I’m about halfway through Lev Loseff‘s Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life (see this post), and at the moment I don’t have much to say about it other than that it’s indispensable for anyone who wants to understand how Brodsky’s poetry relates to his life and to Russian literature. But there are a couple of details on page 121 worth discussing.

The first is a minor but irritating error: in translating the first few stanzas from part V of “Post aetatem nostram,” the parenthesis in the lines “смело выступает/ с призывом Императора убрать/ (на следующей строчке) с медных денег” is transposed to the previous line, rendering it unintelligible: “boldly calls/ (next line) for the Emperor’s removal/ from our copper coins.” It should be “boldly calls/ for the Emperor’s removal/ (next line) from our copper coins,” the point being that the shock value of calling for the Emperor’s removal is greatly diminished by the discovery (in—wait for it!—the next line) that the poet is merely calling for his removal from copper coins. As Loseff says, “Here Brodsky is parodying a famous poem by Andrey Voznesensky in which the latter issues a challenge to “Remove Lenin /from [our] money!” Incidentally, one thing I like very much about the book is that Loseff, while clearly writing as a friend of Brodsky, does not take the opportunity to bash Voznesensky; it would have been easy to say “See, Brodsky took the brave path of refusal to compromise, whereas Voznesensky took the cowardly route of Aesopean parable!” But he simply says that they took different approaches, concluding the passage with “It was this clash in ethos (rather than personality) that would eventually lead to the breakdown of the friendship between Brodsky and Evtushenko, and Brodsky and Aksyonov.” I might add that in this, as in other respects, Brodsky shows an affinity with Mandelstam, who in his “Fourth Prose” (Четвертая проза) evinces an uncompromising refusal to seek the permission of the authorities: “Все произведения мировой литературы я делю на разрешенные и написанные без разрешения. Первые — это мразь, вторые — ворованный воздух.” [In Jane Gray Harris’s translation: “I divide all of world literature into authorized and unauthorized works. The former are all trash; the latter ― stolen air.”]

The other interesting point is that the “famous poem by Andrey Voznesensky” seems to be famous entirely by oral tradition, since it is not (as far as I can tell) printed in any of his collections. This guy says he’s been looking for it for years and not found it even in a 1,200-page Complete Collected Poems. In the version he quotes, the relevant bit (“уберите Ленина с денег” [‘remove Lenin from the money’]) is all on one line, which would throw cold water on Brodsky’s parody, but I found another source that shows it as three lines: уберите/ Ленина/ с денег, which would fit with Voznesensky’s usual way of laying out his poems on the page. Anyway, if anyone knows more about this poem (with its rather embarrassing Lenin-love—he wants Lenin’s image off the coins so it won’t be soiled by the dirty fingers of nasty people), by all means chime in.


  1. Why, it’s more or less imprinted in the collective memory of the times, and you can even listen to it here. Voznesensky insisted that he was a true believer at the time, and that this verse has been banned by the hypocritical authorties.

  2. yes, it’s curious, isn’t it?
    But the full text is widely circulated on the internet. It runs as follows:
    Я не знаю, как это сделать,
    Но, товарищи из ЦК,
    уберите Ленина с денег,
    так цена его высока!
    Понимаю, что деньги – мерка
    человеческого труда.
    Но, товарищи, сколько мерзкого
    прилипает к ним иногда…
    Я видал, как подлец
    мусолил по Владимиру Ильичу.
    Пальцы ползали малосольные
    по лицу его, по лицу!
    В гастрономовской бакалейной
    он ревел, от водки пунцов:
    «Дорогуша, подай за Ленина
    два поллитра и огурцов».
    Ленин – самое чистое деянье,
    он не должен быть замутнен.
    Уберите Ленина с денег,
    он – для сердца и для знамен.
    To me, it looks like an integral part of ‘Longjumeau’, a poem about Lenin in Paris. I have the 1966 (after Khruschev) edition of ‘Achilless’s Heart’ volume with the poem in it, but without the money bit. The poem itself is dated 1962-63 in the book (under Khruschev). The site from which I took the quote above dates the poem as 1967 (after the Daniel-Sinyavsky trial).
    M-mm, shall we try and ask around? They should be people who must know the answer.
    About the line breaks. V. often used the Mayakovsky line, with ‘staircase’-like paragraph breaks, but in digital editions it’s often ignored, pity.

