Just returned from London and a recital inspired by the late Adrian Mitchell. Such a radical poet – I wonder if he’d known about his Bulgarian kindred spirit. Too late to find out now.
Anyway to celebrate one hundred years since his birth, I’ve translated three of Vaptsarov’s poems – ones I like very much.
Vaptsarov was born in Bansko, worked in a foundry, where he wrote the only work published in his lifetime – Engine Songs. His commitment to Communism in the thirties led him to be involved in wartime resistance to the government of Tsar Boris. He was arrested and shot in 1942. Boris canvased opinion among literary circles but was assured by the great and good that he was not ordering the death of a great Bulgarian poet.
Inevitably Communist Bulgaria turned him into a hero. Fortunately his genius still burns in the postcommunist hangover.
Spring in the Factory
She wanted to clock on with the first shift
But the engine swore
“Oh no you don’t
I’m in charge here
Where will we end up without rules?
‘Ere – go ask the doorman!”
But she was right cheeky
And she didn’t ask the doorman. –
Opened some window up high
And hidden from the engine
Stuck out her tongue.
And straight off a machine sang out.
But the workers
Were all fingers and thumbs.
Realising who was causing this
The engine said:
“I’ll chuck her out!”
– Chuck her out really? Mockingly
A good iron mixer.
– Just try, whirled the chattering stirrer,
We’ll come out on strike for her.
The engine shut up. The wind carried
Warm breath of black earth
A melody – broad and joyous –
Those who sometime had
The earth, snorted like horses,
And the others, windows thrown open,
The ticker tape machine shot out
A girl happily sang
A boy shot her
With a loving glance
And she blushed.
Just then the doorman came in quiet
“Who’s snuck themselves in without my say-so?”
But he soon caught on, smiled guiltily
Combed his hair
And then shut up.
To my wife
Sometime I’ll come into your dreams
Like an unexpected, unwanted guest.
Don’t leave me outside on the street –
Don’t bolt the doors against me.
I’ll enter on tip-toe. I’ll approach so gently
I’ll narrow my eyes to see you in the dark
And when gorged with gazing at you –
I’ll kiss you and then be gone.
In The Krup Factories grenades pour out
Pack them up snugly! They’re made for us, mates,
They’ll drink up our blood out in the meadows
Pack them up snugly! Millions of us…
At Bayer they’ve found some kind of gas
From a new mix. And it’s just for us
It’ll just eat up our sooty lungs
It couldn’t be clearer…Don’t you want to puke?
At Vickers, they’ve bored machine gun muzzles
To shoot six hundred bullets a minute – for us.
So they can bang it into our thick skulls
Come on cheer up! Come on cheer up!
Come on cheer up! Don’t think how
The storm will catch us, the dark will smother us.
Present arms to the front of our modern era
But please…a bit of hush! But please…