Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Monolog of an Effigy

When my charitable fellow-writers
               were burning my effigy
and not poking my guts with their pocket-knives —
                    thank God!
They wasted on me
          their bottle of gasoline in vain,
because I had already
          burnt myself down to ashes.
Inhaling the charming aroma of human shit
near the wooden outhouse,
               I was minding
                    radishes, garlic and onions.
I had stuck up too long as a romantic scarecrow,
clumsily trying to embrace the world
                    with my stiff pine hands.
I was stuffed with straw.
               I never noticed
how life was changing,
          and how arrogantly sparrows were behaving.
I was burnt as punishment
               because of my dangerous talent
for being so readily inflammable
                    in politics, and in love.
Only my charred framework was saved in the clouds of smoke,
but the fire couldn’t altogether destroy my hands.
In the cinders of myself I was slowly dying,
But my black stumps
          desperately wanted
               to embrace, to embrace, to embrace.
And when one of my brother-writers struck another match,
I heard his envious whisper:
          “Scarecrow, you wanted too much, my dear!
A great role in history
               is not for you.
Trying to tower over the turnips and cabbages,
you pretended to be a genius.”
And with my last, almost dead blue flame,
I sputtered like a torched fireman,
          who couldn’t save himself from the fire.
All my medals of honor
          were melted like buttons.
If the Soviet Union were burnt down,
               why couldn’t they burn me?
And when so-called patriots
          splashed the rest of the gas on my effigy,
and one nightingale from Army headquarters
               sang sadistically through his nostrils,
one unembraceably humongous woman street cleaner
was sweeping up my ashes with her tender broom.
And all the saccharine ladies
               and sleazy, vaselined intellectuals
were coolly observing
          my last convulsions,
and some of my comrades-in-arms,
                    the noblest of my generation,
threw the finest oil onto the fire —
                    their greasy goodbye.
My beloved, what are you searching for
                    in the field of ashes?
My heart, if it survived after all,
was probably not empty, but still able to love,
not forgetting it too was loved.

— translated from the Russian by Albert Todd, Geoffrey Dutton