  3. Look, when we were kids (~post-Khrusch), pretty much not a single line of worthwhile contemporary verse could appear in print. Poetry has been relegated to samizdat / tamizdat, but to a far greater extent to the oral traditions / songs and ballades.
    Both Voznesenky and Brodsky didn’t fit too well into the oral format, which greatly limited their appeal – but which could make it easier to figure out what has been written when.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    The Internet alleges that some version of “Longjumeau” was published in Pravda in the October 13, 1963 issue, this supposedly being V’s first published poem after some interlude during which he was apparently not getting on well with the regime. I have no idea (and I don’t read Russian so it wouldn’t do me any good) whether the back issues of Pravda from the Bad Old Days have been digitized and uploaded to the internet, or whether someone would need to actually go to a research library and find some microfiche or something, but if that date is accurate that 1963 version could be checked against the 1966 anthologized version, as who knows which way the wind was blowing in the interim when it comes to line-by-line detail of what was safe to publish. I myself would have more respect for V if the poem were not sincere praise of Lenin but merely a humiliating/dishonorable attempt to suck up to the authorities enough to be allowed to publish again (I guess “ironic anti-Lenin parable that the censors weren’t smart enough to figure out” isn’t on the table for consideration?), but that’s easy enough for me to say from the outside, and даруй ми зрѣти моѧ прегрѣшенїѧ, и не ωсуждати брата моегω.

  5. Dmitriy, it’s simply not true. A lot of good poetry was published in the 70s-80s. V. and others. Rubtsov only came to be recognised in the 70s, Vladimir Sokolov flourished in the 70s, Oukudzhava had a second revival in the 70s.

  6. Matters of taste or semi-selective memory maybe. Rubtsov is infortunately a postmortem phenomenon IMVHO, and then this belated recognition might have been mediated by Dulov’s songs. Okudjava’s publications have been dwarfed by his audio records. And that’s despite the fact that I’ve been reading and memorizing verse like a maniac through the 70s. Sure I remember some of Rozhdestvensky, but more like out of detached curiousity than out of love 🙂

  7. as a former oktyabrenok and pioneer i can testify that lenin was something like jesus maybe figure in the former soviet union influenced territories, so one can imagine i guess how devote christians would object to the images of jesus on the banknotes, very possible, or muslim believers to any graphic representation of their god or prophet
    so the poem doesnt sound that shameful to me, i still remember how in the school we used to celebrate his birthday on april, 22, always something like very nice and uplifting

  8. Voznesenky and Brodsky didn’t fit too well into the oral format
    Oh Dmitry, there are dozens of songs with lyrics by Brodsky, some experimental, many are hummable.
    Voznesensky, like Rozhdestvensky, was a superb reader of his own poetry and there’s about a hundred songs with his lyrics. Do you remember A Million Scarlet Roses, a hit by Pugacheva? And he wrote the first Soviet rock opera Juno and Perhaps (“Юнона” и “Авось”), still going strong after forty years. He also performed with Lyudmila Zykina in Rodion Schedrin’s Poetoria.

  9. hehe, with the Million Roses, I have to concede 🙂
    Read – it’s true that Lenin’s criminality side, ranging from German money to the first concentration camp, remained relatively unknown in the 60s and 70s, and therefore, Lenin was rarely hated or despised. And as with any established ideology and political culture, a substantial fraction of free-thinking is often shaped as factional discourse with one culture and one ideology, including tussling over the true positions of the Founder Saints and the true meaning of their wisdom. Russia was no exception; some free-thinking did try to lay claim to “better understanding of Lenin”, rather than to reject Lenin alltogether. It happens. But even though not widely despised, Lenin wasn’t widely revered either, not at all. Just look for example at those countless 100th anniversary (1970) jokes, like “New Triple Bed: Lenin with Us” etc. 😉

  10. yunona i avos’s “ya tebya nikogda ne zabudu” is the best
    i dont know if to weight what he did good and bad, maybe the good would outweigh the bad, no? russia and the world after it maybe needed the social revolution the way it was going until the stalin’s cult, all that social justice and emancipation, literacy and workers rights, other progressive changes, industrialization, transformation into the world superpower etc. there were many good things to socialism
    you cant hold responsible for stalin’s atrocities marx and engels for example, right?

  11. maybe the good would outweigh the bad, no?
    No, but I don’t think much is to be gained by talking about it. I could give you a list of books to read, but I’m sure you have better things to do.

  12. yeah i think i can’t read them for now and even if i read it wouldnt change my mind that much i guess, perhaps
    while stalin was absolutely monstrous to deviate the noble in its core of cores social revolution for all from its natural and hopefully less violent course, causing so too much human suffering and sacrifice, lenin should still be credited for russia’s development in the twentieth century i guess
    it’s another matter if he had lived longer enough to become himself a stalin like figure, then maybe really should blame him too
    that it didnt matter who, lenin or stalin, mao or pol pot, the system would have created gulags by itself maybe, but history is history what it is, so one cant speculate how the tsarist russia would have developed without socialist revolution so much more smoothly and harmoniously with lesser human suffering etc.

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