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Children’s poems are an integral part of growing up in Russia — as they probably are anywhere. (I purposely don’t want to call them “nursery rhymes” as this separate genre of English rhymes is also well-known in Russia — in translation.) Anyone who grew up in Russia has heard them from their parents, siblings, or caretakers.
Children’s poems are so numerous that it would be impossible to list all of them here, so I will share some highlights based on my own preferences and a list compiled by the Russian linguist Maxim Krongauz. For longer poems, excerpts will be listed.
У меня зазвонил телефон.
– Кто говорит?
– От верблюда.
– Что вам надо?
– Для кого?
– Для сына моего.
– А много ли прислать?
– Да пудов этак пять
Больше ему не съесть,
Он у меня ещё маленький!
This poem is well-known and often recited in Russia. Parts of it have entered colloquial Russian as set phrases, e.g. “от верблюда” as a tongue-in-cheek response to “Откуда?” (From where?) or “шоколада” as a response to “что надо?” (What do you need?) Верблюд is the Russian for “camel.” Note the genitive form in “шоколада” (chocolate) — used with a mass noun to mean “some chocolate.”
Зазвонить is a perfective counterpart to звонить (to ring). The prefix за- means the start of an action, so зазвонил means “started ringing.” Пуд is an old Russian unit of mass, equal to 16 kilograms. Modern Russians are thoroughly used to metric and don’t know how heavy that is. A related colloquial phrase is “стопудово” (for sure, literally “one hundred poods”).
“Ему не съесть” means “he can’t eat.” Note that the logical subject is presented as a grammatical object in the dative case (ему) and the verb is in the infinitive. Compare this to phrases like “мне этого не понять” (I cannot fathom that).
Кто стучится в дверь ко мне
С толстой сумкой на ремне,
С цифрой 5 на медной бляшке,
В синей форменной фуражке?
В сумке на боку
В семь часов он начал дело,
В десять сумка похудела,
А к двенадцати часам
Всё разнёс по адресам.
Marshak’s poetry for children was featured on this blog before — you may remember “Багаж.” Стучать(ся) в дверь is to know on someone’s door. The reflexive ending is optional. Note that this is followed by к(о) + dative: к нам, к тебе, etc. The first line is well-known and not only quoted verbatim but often also spoofed, e.g. “
Кто стучится в дверь моя, видишь, дома нет никто” (an intentionally grammatically incorrect sentence meaning “Who’s knocking on my door; can’t you see there’s no one home?”).
“У него” is a nice reminder of possessive constructions in Russian — expressing that someone has X follows this pattern: у + genitive case of the owner + (есть) + nominative case of the possession. For example: у нас есть дом (we have a house). The example in the poem is “у него … много писем” (he has many letters). Писем is the genitive plural of письмо following много (many). Ташкент, Таганрог, Тамбов, and Баку are the names of cities of origin.
В семь and в десять refers to times of the day (“at 7 am” and “at 10 am”). К двенадцати means “by noon.” Похудеть normally means “to lose weight,” but here it refers to the mail carrier’s bag — it is much smaller by 10 am as he has delivered some of the mail in it. По адресам, more commonly seen as “по адресу,” can mean “at a certain address” (used to show the location of something) or “to a certain address” (used to show the destination).
To be continued!