Nikola Vaptsarov

Spring in the Factory

She wanted to clock on with the first shift
But the engine swore furiously
“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. – Slipped in.
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
Growled. 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
From somewhere Warm breath of black earth
A melody – broad and joyous –
And steps Of cracked Feet.

Those who sometime had Dug
The earth, snorted like horses,
And the others, windows thrown open,
Glowed before The blue Heaven.

The ticker tape machine shot out Something rude.
A girl happily sang
A boy shot her With a loving glance
And she blushed.

Just then the doorman came in quiet
And demanded “Who’s snuck in then?”
But he soon caught on, smiled guiltily
Combed his hair Whistled And then shut up.

Nikola Vaptsarov



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.

Nikola Vaptsarov



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 fire 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…
No grumbling.

Nikola Vaptsarov

translation by Christopher Buxton

No, now’s not the time for poetry

Nikola Vaptsarov

No, now’s not the time for poetry,

nor for rhymes of tinkling laughter.

would they reach a heart that’s beating

through the thick of iron armour?


You begin to write and now look here –

instead of rhyme a shell explodes,

rockets light up the heavens

and fires spread over the town.


Quiet falls.  But there in your notebook

instead of tender, perfumed words,

Squads are lining up in posses

Over the snowy meadow pages.


Teams spread out far and wide,

They’ve scented the bait from afar. –

And it’s then you notice with horror:

you are writing not with ink but with gore.


No poetry’s out of the question,

and should you ask, I couldn’t sing.




Nikola Vaptsarov

Oh my spring, spring dressed in white

Still unlived, uncelebrated,

Only dreamt in murky visions,

Passing low over the poplars,

Never landing in your flight.


Oh my spring, spring dressed in white

I know you come with rain and whirlwind

Spouting fire with insurrection

To restore a thousand hopes

And wash out the bloody wounds.


How the birds will sing in cornfields,

They’ll swim in the open full of joy,

The people gladly set to work

And like brothers love each other.


Oh my spring, spring dressed in white,

Let me see you in first flight

My life’s been given in dead arcades

Let me only see your sun,

Then – die upon your barricades.





Nikola Vaptsarov


Here’s me – I’m breathing,

I’m working,

I’m living

and poems I’m weaving

(as much as I’m able).

Life and I knitting

our brows at each other

and I’m wrestling with life,

as much as I can.


We’re at odds life and me,

but don’t be assuming

that I’m hating life.

The reverse, the reverse! –

Even were I to die,

it’s life with its harsh

claws of steel,

I’ll be loving it still!

I’ll be loving it still!


Let’s suppose, they’re hooking

up  my noose

and they ask

“What, you want to live for an hour?”

I will yell at once:

“Pull it down!

Pull it down!

Pull it down all the quicker

the hang rope,  you knaves.”


For it – for life

I’d have done everything. –

I’d have flown

Up high in a cosmic probe,

I’d have climbed into a ballistic

rocket,  on my own,

I’d have searched

through space

for a faraway



Even so but I’ll feel

the pleasant tickle

to witness how


the sky grows blue.

Even so I will feel

the pleasant tickle,

that I’m still alive,

that I’ll still exist.


But here, let’s suppose

you take away, how much? –

a single wheat grain

from my belief,

then I would  roar,

I would roar in pain

like a panther

pierced to the heart


What would be left

of me then? –

Seconds after the mugging

I’d be undone.

and even more clearly,

and even more aptly –

seconds after the mugging

I would become nothing.


Perhaps you want

to rub it out

my belief

in days of rejoicing,

my belief,

that tomorrow life

will be better,

will be wiser?


And how will you smash it, pray tell?

With bullets?

No! it’s futile!

No point! – Not worth it!

It is armoured up

strong in my breast

and for armour piercing bullets

aimed at it,

there are no chinks!

There are no chinks!