Though he published only a single slim volume in his lifetime, the 1940 Witnesses (17 poems), (1) he was influential, much read and admired, including for his translations (from Bashkir, Balkar, Tatar, Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Belorussian), and published widely in the periodical press. In addition to his civic lyrics from the beginning of WWII presented here, he is perhaps best known for his longer free verse poem, "Zodchie" ("Master Builders," 1938) which retells the story of Ivan the Terrible, who had the architects of St. Basil's Cathedral blinded to prevent them from recreating their masterpiece. The poem was widely perceived as a deliberate, conscious, and conscientious attempt to directly address the current tyrant.
Stalin's personal animus casts a long shadow over Kedrin's lack of book publication, and ultimately, over the untimely "cause of his death."
Dmitry Kedrin died on the night of September 18, 1945 when he was thrown from a train platform, in a second, successful, attempt on his life.
[phrase omitted] 1938
Who was I then? Grass growing on a grave? A fragile pebble in the shore's ebb and tide? A cloud suspended above the deep abyss? A pockmarked nugget of dirty iron ore? That very same grass that now covers the grave Was lulled by the undulant breath of the wind, And the cloud shed one elongated tear, Flying above its dear old native field. And when I address myself to you in verses-- Where is it that their voice and breath begin? This very voice belongs to grandma the cloud, These sighs, the bitter flammable grass's own. And who will I then be? The clay's gray clump? A white boulder sprawling in the broad glen? A trickle that never tires of spreading its stream? A tiny tail feather of the twittering songbird? No matter what I might become or who I'd been-- The world beneath this eternal sky is also eternal: Should I become a wave of emerald green water, It will begin to gurgle and ring as a living thing, And should I become a teeming field of grass, It will begin to sway and roll as a wave alive. In this world, every thing is immortal, even rot. A wonder only that for people death is a fact. 1938 [phrase omitted]
The house smashed to smithereens. Water splashes Out of the busted pipes in spurts onto the sidewalk, A slew of personal objects strewn in the street: A shattered house resembles an autopsied corpse. The attic incinerated, the facing wall has crumpled, Scrunched back like a theater proscenium's curtain, And every life in the apartments has been exposed To passersby, sliced by stories into public scenes. A full house contains many of these. Here, among The lowest strata, a grand piano visible in the corner. Fragments of notes hanging from the book shelves, Liszt's funeral mask glares at me from the rear wall. A landing below, a spectacle of a different sort: The wallpaper, bright and variegated in color, A samovar spilled from bureau onto the ground.... The heart of the house here, its innards, there. And seated upon their things is an old woman, Her eyes dead, and a young man, no less stunned. It may well be they are sitting next to each other For the first time, these indifferent neighbors. But now, all aspects of their lives, that had proceeded In private, and their every sin, is out for all to see. No matter how you look at it a bomb is democratic: A single sorrow levels each man and every thing. August 18, 1941 [phrase omitted]
At the Park
Strolling by the pond, I poked with my foot at The tattered matting of the ancient bathing place. Pushkin himself had pined under these lindens, And Gogol lingered, sitting on the little bench. Mushrooms had begun poking out their caps among Aspen roots and the September sun barely warmed. Like rolling thunder, the distant roar of cannon fire Disturbed the silence of this Moscow suburb park. Is death perhaps issuing to me its call, threatening To plunge at any moment on my narrow shoulders? Where are our dear ones and our oldest friends? Some, no longer among the living, others, distant. The bullfinches are whistling, the booming rumble, Attenuated and removed, still unfamiliar to them. To them, it must seem that the village women Are beating their laundry flat at the nearby lake. But we all know that an unseeing fate holds our Lives in its hands and that our lot has been drawn.... An aging youth wearing thick glasses and all alone, Frozen in his tracks, stares on at the eternal lindens. November 3, 1941
Translated from Russian by Alex Cigale
(1) ([phrase omitted], 1940). I was unable to ascertain whether "Immortality," the only one of these three poems that predates the book, was in fact in it. The Russian originals are from https://45parallel.net/dmitriy_kedrin/stihi/. My translation of "Immortality" was previously published on Feb. 8, 2018, in a post in the Facebook group, Russian Poetry in Translation, https://www.facebook.com/RussianPoetryInTranslation/posts/d41d8cd9/996607007145358/
[Please note: Some non-Latin characters were omitted from this article]