I Would Like
I would like
to be born
in all countries,
to lack a passport
to the panic of the poor Foreign Ministry,
to be with all the fish
in all the oceans
and with all the dogs
on the streets of the world.
I do not want to bow
before any gods,
I do not want to feign
being an Orthodox hippie,
but I would like to dive
deep, deep into Lake Baikal
and to surface,
snorting and puffing
in the Mississippi.
I would like
in my beloved damned
to be a lonely burdock –
not a carefully tended gillyflower.
Any of God’s creatures,
even the lowest, mangiest hyena,
but a tyrant – not at all
and a tyrant’s cat – not at all.
And I would like to be
a person in any incarnation:
even under torture in a Guatemalan prison,
even homeless in the slums of Hong Kong,
even a living skeleton in Bangladesh,
even an impoverished holy fool in Lhasa,
even a Black man in Cape Town,
but not in the incarnation of riff-raff.
I would like to lie
under the knives of all the world’s surgeons,
to be hunchbacked, blind,
suffer all diseases, all injuries,
to be shell-shocked from war,
a gatherer of dirty cigarette butts,
provided that the nasty little microbe of superiority
did not worm its way in.
I would not like to be among the elite,
but, of course, not in the flock of the cowardly,
not among the sheepdogs near the flock
not among the shepherds,
pleasing to the flock,
I would like happiness
but only not at the expense of the unhappy,
and I would like freedom,
but only not at the expense of the unfree.
I would like to love
all the women of the world,
and would like to be a woman
if only just once…
Men are diminished by you.
Why will you not give
motherhood to men?
If you stuck into them
there, under the heart,
a child, pointlessly,
then, most likely, men wouldn’t
be so cruel.
I would like to be needful to everyone –
even a bowl of rice
in the hands of a sobbing Vietnamese woman,
even an onion
in the gruel of a prison in Haiti,
even cheap wine
in the trattoria of a Neapolitan working woman
and even a tiny tube of cheese
in lunar orbit:
as long as they ate me,
as long as they drank –
as long as there was benefit
in my loss.
I would like to be omnitemporal,
having so confused history
that it is stunned
how impudent I am with it:
sawing up Pugachev’s cage
with Gavroche, who penetrated Russia,
in Pushkin’s troika to Mikhailovskoye.
I would like to increase the space of an instant
a hundred times:
so that at the same moment
I was drinking with fishermen on the Lena,
kissing in Beirut,
dancing to the tom-toms in Guinea,
striking on the Reno,
chasing the ball with the boys in Copacabana.
I would like to be omnilingual
like secret waters under the soil.
Omniprofessional at once.
And I would try to make it
So that one Yevtushenko was just a poet,
and another was a member of the underground,
and a third a student at Berkeley,
and a fourth, a Tblisi engraver.
And a fifth
a teacher of Inuit children
and a sixth
a young president
somewhere, say, even Sierra Leone,
and a seventh
still only being shaken
by the rattling of a pram,
and a tenth…
and a hundredth…
and a millionth…
Being me is not enough –
give me being everything!
Of each creature –
and that, as is the custom, in pairs,
skimping on the carbon paper,
printed me in samizdat
in a single copy.
But I mixed up all the cards for God.
I am confusing God!
I will have a thousand faces
until the very last day
that the earth aches from me,
that all the computers go mad
at the universal inventory of me.
I would like to be on all your barricades,
to snuggle up to the Pyrenees,
to sail through the Sahara,
and to adopt the faith
of the great human brotherhood,
to make my face
the face of all humanity.
But when I die –
the sensational Siberian Villon –
do not put me
or Italian soil –
but in our Russian soil
on the quiet hill,
on the green spot
where I first
The Bolshevik (excerpt)
On the taiga we felled forests – taciturn,
party members, engineers, Chekists,
division commanders… How could it have been so?
Who were you putting away, you secret agents? Did you know?
And terror, apparently, seized no one –
they wanted to plant communism.
One ran into vermin here, however…
I remember, my “boss” from the logging brigade
Threw himself, in rags, upon me.
I replied, not without tact:
“The Party is dearer to me than friends. That’s all!”
From then on he stayed aloof.
I became more vicious, and at the same time more gentle.
Suffering ennobles us, my boy,
and I remember how, sitting on wind-fallen trees
by the small camp-fire, the oblast committee member from Sverdlovsk
read Esenin’s poem about birches to us
and I was ashamed of my former words about him.
The war… I remember, Hitler started it quickly…
but I, an “enemy of the people”, for our victory
built a hydroelectric station in the Caucasus again.
We cleverly chiseled it out on the rock face;
the Heinkels bombed us at night
but could never touch it, the greenhorns.
The escorts stood around watching,
but you, Comrade Stalin, did not understand
that, from your escort in the distance,
we convicts – numbered by you –
went through the ocean and through the river
and reached Berlin with the army.
No one was called a hero here.
The red banner did not stream above us,
but we fought for our Motherland.
And we, closing ranks as if under the red banner,
repulsed the Vlasovites and the racketeers
and other counter-revolutionaries, as if we were in battle.
Remaining an “enemy of the people”,
I built a hydroelectric station on the Volga, not yielding.
They hid us from foreign eyes.
But we broke records. We didn’t give a damn
that they didn’t film us, didn’t draw us,
didn’t write essays about us.
But I grew old; the Volga comforted me
And murmured to me: “Not much longer…”
Not much longer for what? To live? Stooped and gray,
I bore my torment, completely exhausted,
When into my hands, already grown feeble,
The Twentieth Congress put a Party membership card.
I won’t say that youth –
ah, youth! – returned on the wings of joy,
but I went to build the hydroelectric station at Bratsk.
Youth, my boy, is irretrievable,
but look out the window: is there a dam there?
That means I’m also in the world.
I see, my boy, that you are a bit sad.
Chase away your sorrow with some pickled mushrooms
and drink – and pour me some more.
Have I troubled you? I’m not sorry:
You needed to be troubled… Well, for now
I’ll continue talking about fathers and sons.
When seeing construction sites and dams, remember
what my world once turned into.
Technical progress is still not enough.
Don’t forget the great commandment:
“Always shine!” There will be no light in our souls –
no hydroelectric stations will help us!
Remember our papakhas with the stars on them,
the pampas burning in our eyes,
the sleeplessness of construction nights,
“I am a Bolshevik!” – under my accursed lamp
and belief in life after prison camp gruel…
Do not dare to betray such fathers in any way!
Remember everyone who excavated and built,
and whoever didn’t try to become a hero – was a hero
who didn’t accumulate a penny for themselves.
Remember the commissar type –
they never lied to the people,
and you, my boy, never lie!
But remember other fathers – the beaten,
the imprisoned, or the sneakily silent –
there is no place in the Commune for scoundrels!
Spit on their threats or kindnesses!
Go, my boy, in the pure commissar style,
with the paternal truth against the lies of the fathers!
And if you’re having a rough time of it
betray neither conscience nor friend:
for you betray the dead and the living.
Go on, my boy! Know, as you prepare for battle:
Alyoshka, Lenin and I are behind you.
And repeat the oath: “I am a Bolshevik!”
Original translations by Mylo R. Tennyson.
This piece appears in our fourth issue, “Echoes of 1917.”
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Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933 – 2017) was a Soviet and Russian poet. He was also a novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, publisher, actor, editor and director of several films. Up until its fall he was an active dissident and publisher of samizdat in the Soviet Union.