Russian Language Blog

Russian Poetry for Real Russians – Part 1 Posted by on Mar 29, 2010 in Culture, Russian life

We, Russians, are very proud of our literary heritage and justifiably so. After all, Russia «подарила миру» [gave the world a gift of] “War and Peace”, “Crime and Punishment”, “Master and Margarita”… And then there are the poets.

Back during the «Золотой век русской поэзии» [Golden Age of Russian poetry] there were  Pushkin, Lermontov, Tyutchev. «Серебрянный век» [Silver Age] saw Bunin, Block, Tsvetayeva, among others. And contemporary poets, such as Leonid Aronzon, Elena Shvartz, and Petr Cheigin, are a part of the post-Brodsky «Бронзовый век» [Bronze Age].

So do you think «простые русские люди» [regular Russian people] have the love of written word instilled in them from early childhood? And if so, maybe it can be replicated through careful «воспитание» [nurture] and «образование» [education].

It is true that from a very young age Russian children are enveloped in the «ритмичные стихи» [lilting rhymes]. Starting «с детского сада» [at around pre-school age], Russian children are expected to «заучивать наизусть» [memorize] some of these poems.

It all starts with simple nursery rhymes about broken toys and balls thrown into streams. So far, so good – the rhymes are simple, short and, if told to an adoring «бабушка» [grandmother] at dinner or, say, to «Дед Мороз» [Father Frost] at «утренник» [children’s party] can earn one a treat.

Yes, children are (or at least were until recently) expected to recite poetry at special events, holiday parties, and birthdays. Frankly, I don’t remember getting anything more than a pat on the head for all my efforts, but my classmates supposedly got candy and even «игрушки» [toys].

So if you want to «окунуться» [immerse yourself] in Russian poetry, you have to start with something very basic. And what can be more basic than Agniya Barto’s poems for children:

 «Уронили мишку на пол,

Оторвали мишке лапу…»

 [Teddy bear was dropped on the floor

Someone tore off teddy bear’s paw…]

 From this, you can move on to S. Marshak, B. Zahoder and the grandfather of children’s poetry, K. Chukovsky.

 As you feel more and more comfortable, you can leave the kindergarten and first grade rhymes behind and tackle select poetry by Bunin (3rd grade reading requirement), Ahmatova and Blok (6th grade), or Lermontov (9th grade).

 And once you’re ok with memorizing poetry, it’s time to commit paragraph-long abstracts of prose to memory as well, starting with Turgenev’s famous

 «Во дни сомнений, во дни тягостных раздумий о судьбах моей родины,- ты один мне поддержка и опора, о великий, могучий, правдивый и свободный русский язык!»

 [In times of doubt, in times of painful reflections on the fates of my motherland, you are my only support and reliance, the grand, mighty, truthful and free Russian language!]

 All this is supposed to be memorized and recited «с выражением» [with feelings], in front of one’s entire class.

 By the time Russian students enter college their heads are full of bits and pieces of poems and snippets of prose that they can recall at the drop of a hat. How does it help in the daily life of average Russians? Stay tuned…

 P.S. If you are pressed for time, remember these three simple bits:

  1. «великий, могучий русский язык» [the grand, mighty Russian language] – Turgenev’s poem in prose on the beauty of Russian language.
  2. «умом Россию не понять!» [Russian can’t be understood with the mind alone] – Tyutchev’s famous line evoked every time Russians discuss Russia’s unique fate
  3. «коня на скаку остановит, в горящую избу войдет!» [will stop a galloping horse, will enter a burning izba] – Nekrasov’s description of the strength and endurance, physical and spiritual,of Russian women.

Used appropriately around dinner table, these just might get you a pat on the back and a designation of «свой человек!» [one of our own people].

P.P.S. If you are really interested, this is a great electronic library with links to Russian literary classics and full texts of their works (all in Russian).

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  1. Short Poems:

    Russian Poetry is great!

  2. Arkadiy Birger:

    Thank you the the link at the bottom! Very useful!


  3. Peter:

    Thank you very much for your posts which I find very helpful still trying to learn Russian again after 60 years.

    Perhaps “тише едешь, дальше будешь translates well into Latin” as”Festina lente” (Hasten slowly)

    “Quiet as a mouse” is good but “Quiet as the grave” is more literary!
    I remember learning also:
    “тише мыше кот на крыше”
    “терпи казак и атаманом будешь”
    “на сани чуие ну садись”

  4. saloni: