Selected Poems

Selected Poems

by Vladimir Mayakovsky, James H. McGavran III

James McGavran’s new translation of Vladimir Maya­kovsky’s poetry is the first to fully capture the Futurist and Soviet agitprop artist’s voice. Because of his work as a propagandist for the Soviet regime, and because of his posthumous enshrinement by Stalin as “the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch,” Mayakovsky has


James McGavran’s new translation of Vladimir Maya­kovsky’s poetry is the first to fully capture the Futurist and Soviet agitprop artist’s voice. Because of his work as a propagandist for the Soviet regime, and because of his posthumous enshrinement by Stalin as “the best and most talented poet of our Soviet epoch,” Mayakovsky has most often been interpreted—and translated—within a political context. McGavran’s translations reveal a more nuanced poet who possessed a passion for word creation and lin­guistic manipulation. Mayakovsky’s bombastic metaphors and formal élan shine through in these translations, and McGavran’s commentary provides vital information on Mayakovsky, illuminating the poet’s many references to the Russian literary canon, his contemporaries in art and culture, and Soviet figures and policies.

Product Details

Northwestern University Press
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt

Selected Poems

By Vladimir Mayakovsky, James H. McGavran III

Northwestern University Press

Copyright © 2013 Northwestern University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8101-2907-8


The Early Years 1912–1916


    The crimson and white is wadded up and discarded,
    handfuls of ducats thrown into the green,
    and into the gathered-round windows' black palms
    burning yellow cards have been dealt.

    The boulevards and square found it not strange
    to see buildings covered in dark-blue togas,
    and like yellow wounds, the streetlights fastened
    bangles around running pedestrians' legs.

    The crowd, a quick and calico cat,
    drifted on, squirming, drawn toward doorways;
    everyone wanted to drag in at least a bit
    of bulk from the wad of outpoured laughter.

    When I felt the beckoning paws of a dress,
    I rammed a smile right into their eyes; startling
    as hammer blows against tin, black men guffawed,
    above each brow a painted parrot wing.



    The gloomy rain squinted its eyes.
    the array
    of clear
    steel cable thoughts,
    a featherbed.
    And on
    lightly rest the feet
    of rising stars.
    But the dying
    in crowns of gas,
    only made the eye
    hurt more to see
    the bickering bouquet of boulevard prostitutes.
    The frightful,
    biting laughter
    of jokes
    up from toxic
    yellow roses
    in a zigzag.
    Past the din
    and horror
    the eye is glad
    to look:
    the slave
    on his crossroads,
    and the coffins
    of brothels
    cast by the east into one flaming vase.



    than years.
    the iron horses,
    out of the windows of buildings running by,
    the first cubes have already leapt.
    You belfry-necked swans,
    stoop in your nooses of streetcar cables!
    Up in the sky a giraffe sketch is ready
    to color its rusty bangs.
    Mottled like a trout
    is the son
    of the patternless field.
    A conjurer,
    hidden behind clock-tower dials,
    draws rails
    from the streetcar's mouth.
    We are conquered!
    The soul's bodice is unlaced.
    Hands burn its body.
    Cry all you want,
    "This isn't what I meant!"—
    are the taut straps
    of torment.
    The wind with its thorns
    rips out
    of the chimney
    a tuft of smoky fur.
    A bald streetlamp
    lasciviously strips away
    the street's
    black stocking.



    I splattered the pattern of weekdays at once
    with color splashed out from a glass;
    I showed you, on a dish of aspic,
    the slanting cheekbones of the ocean.
    Upon the scales of a tin fish
    I read the calls of new lips.
    And how about you,
    could you
    play a nocturne
    on a flute of drainpipes?




    Along the road
    of my deep-rutted soul,
    harsh phrases' heels
    weave madmen's paces.
    Where cities
    are hanged
    and in a noose of cloud
    the crooked necks
    of towers
    have grown stiff—
    I go
    alone to cry
    for the policemen
    on their crossroads.

    A Few Words About My Wife

    Along the distant beach of unknown seas
    walks the moon,
    my wife.
    My redheaded mistress.
    Behind her equipage,
    a throng of constellations, motley-striped, stretches
    She's crowned by an automobile garage,
    kissed by newspaper kiosks,
    and her gown-train's Milky Way, like some blinking errand-boy,
    is decked in tinselly sparkles.
    What about me?
    As I burn, the yoke of my eyebrows delivers
    icy buckets drawn from the wells of my eyes.
    You hang there draped in lake-silks,
    your thighs singing like an amber violin.
    Down to the realms of the rooftops' spite
    you can't cast your sparkling line.
    I'm drowning in boulevards, washed over by the longing of
    don't you see, it's your daughter—
    my song
    in fishnet stockings
    outside the cafés!

    A Few Words About My Mama

    I have a mama on wallpaper of cornflower blue.
    Whereas I stroll about in motley peahens;
    I torment shaggy daisies, measuring them with my stride.
    Evening strikes up a tune on rusty oboes.
    I walk up to the window,
    that I will again see
    a storm cloud
    on top of the house.
    While in my sick mama's room,
    the rustle of the people runs around
    from the bed to the empty corner.
    Mama knows—
    it's a bunch of crazy ideas
    crawling out from behind the rooftops of Shustov's factory.
    And when my forehead, crowned by a felt hat,
    is bloodied by the dimming window-frame,
    I'll say,
    parting the wind's howl with my bass:
    If I should take pity
    on the vase of your torment,
    knocked down by the clouds' dancing heels,
    who would caress the golden hands
    wrung by the billboard outside Avanzo's windows?"

    A Few Words About Me Myself

    I like to watch children die.
    Have you ever noticed the hazy waves of laughter
    breaking behind the proboscis of ennui?
    Whereas I,
    in the reading room of the streets,
    have leafed back and forth through the coffin-tome.
    with its soaking wet fingers groped
    and a broken-down fence,
    and with the downpour's drops on the bald-spot of its cupola,
    the crazy cathedral galloped off.
    I can see that Christ has escaped from his icon—
    street-sludge, weeping, kisses
    the windblown hem of his tunic.
    I shout at the bricks,
    I thrust the dagger of frenzied words
    into the swollen sky's flesh:
    My father!
    You, at least, take pity and don't torture me!
    It's my blood, spilled by you, that flows down this earthly
    It's my soul,
    like shreds of torn cloud
    in a burnt-out sky,
    on the rusted cross of the belfry!
    You, at least, crippled icon-dauber,
    paint my visage
    into the freak of the century's image-case!
    I am alone, like the one remaining eye
    of a man on his way to join the blind!"



    A girl shyly wrapped herself up in a swamp
    as frog motifs ominously swelled all around;
    on the tracks, some sort of reddish figure wavered,
    and locomotives in curls passed by in reproach.

    On cloud couples, through the sun's caustic fumes,
    the fury of a mazurka of wind was engraved,
    and here I am—a sultrified July sidewalk,
    and a woman throws me cigarette-butt kisses!

    Abandon your cities, you stupid people!
    Go forth naked in the sun, to pour
    drunken wines into your wineskin-breasts
    and rain-kisses onto your coal cheeks.



    We crawl under the earth's fallen-out palm eyelashes
    to poke out the walleyes of deserts,
    or on the shriveled lips of canals
    to catch dreadnoughts' smiles.
    Cool off, spite!
    I won't let you lift my wild, decrepit mother
    onto the bonfire of blazed constellations.
    Road—horn of hell—inebriate the snores of the cargo wagons!
    Widen with intoxication the volcanoes' smoking nostrils!
    We'll throw molting angels' feathers onto our loved ones' hats,
    we'll chop tails for our boas from comets hobbling into space.



    Windows shattered the giant hell of the city
    into minuscule hellikins, suckling with lights.
    Automobiles, the red devils, rose up,
    blasting their horns right in your ear.

    And there, under the billboard for Kerch herring—
    a knocked-down old fogey fumbled for his glasses
    and burst into tears when, in the evening whirlwind,
    a streetcar got a running start and flung up its pupils.

    In gaps between skyscrapers, where ore was blazing
    and the iron of trains piled up on a manhole—
    an airplane gave a brief shout and crashed
    where the wounded sun's eye was oozing out.

    And only then, wadding up its blanket of streetlamps,
    night loved itself out, lewd and drunken,
    and behind the suns of streets, somewhere there hobbled,
    worthless to everyone, a flabby moon.



    An hour from now, your flaccid fat will flow,
    man by man, out onto the clean street,
    and here I've revealed to you so many boxes of verse,
    I—the spendthrift and prodigal of priceless words.

    You there, man, you've got cabbage in your mustache
    from some half-eaten, unfinished soup somewhere;
    you there, woman, your white makeup's so thick,
    you peer out like an oyster from a shell of things.

    All of you will pile up on the butterfly of the poet's heart,
    dirty, in galoshes and without galoshes.
    The crowd will go nuts, rubbing against itself,
    bristling its little legs, the hundred-headed louse.

    And if today I, a crude Hun,
    should be disinclined to make faces for you—well, then
    I'll burst out laughing and spit with joy,
    spit in your faces,
    I—the prodigal and spendthrift of priceless words.



