Politician or Poet

When in one’s soul the politician calls forth –
The poet’s voice withers and comes to naught.
And poems become a bedlam of propaganda
Praising the party’s agenda.

The poet’s pain…  His cruel fate…
Has brought censorship and hate.
He’s now consumed with different fires…
Only the bottle is a relief from the liars.

Not with a coil of fine white thread –
He drags his pain with tarred tread…
While the master politician calls for powers,
The poet’s heart is yearning secretly for flowers.

A Moment of Reflection [Khvilina rozdumu]. New York—Munich, 1968.

Original Belarusian


Калі ў душы крычыць палітык,—
Паэтаў голас нікне, гіне.
І вершы верхалам агітаж
Пяюц партыйнай верхавіне.

Баліць паэту… Доля злая
Яму прысватала цэнзуру.
Ён іншым полымем палае…
І толькі ў чарцы сьпеліць буру.

Ня тонкай віткай белых нітак,—
Ён смольнай дратвай боль свой цягне…
Крычыць і крочыць пан палітык,
А сэрца ўпотай красак прагне.

Хвіліна роздума. Нью-Ёрк—Мюнхэн, 1968.


Springtime in Autumn

On bushes the cobwebs are settling,
And yellowed leaves are falling.

Armillaria mushrooms hug tree-stumps along the way—
They’re delegates of a commencing autumn day.

Though my age is now at a grey stage,
Spring is sprouting forth from my pen upon each page.

I write with more of a fiery sense
To find an unquenchable love without pretense.

In order to find it among mankind,
So that hatred would not make us so blind.

May spring blossom forth for me in fall,
And sing out with full compassion’s call.

Now fully tuned is my mood
And my former complaints are spewed.

I gaze onto the young forest of pines,
There I see spring’s verdant signs.

Springtime In Autumn [Вясна Ўвосень] New York-München:1972.

Original Belarusian

Села павуціньне на кусты,
Падаюць пажоўклыя лісты.

Туляцца апенькі каля пня—
Дэлегаты восеньскага дня.

Хоць са мной сьсівелая пара,
А вясна сьпявае з-пад пяра,

Я пішу ў запальным пачуцьці,
Каб любоў нясгасную знайсьці,

Каб яе знайсьці сярод людзей,
Каб нянавісьць гойсала радзей.

Мне вясна ўвосень хай цьцвіце,
І пяе ў шырокай дабраце.

У мяне наструнены настрой
І няма бурклівасьці старой.

Заглядаю ў хвойнік малады,
Там вясны хялёныя сьляды.

Вясна ўвосень. Нью-Ёрк—Мюнхэн: 1972


Thus and Vice Versa

My colleague told me thus,
Fired up by wine and candor:
“Your poetry is like a keg of honey,
Where a spoonful of tar spoils the taste.”
I answered him: “No, no! Why all the fuss?
It’s not that way, my friend, don’t pander!
Your poetic ode, I’d say and bet my money,
Is just vice versa: it’s barely honey-laced.”

November 1961. The as-yet-unpublished poem exists only in holograph form.


Original Belarusian

Гэтак і наадварот

Калега кажа мне
Віном і шчырасьцяй сагрэты:
Твой верш, як бочка мёду,
Дзе лыжка дзёгцю псуе мёд.

Я сябру адказаў: Об не!
Ня гэтак, брат, як пра мяне—
Я пра тваю паэму-оду
Скажу якраз наадварот

Лістапад 1961


The Poet

Born near Sluck, Belarus, on December 3, 1907, Ryhor Krushyna [pseud. of Ryhor Kazak] was the first Belarusian writer-poet to become a member of the International PEN Club in 1966. Before that achievement, the poet had to leave his homeland, endure life in forced labor camps in Germany during the war, and to become a displaced person in post-war Europe prior to coming to the United States.

In the early 1920s, he and his older brother, Mikola, participated as teenagers in the Sluck Uprising against the Bolshevik regime led by Juri Listapad. Because of his age, the newly founded Soviet regime did not pursue his conviction.

The Translator

Krushyna’s poetry has been translated by his son, Ihar Kazak (pseud.) or Igor Gregory Kozak, a poet-writer and literary translator, who has translated from Russian such émigré authors as Artsibashev, Averchenko, Teffi, et al, and from Belarusian: Bykov, Levanovich, Skobla, et al. In the poetry field, Ihar Kazak has recently been included in the anthology Shadow and Light: 2017 Savant Poetry Anthology, and was awarded the Gabo Prize for Translation of Poetry for 2018.

