Ukrainian poems in translation: an open window

Photo of exquisite baroque church with small church in front, Russian Orthodox style
Kiev: little church of St Nicholas of Myra and Saint Andrew’s Church.. Photo Jorge Franganillo CC BY-2.0

Thanks Google: I searched for “Ukraine poems in translation” and was wonderfully rewarded.

6 Ukrainian poems that capture a bold moment in contemporary poetry on the Calvert Journal website.

These stunning poems reminded me how much I love excellent translations of poems from other languages and other worlds. They remind me how we can accidentally get sucked into writing conventions that may be cramping our style. And how a sensitively translated poem from elsewhere is a window into other minds, other societies, other complete worlds that are otherwise barely imaginable to us, that complement what we see and read in the media. I often think, when reading translated poetry, “Oh. So a poem could be like that…”

At this moment in history, we need those windows. Or I do, at least.

These 6 poems were published on 11 September 2020, 18 months ago. They have much in common with the exquisite churches of Kiev, with rich texture, history, significance, strength, charm and grace. And they are hugely relevant now.

A few lines as a taster…

You hide only the most precious things in the soil—
the weapon that ripens with wrath,
porcelain hearts of parents that will chime
like the songs of a school choir.

— From [So I’ll talk about it] Written by Serhiy Zhadan and translated by John Hennessy and Ostap Kin

autumn drives us to the kitchen and makes us put the kettle on
autumn begins with something trivial, but grows quickly like other people’s children
a penny of winter will roll out of its cold womb, the snow will cover the mummified us, frozen in half a word
then, no one knocks on the balcony window in the middle of the night any longer
and then there is a general risk of ceasing to exist for a while

— From [autumn begins with something trivial] Written by Ella Yevtushenko, translated by Yury Zavadsky

For the full meal, visit 6 Ukrainian poems that capture a bold moment in contemporary poetry on the Calvert Journal website.

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3 thoughts on “Ukrainian poems in translation: an open window

  1. How very captivating these are Rachel. I would have loved to hear them in their original language. I find the spoken word to be very powerful, even when I have no understanding of the language. Thank you so much for signposting them!

    1. Rachel McAlpine says:

      Like you I’d love to hear them read aloud in Ukrainian by the poets. The rhythm and sounds of different languages lead to startlingly different poetry and music.

  2. Elizabeth says:

    Especially chilling is the one “Love In Kyiv.”

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