This morning, after returning to Europe from a week back home in our beloved RSA, I find myself unable to do much, write, think or do some housework. South Africans go to the polls on 22 April and many politicians are offering heaven and earth – again – but it looks like any party that speaks honestly or plainly that the current phase of Capitalism´s (their so called free market?) crisis will handicap even the most well meaning of politicians in the short and medium term is likely to lose. So, they sell some old story… or in in the new language of the day, they recycle old dreams which have yet to see the dawn…
But hope and trust in our collective and individual efforts must remain a beacon of where we have to go, and it is here that Yevtushenko´s “the ballad of false beacons” comes to mind. Genuine participatory, is not a mirage. True? no?
“Again a meeting…”*
Again a meeting, noisy, dying,
raised to vote,
is there no sob of sentiment
in your throat
a charming deal
to dismember friends
on the wheel?
What kind of minority
Only two hands,
only two hands.
A minority has courage,
the majority reeks.
They are not Bolsheviks,
They are not soldiers
You, my friends,
are silent with reason.
But cowardly silence
also is treason.
Oh, majority, majority,
creators and victims of fraud,
so many times you’ve
you have no right
to be our god.
The nonruling minority
has no authority.
On so many cowards I see
an invisible life vest.
But how powerless is the dishonest assent
of the majority.
And how powerful is
minority’s honest protest.
Translated by Albert C. Todd with the author
*The notorious meeting of the Writers’ Union in Moscow in 1957, when Vladimir Dudintsev was criticized for his novel Not by Bread Alone, which, following Ilia Ehrenburg’s novelette The Thaw, became the second signal for change in the immediate post-Stalin era.
Ballad About False Beacons
…and those far, elusive lights plunged the souls of seamen into darkness, offering them false hope…
From an ancient pilot’s manual
We’ve been bewitched by countless lies,
by azure images of ice,
by false promises of open sky and sea,
and rescued by a God we don’t believe.
Like coppers rattling from a beggar’s plate
guiding lights have fallen on our days
and burned and died.
We’ve pressed our ship
a pilgrimage of nights toward such lights
as, always elusive, lured and tricked
the keel upon the rocks and ripped
the helmhold from the hand and lashed
the beggared palm to scraps.
Ice tightens at the bow and breath.
To dock, to dropp the anchor to its rest,
to drift (a dream!) on waters quieted
and calmed. We can’t. We’re after a mirage.
(The whiskered walrus brays; the sea salt thaws.
Again, we’re off!)
Raised on powdered milk, we’ll have no faith
in beacons any longer, nor mistake
real for fake, or waking for a dream.
Beacons can’t be trusted. Trust instead
the will of your own hand and head.
Again the captain waves his glass,
sights a beacon, turns and cries
‘Helmsman! There’s a beacon. Are you blind? ‘
But Helmsman, with the truer eye
thinks mutiny and grumbles,
Translated by Anthony Kahn
On The Question Of Freedom
Dachau’s ashes burn my feet
The asphalt smokes under me
Warheads & bayonets stuck
under my nails
I’ll stroke a stray strand of my beloved’s hair
And I myself shall smoke
crucified Christ-like on wings of bombers
flying through this night to kill Christ’s kids
My skin trembles with explosions
as if it were Vietnam
and breaking my back and ribs
the Berlin Wall runs through me
You talk to me of freedom? Empty question
under umbrellas of bombs in the sky
It’s a disgrace to be free of your own age
A hundred times more shameful than to be its slave
Yes I’m enslaved to Tashkent women
and to Dallas bullets and Peking slogans
and Vietnam widows and Russian women
with picks beside the tracks and kerchiefs over their eyes
Yes I’m not free of Pushkin and Blok
Not free of the State of Maryland and Zima Station
Not free of the Devil and God
Not free of earth’s beauty and its shit
Yes I’m enslaved to a thirst for taking a wet-mop
to the heads of all the bickerers & butchers of the world
Yes I’m enslaved to the honor of busting the mugs
of all the bastards on earth
And maybe I’ll be loved by the people for this
For spending my life
(not without precedent in this iron age)
glorifying unfreedom from
the true struggle for freedom
Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Anthony Kahn