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8 Responses

  1. David Hollywood

    I lived for a period time in the region and remember through these poems so much of the heavy heart and its sense of greyness and consequent yearning for light and colour and small semblances of variety outside of the shadows which were sometimes imagined, and at others manifested by experience. A strange time and place which was consoled by alcohol and good company, and conversation was always so real and necessary. This is very evocative poetry and I can almost sense/see the restrictive environment which inspired them in such a personal sense. Yet, I also recall loving so many spontaneously joyful and powerful people once you got to know the individual. I know only some of the translation but imagine its pitch perfect. Many thanks.

    • Ihar Kazak

      Dear David Hollywood:
      Thank you for your kind comments about Ryhor Krushyna’s poetry and the Belarusian folks as a whole.
      Indeed, they are rather sentimental, good-natured, joyous, and good friends.
      There are a number of translations of prose from the Belarusian, among them those of Vasil Bykou (Bykov) and Leanid Levanovich, both done by yours truly.
      Ihar Kazak

  2. Mark Stone

    Mr. Kazak, Hello. I’ve never translated a poem and I don’t know how much latitude one has in rearranging the words in a line of a poem to improve the meter. If there is such latitude, here are some ideas.

    1. From the first poem:

    The poet’s pain… His cruel fate…
    Has brought censorship and hate.
    He’s now consumed with different fires…
    Only the bottle is a relief from the liars.

    One could add “him” to the second line, and change the fourth line to an anapestic meter:

    The poet’s pain… His cruel fate…
    Has brought him censorship and hate.
    He’s now consumed with different fires…
    The bottle’s the only relief from the liars.

    2. From the first poem:

    While the master politician calls for powers,
    The poet’s heart is yearning secretly for flowers.

    One could change the first line from singular to plural, and change the verb tense in the second line:

    While master politicians call for powers,
    The poet’s heart yearns secretly for flowers.

    3. From the second poem:

    Though my age is now at a grey stage,
    Spring is sprouting forth from my pen upon each page.

    I like internal rhyme in the first line, and the alliteration and consonance in the second line. One could change both lines to iambic pentameter as follows:

    Though now my age has reached a greying stage,
    Spring sprouts forth from my pen upon each page.

    4. From the second poem:

    I gaze onto the young forest of pines,
    There I see spring’s verdant signs.

    In the first line, assuming iambic meter, the second syllable of “forest” is stressed, when normally we stress the first syllable. This can be addressed by moving the words around. And the second line can be changed to iambic pentameter as follows:

    I gaze onto the forest of young pines,
    And there I see of spring the verdant signs.

    I hope these thoughts are helpful. Thank you for sharing these poems.

    • Ihar Kazak

      Drs. Mantyk, Phillips, and Stone:
      First of all, permit me to extend my sincere gratitude to Editors Evan Mantyk and Connie Phillips for their selection of Ryhor Krushyna’s poems for publication.
      I also wish to thank Prof. Mark Stone for his immense patience in analyzing certain (cf above) elements in my translation of Ryhor Krushyna’s poetry from the Belarusian. I sense a genuine and profound love for classical poetry by the former (to which modern poetic trends have only but a remote semblance…)
      Permit me to cite some excerpts from the Introduction [to be published in my forthcoming collection of Krushyna’s poegtry] by scholar Alena Tabolich, Ph.D., of the Minsk State University of Linguistics:


      The Belarusian reader has now seen three books of Ryhor Krushyna published in Belarus: the collection titled Cymbalist [The Dulcimer Player], 2003; his anthology Selected Works in the popular series Belaruski knihazbor, 2005; and the anniversary edition Kantata samotnych [Cantata of the Lonely], 2007, which was timed for the poet’s centennial.

      Writers and philosophers have written in their introductions to these books about the talent and beauty of the poet’s art. Some saw in his work an enduring nostalgia; others considered him to be a poet of Eros. As for me, I see first and foremost the poet’s romantic spirit and the ethereal melody of his verse, be it in a minor or major key. Whether it is the “Autumn Elegy” or “Spring in Autumn,” the author finds idyllic-pastoral visions dear to his heart: haystacks in the sun, the savory aroma of thyme, a lark in the blue sky, a young pine forest, Armillaria mushrooms near a tree stump, early morning amidst rowan-berry trees, coral-like dew, and other images.”