    Walked into a barbershop and said, perfectly calm,
    "Would you be so kind as to give my ears a trim?"
    The smooth-shaven barber immediately bristled,
    made a long face, like a pear's.
    the words started jumping.
    Foul language rushed about from chirp to chirp,
    and for a lo-o-o-o-ng time
    someone's head kept giggling,
    yanked up out of the crowd like an old radish.



    "What a charming night!"
    "That one
    (pointing at a girl),
    from yesterday,
    is it the same one?"
    On the sidewalk someone said:
    the tires jumped—
    The city suddenly turned inside out.
    A drunk climbed on top of some hats.
    Billboards gaped wide their fright,
    spitting out,
    now O,
    now S.
    And on top of the hill,
    where dark tears were falling,
    where the shy city
    had clambered,
    it suddenly seemed true:
    a flabby O
    and disgustingly obedient S.



    I'll sew myself black trousers
    from the velvet of my voice.
    A yellow blouse from ten feet of sunset.
    On the Nevsky Avenue of the world, along its polished lanes,
    I'll stroll at the pace of a Don Juan and a fop.

    Let the earth cry out, having turned womanish in peace:
    "You're on your way to rape green springs!"
    I'll cast at the sun, with an impudent grin:
    "On the asphalt's smooth surface I enjoy burring my r's!"

    Is it not because the sky is blue,
    and the earth is my mistress in this festive cleansing,
    that I present you with verses, fun as bee-bah-bo,
    sharp and necessary, like toothpicks!

    All you women who love my meat, and this
    girl here, who's looking at me as at a brother,
    bespatter me, the poet, with smiles—
    I'll sew them with flowers onto my fop's blouse!



    Listen up!
    After all, if they light up the stars,
    does that mean anyone cares?
    Does that mean someone wants them to be there?
    Does that mean someone calls these little gobs of spit pearls?

    And, floundering
    in the blizzards of midday dust,
    storms in to see God,
    fears he's too late,
    kisses the veiny hand,
    please, there absolutely must be a star—
    he'll never endure this starless torture!
    And afterward,
    walks around anxious
    but calm on the outside.
    Says to someone:
    "You're okay now, right?
    Not afraid?
    Listen up!
    After all, if they light up
    the stars,
    does that mean anyone cares?
    Does that mean it's necessary
    that every evening
    above the rooftops
    at least one star should light up?!



    The street has caved in like the nose of a syphilitic.
    The river is pure lechery leaked out in drool.
    Having stripped off their skivvies, to the last little leaflet,
    the gardens indecently sprawl across June.

    I step out on the square,
    placing a burnt-out
    city block on my head like a red wig.
    The people are frightened—dangling from my mouth,
    a shout, partly chewed, is still wagging its legs.

    But I won't be berated, but I won't be condemned—
    like a prophet's, my path will be strewn with flowers.
    All these people, the ones with the caved-in noses, know:
    I am your poet.

    Your Judgment Day scares me about as much as a tavern!
    Prostitutes will carry me forth like a sacred relic,
    carry me alone through the burning buildings
    and show me to God in their own justification.

    And God will break down in tears over my little book!
    No words—just convulsions stuck together in a wad;
    he'll run around the sky with my poems tucked in his armpit,
    and, panting for breath, read them to his acquaintances.



    In the ears were snippets of a warm ball,
    but from the north—more hoary than snow—
    a fog with the bloodthirsty face of a cannibal
    chewed unsavory people.

    A clock hung in the air like crude swearing;
    six loomed after five.
    And some kind of garbage looked down from the sky,
    majestically, like Leo Tolstoy.



    Along the black streets, white mothers
    spasmodically spread, like brocade on a coffin.
    They wept their way into the crowd shouting about the
      beaten enemy:
    "Ach, shut their eyes, shut the newspapers' eyes!"

    A letter.

    Mama, louder!
    More smoke!
    What's that you're mumbling, Mama, to me?
    Don't you see—
    The air is paved
    with stone rumbling under artillery fire!
    They just brought in an evening all covered in wounds.
    He held on for a long time,
    spread too tight,
    rough around the edges,
    and suddenly—
    his cloud shoulders broke down;
    he burst into tears, the poor guy, on Warsaw's breast.
    The stars, on their hankies of dark-blue cotton,
    screeched out:
    "He's killed,
    my dear,
    my dear one!"


Excerpted from Selected Poems by Vladimir Mayakovsky, James H. McGavran III. Copyright © 2013 Northwestern University Press. Excerpted by permission of Northwestern University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Vladmir Mayakovsky (1893–1930), one of Russia’s greatest twentieth-century writers, was a Futurist, early Bolshevik, and champion of the avant-garde.

James H. McGavran III is a visiting assistant professor of Russian at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >