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Yevgeny Yevtushenko

(18 July 1933 / Zima Junction, Siberia)

Ballad About Drinking


We had slaughtered a hundred white whales,
civilization was quite forgotten,
our lungs were burned out from smoking shag,
but on sighting port we blew out our chests like barrels
and began to speak to one another politely,
and with the noble goal of drinking
we went ashore from the schooner at Amderma.

In Amderma we walked like gods,
swaggering along with our hands on our hips,
and through the port our beards and sidewhiskers
kept their bearings on the pub,
and passing girls and shellbacks
as well as all the local dogs
went along with us as escort.

But, clouding the whole planet,
a notice hung in the shop: 'No Spirits! '
We looked at some sparkling wine from the Don
as if it were feeble fruit juice,
and through our agonized yearning
we realized-it wouldn't work.

Now who could have drunk our spirits, our vodka?
It's dreadful the way people drink-simply ruinous.
But skinny as a skeleton, Petka Markovsky from Odessa,
as it always happens with him,
suddenly disappeared somewhere
giving a secretive 'Sh-sshh! '

And shortly afterward, with much clinking,
he turned up with a huge cardboard box,
already slightly merry,
and it was a sweet clinking the box made
as we woke up to the fact: 'There she is! She's apples! '
and Markovsky gave us the wink: 'She's right! '

We made a splash, waving to everyone-
Chartered a deluxe room in the hotel
and sat down as we were on the bed.
Cords flew off the box
and there, in the glittering columns of the bottles,
bulging, stern, cosy,
absolutely hygienic-
triple-distilled eau de cologne stood before us!

And Markovsky rose, lifting his glass,
pulled down his seaman's jacket,
and began: 'I'd like to say something...'
'Then say it! ' everyone began to shout.
But before anything else
they wanted to wet their whistles.

Markovsky said: 'Come on-let's have a swig!
The doctor told me eau de cologne
is the best thing to keep the wrinkles away.
Let them judge us! -We don't give a damn!
We used to drink all sorts of wine!
When we were in Germany
we filled the radiators of our tanks
with wine from the Mosel.

We don't need consumer goods!
We need the wind, the sky!
Old mates, listen to this
in our souls, as though in the safe deposit:
We have the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
All the rest...is rubbish! '

Bestriding the earth like a giant,
Markovsky stood with a glass in his hand
that held the foaming seas.
The skipper observed: 'Everything is shipshape! '
and only the boatswain sobbed like a child:
'But my mother is dead...'

And we all began to burst into tears,
quite easily, quite shamelessly,
as if in the midst of our own families,
mourning with bitter tears
at first for the boatswain's mother,
and afterward simply for ourselves.

Already a rueful notice hung in the chemist's shop-
'No Triple Eau de Cologne'-
but eight of us sea wolves
sobbed over almost all of Russia!
And in our sobs we reeked
like eight barbershops.

Tears, like squalls,
swept away heaps of false values,
of puffed-up names,
and quietly remaining inside us
was only the sea, our mothers and young brothers-
even the mother who was dead...

I wept as though I was being set free,
I wept as if I was being born anew,
a different person from what I'd been,
and before God and before myself,
like the tears of those drunken whalemen,
my soul was pure.

Submitted: Friday, August 17, 2007
Edited: Tuesday, March 29, 2011

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