alexander vvedenskii


The Russian poet Aleksandr Vvedenskii (1904-1941), with his more famous colleague Daniil Kharms (1905-1942), formed the nucleus of a group of Leningrad poets and philosophers generally known as the OBERIU. The work of the oberiuty discards the naive optimism of the avant-garde and occupies itself with the illogical and the absurd. If some Russian Futurists, Khlebnikov first and foremost, dreamt of developing a universally comprehensible sound language (zaum’), the oberiuty refine Futurist techniques of breaking down and recombining lexical, syntactical, and narrative units and sequences, in order to present rupture as the most fundamental level of being. The first generation of writers to be born in the twentieth century, they are the first to obliterate any distinction between the tragic and the comic. 
Calling himself “the auto-rity of nonsense” (avto-ritet bessmyslitsy), Vvedenskii once claimed to have conducted “a poetic critique of language, more fundamental than that of Kant.” He asked how we know that, for instance, an apartment building, a tower, and a villa belong to the same species. Maybe they don’t. Maybe an apartment building really goes together with, say, happiness and the number seven. 
The oberiuty supported themselves by writing for children’s magazines. Their “adult” poetry did not get published; their readings were reviled by the establishment. First arrested in 1931, Kharms and Vvedenskii spent two years in internal exile. Their experience in the late thirties is marked by great isolation and poverty. When Germany invaded the Soviet Union, they were arrested again, this time for having been arrested earlier. Kharms starved to death in a prison asylum for the mentally insane, whereas Vvedenskii appears to have died of dysentery en route to Siberia.
“The Demise of the Sea” dates from 1930. The original is in iambic tetrameter, rhymed but with no consistent stanzaic pattern. 

—Eugene Ostashevsky



translated by Eugene Ostashevsky



and the sea too means nothing

and the sea too is a round o

and in vain does man hop

into the deep from guns and blades

and in the sea as well the fishies go 

dogs run around violins play

and seaweed sleeps like aunts

and boats skip up and down like fleas

and in the sea there is as little sense 

it obeys the same numbers

it is deserted and dark

maybe o sea you are a window?

maybe o sea you are a widow?



I too stood waist-deep in the woods

I was a student of game wisdom

sometimes bathing in strong vodka

I experienced death and boredom

beasts spun before me 

various raw

but I shut the doors of the wood

to find other worlds

here I stand upon these cliffs

and hear the growling of dead waves

and the words of farewell are displayed

on my arms folded like two locks

farewell mountains and woods

farewell badger farewell fox



a dignitary saunters in

wild rose squeals in his hand

he looks at everything in high-society manner

he hiccups chronically in german

and so majestic and disdainful

he halts his walking on the strand

the pine-tree rustles the plum-tree babbles

the insane wave glistens

the boat dreams and the deep 

suddenly says to him: o man

and you with state affairs laden

knowing the forked paths of public service

knowing the flummery of epaulets

could you have grown disgusted with ballet 

and life appeared homicidal

and here you stand suicidal



here I am before you

my dear deep

I see that people still desire

to purchase real estate on your bottom 

so they can dine with mermaids

in these sea houses

so they can sample sea cognac

in these watery bars

we believe that we won’t die

that life has a continuation

fish glimmers with silver

we love beer we love spirits

with ladies play at procreation

my fiancée durdina

loved my medals

but for four seasons like Vivaldi

did not leave the water closet

and I despaired extinguished

said to myself you’re not a rooster

not a digestive tract item the duck

and the extension of the stomach

continuation of the belly

at this point nothing appeared

and I saw everything is gorgeous

but smarmy distressing nauseating 

and I incline myself to you, o sea

on documents the letters plight

behold are writ in every quarter

and I see hundreds of categories

like fish swim in the water


The servants bring in a large sofa


on the sofa people birds

thoughts mice and bushes

they wear mournful faces

they wear empty eyes

birds walk on the grass

like dreams on the head

people lie around yellow

boats shine clang

thoughts steal into the grave 

across rain and across might

mice walk along houses

as if they were attic nouses

and transparent and light 

bushes sleep under the flag



come here all of you

and light your candles

demon vegetable and knight

our guests shall be this night

sea shore and star

we shall hold a boundless feast

a dark angel flutters out 

of the deep the nest



is everyone everyone

gathered here

has everyone sat

on the floor

the musicians have assembled

like penguins on a cliff

the sea went out on the town

arm in arm with a star

and the sea said: stop

thinking running taradiddle

think think think think

run around jump complain

death will extend its morose arm 

too late the doctors will alight

like swans, relations

will flock to the bed

and other labors will ensue

flies will fly around in the body

but what help can I offer you

children people in this night



sea sea lady

you are our only hope

we come to you trembling


shut up ignoramus!

dear sea o sea

we cannot see anything

accept us o darling

second and watery divinity

like beasts we run around in darkness

bared of rapiers thoughts tuxedoes

in our hand a jar of light smokes

look at this o mighty one

on our head a halo clatters 

our end is coming it is come



I can’t



and what did I say?



I think, I cry



I too mean nothing