremlin armchairs there's few
won't suddenly recall a day filled with the groans of chain-gang marchers.
Remember the none-too-distant past: beyond the eye-hole,
trams, droshkies, cars... 
Who of you, let me ask, didn't bite and tear at prison-bars?
We could smash out our brains on the walls weighing on us:
All they did was mop up and strew sand.
"It wasn't long but honest,
Your service to your hand...."
In which of his exiles did Lenin get fond of the mournful power
of that song"

The peasant-- was urged-- would blaze his own tracks and set up
socialism without hitch or wrangle. 
But no-- Russia too goes bristling with stacks;
black beards of smoke round her cities tangle.
There's go god to bake us pies in the skies.
The proletariat must head the peasant masses.
Over capital's corpse Russia's highroad lies, with Lenin to lead
the toiling classes.
They'd promise heaps, wordly liberals and S.R.s,
themselves not loath to saddle worker's backs.
Lenin made short work of their yarns, left them bare as babies
in the blaze of facts.
He soon disposed of their empty prattle full of "liberty",
"fraternity" and suchlike words.

Arming with Marcxism, mustering for battle, rose the only
Bolshevik Party in the world. 
Now, touring the States in a de luxe coupe, or footing it through
Russia-- wherever you be they meet you, the letters R.C.P.
with their bracketed neighbour, B.

Today it's red Mars astronomers are hunting, telescopes
scanning the sky from a high tower.
Yet that modest letter on paper or bunting shines to the world
ten times redder and brighter.

Words-- even the finest-- turn into littler, 
wearing threadbare with use and barter.
Today I want to infuse new glitter into the most glorious
of words: PARTY.
Individual-- what can he mean in life?

Over the world-wide forest of factory stacks
like a giant banner the huge Red Square,
millions of hands welded into its staff,
soars with a mightly sweep into the air.

Vladimir Ilyich Lenin.