      I [Ihar Kazak] must state here that these “idyllic-pastoral visions [so] dear to his heart” prompted me to name the forthcoming publication of Krushyna’s translated poetry: Love for the Homeland…

      “…Ryhor Krushyna’s poetry is rhymed, most frequently, in the feminine rhyme. The nature of the rhyme varies, for it all depends on the type of poem. All his poetic emeralds and pearls the poet strings onto a poetic line, and thereafter he places the lines in a certain order (for the most part using the abab pattern). The poet employs an entire gamut of distinct poetic forms such as the triolet, sonnet, canzone, and the sextain, to name a few.”

      Unfortunately, I had no opportunity to pursue an approach in translation employing above methods for every poem (of which there are over one hundred in this collection).

      “…To translate Belarusian poetry into any other language is not an easy task. Any translation even into closely related languages does not sound as melodious and moving as the original. That is all the more so for English, which is entirely different phonetically and grammatically, and in its use of metaphors. The phonetic and grammatical structure of a language leaves its imprint on the translation of poetry and the lexical and stylistic features on the imagery of poetry. The English isochronic metric rhythms are not compatible with the Belarusian rhythm, which is melodious and often syllabic. The Belarusian and English languages also differ in the quantity of syllables in rhythmic meter; in Belarusian, as a rule, it is longer. An additional distinctive feature is in the nature of the rhyme itself. Belarusian rhyme is more frequently a feminine one, while in English it is more often masculine.

      “A line in an English poem in translation comes out longer. Equal lines cannot be found for the reason that the flow of words in the English language is governed by numerous prepositions, while in Belarusian, with its inflections, it provides a possibility of using fewer words. The free order of words in the Belarusian language cannot be retained in a translation, even in poetry, where at times adherence to grammatical rules is not observed (as, for instance, with Robert Burns: Fresh o’er the mountains breaks forth the morning in My Bonnie Bell) because here, too, there are inherent limitations.”

      Another dilemma I faced was in the choice of proper metaphors to make it comprehensible to the English reader.

      “…Metaphors, as the most frequent tropes in Ryhor Krushyna’s poetry, have only a few full equivalents in the English language, and thus one needs to search for analogies, which often do not agree in their emotional nuances. Quite often a neutralization process occurs in the translation from Belarusian into English as, for example, (literally) the city presses its grief upon my shoulders (becomes translated as) lies on my shoulders; (literally) only a reverie flows far off (translated as) it is only the sea that goes afar; (literally) his (the poet’s) cruel fate has wedded him with censorship (translated as) his cruel fate has brought censorship.”

      Now her subsequent statement is exactly what happened:

      “The above named distinctions and the tradition of verse prosody compel the translator to create unrhymed translations, trying as much as possible to retain the contents and imagery, often at the expense of the rhythm. Ihar Kazak’s translations are for the most part the re-creations of Ryhor Krushyna’s poetry.

      Evidently, for his translations Ihar Kazak has chosen poems that he cherishes the most and which, in his view, the English reader should know. And even though the readers abroad will not perceive the subtle musical nuances of Krushyna’s poetry, they will doubtlessly understand the anguish and pain, the joy and delight, anxiety and perseverance expressed in his poems because the translator has done all that is possible to find apt equivalents for conveying the imagery. For a Belarusian, though, there would be no need to explain what a rowan-berry or a buckthorn bush are, or what it means to live far from one’s native nook. To be sure, the concept of a native nook does not have an adequate equivalent either in Russian or in English (my native land). We Belarusians, though, can easily understand Robert Frost’s tender emotions concerning the sounds of spring or the beauty of birch trees when we read translations of his poems. And didn’t the Welshman, Dylan Thomas, dream of ocean waves and ferns on knolls when he was so far from home?

      The poetry of Ryhor Krushyna is universal in the sense that it evokes emotions common to all mankind. And perhaps an American from the sunflower-state of Kansas may not quite comprehend how one can love the swampy place called Palessja, but the poet Shamus Heeney would not be surprised, for he himself has sung praise to the Irish peat bogs. Australian readers might not understand that a buckthorn can bloom just as lovely as their national emblem, the yellow acacia, but that will be obvious to a reader from Virginia, where the state flower is the American dogwood. A similar image would be easily understood by a reader from New Jersey, where in the “Garden State” violets are abloom (the Belarusian folk name for violets is kazjal’cy)—just like in Belarus.

      There is a common opinion that those who love to travel the most are those who yearn to find their last refuge in their Homeland. But the Almighty, at times, disposes otherwise. In Heaven we all have the same Homeland, but on earth…

      The buckthorn bush is dreaming of its distant
      And longing in its woes.


      Foreign soil will not provide the warmth
      For those who love their homeland so.

      But in that other world foreign soil is also hospitable, and it can even provide warmth, just as distant America did for this renowned Belarusian poet. We thank her for that!”

      Alena Tabolich, Ph.D.
      Minsk State University of Linguistics”
      Translation © 2008, Ihar Kazak

      Well, that is in capsule form how one has to render Belarusian poetry of the classical genre. It saddened me greatly!

      Thank you again for seeking to alleviate my sadness…
      Best regards,

      • Mark Stone

        Mr. Kazak, Thank you very much for this detailed and erudite explanation!

  3. Edewic Belarus

    When reading Ryhor Krushyna’s Belarusian poems, I am reminded of that thick Russian assonance I so enjoy, as in L6 of “Вясна Ўвосень”.

    • Ihar Kazak

      Dear Edewic Belarus:
      Delighted to hear about your admiration of the specific line in Вясна Ўвосень…but I do not understand your statement about the “thick Russian assonance” you seem to enjoy.
      Also, I presume you are reading Krushyna’s poetry in the original. A dual rare breed indeed: loves classical poetry and in original Belarusian! Thank you for your comment.
      Ihar Kazak
      NB: Is Edewic Belarus your pseudonym?

  4. Edewic Belarus

    1. Italian and Spanish are different languages, but, as Romance languages there are similarities that allow for ease in understanding as compared to, say, Italian and German. The same is true for Belarusian and Russian, the latter, which I studied in my late teens, in high school and at college. So, when I am reading the original Krushyna poems, with the translations, I can stumble along, and enjoy a line like, “А вясна сьпявае з-пад пяра…” with its predominant “a” sound. To me, as a native Western American English speaker, the aural quality of Krushyna’s line just doesn’t occur in English. Its difficulty reminds me of some of the “thick” lines that I write, that excellent readers, like Mr. Stone, think are too difficult to say; nevertheless Krushyna’s lines are unlike anything I have ever written.

    2. I also enjoyed Mr. Kazak sharing lines from Ms. Tabolich, who brings important thoughts about poetic transcription to the fore. She is correct to point out, that in the English tradition, disyllable end-rhyming is rarer, whereas in other traditions it is dominant. Chaucer, even when he was attempting to capture the cadences of writers, like Dante and Petrarca, though his disyllable Middle English rhymes are frequent, was being pulled by our language to monosyllabic end-rhymes.

    3. I perhaps am more receptive to the rhythms of Slavic poetry (as is Mr. Yankevich, the editor @ The Penn), for example; because in my early poetic practice I fought against the isochronic tradition of English, and wrote syllabic poetry. (On the negative side, it puts me at odds with most of my contemporaries in English poetry.) She is also right to point out that our prepositions (and articles, etc.), as well as the inflectional nature of Slavic languages, make the English line longer. In my own poetry I enjoy heptametre lines with the fewest words possible, as, for example in a recent poem, like the following, where if I can get six words or less in a line, I am happy.

    Tensor Tennos
    by Euclidrew Base

    In Padua, Gregorio Ricci-Curbasto sussed
    the so-called absolutist differential calculus.
    Along with student Tullio Levi-Civita, he
    developed tensor theory used for relativity;
    by putting Ricci’s algorithm with some Lie results
    from transform groups, extended absolute invariants.
    The tensors unified invariant symbolic forms
    and showed their usefulness in Albert Einstein’s work, and more,
    as in hydrodynamics and in elasticity,
    a triumph of the methods of the general dc.

    Euclidrew Base is a poet of mathematics and mathematicians, like Sophus Lie (1842-1899) Gregorio Ricci-Curbasto (1853-1925), Tullio Levi-Civita (1873-1941), and physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955), dc = differential calculus.

    4. Yes, Edewic Belarus is a pseudonym (an anagrammatic heteronym, which I call a charichord), and is due mainly to you; because I strive to have a charichord from places around the World, and I hadn’t yet created a charichord for Belarus when your work first appeared @ SPC. Some individuals are offended by my charichords; but others are more accepting, and some few appreciative of them, following in the tradition of writers like Victorian Dickens, Modernists, like Pessoa, T. S. Eliot, and Pound, or Postmodernists, like Nabokov.


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