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(Dzhon Vudsvort)
Sample Russian poems:
Jumoristicheskie stikhi
[Poems with humour]
(with English translation)

Koshka i kot [Dog and cat]
Zakaz [The telephone call]
(page updated 20 June 2002)

Koshka i kot [Dog and cat]

The literal translation of the Russian title Koshka i kot -- "Female-cat and tomcat" -- doesn't work too well for an English verse translation.  So in the translation it was decided to change it to the simpler phrase Dog and cat.   (A literal prose translation is given following the English verse rendering below.)

The Russian poems on this page are shown in image representation only.
Unfortunately, they do not have the properties of electronic text.



English verse translation follows

John Woodsworth

Dog and cat
(Koshka i kot)

''How big is your family?' 
The accountant asked flat. 
I answered: 'There's four of them: 
Our daughter, our son,
    and our dog and our cat.'

The accountant then queried: 
'No wife, I suppose?' 
Peering out past his pointed 
And businesslike,
    highly inquisitive nose.

'Indeed, there's a wife here, 
To give you the sum -- 
That is, she is my wife; 
To the kids and the dog
    and the cat she's a mum.'

'So there's six of you, eh, now?' 
His eyes were agog. 
'So that's you, and your wife...' 
'And our son and our daughter,
    our cat and our dog.'

The accountant was flummoxed. 
'Now, how can that be?' 
He became very pensive. 
The sweat on his brow was
    no trouble to see.

'Maybe four after all?' 
Thinking over his facts. 
'Could it really have happened 
That now household pets
    are obliged to pay tax?'

'But you said "the family"! 
Your own words in truth! 
And for us that includes all 
The dogs and the cats
     living under our roof!'

'All the same,' muttered he, 
'The fact still remains 
That pets are included 
Under no section, not even
    capital gains!

'So what's to be done, eh?' 
As he stroked his moustache. 
'The thing is, it seems that 
Our concepts of family
    inevitably clash!'

'Let's leave this,' I told him, 
'For another year's chat. 
See, you've got your 'four' now. 
But our four's a daughter, son,
    dog and a cat!'

Ottawa (Canada)
27 July 1993

Translated from the Russian 
by John Woodsworth
28 July 1993

English prose translation follows

John Woodsworth

Female-cat and tom-cat
(Koshka i kot)

'How many of you are there in your family?' asked the accountant.  I answered: 'There are four of us: our son, our daughter, our female cat, and our tom-cat.'

'And do you not have a wife?'  asked the accountant  (who had a straight, business-like and inquisitive nose).

'We do have a wife, if I dare say it -- that is, she's my wife, but to the children, as well as to the cat and the tom-cat -- she's a mother.'

'That means there are six of you!' he said, figuring out the total.  'That is, you and your wife...'  'And our son, daughter, cat and tom-cat!'

'Is that really so?'  By this time the accountant was in a state of some bewilderment.  He became quite pensive: you could already see the sweat pouring down his face.

'Or are there four after all?' he wondered, going over his figures again.  'Can it really  be that household pets have to pay tax?'

'But you, sir, were asking about our family!  For us that includes our dear little male and female cats!'

'All the same,' he muttered, 'the fact remains that for us  there is no legal statute covering household pets!

'So, what are we to do?' he said, stroking his moustache.  'You see, the problem is that you and I have completely different concepts of what constitutes a 'family'!'

'Let's put off this decision,' I said, 'for at least a year!  You have your foursome, and we have ours -- i.e., our son, daughter, cat and tom-cat!'

Ottawa (Canada)
27 July 1993

English prose translation 
by John Woodsworth
20 June 2002

*          *          *

Zakaz [The Telephone call]

The following poem, Zakaz,  describes the perils of making trunk calls from Moscow to Canada in the early 1980s (before perestroika).  At the time this could not be done from most private telephones.  Instead, one was obliged to go to a central telephone office and "order a conversation" -- i.e., book a call which would be scheduled for a later time (hopefully in an hour or so, but sometimes for the following day).  The cost would amount to four or five roubles (= several dollars) per minute (this was when the rouble was still a non-convertible currency, before its devaluation).

The poem is crafted in the style of the popular Russian children's writer Kornej Chukovskij, especially his well-known epic poem Telefon [The Telephone], in which different animals ring up to order merchandise or request services.  Since Zakaz  involves a great deal of play on Russian words and draws upon an experience unfamiliar to almost anyone who has not spent time in Moscow, a translation, either in corresponding verse or prose, could not even begin to bring out the effect of the original.  Instead, a descriptive summary is offered in English, following the poem below.


English summary follows

John Woodsworth

The Telephone call


I.  Adventure

A Canadian (the narrator of the poem) goes into Moscow's central telephone office and asks to book a trunk call to "Canada".  The middle-aged woman clerk behind the desk initially claims she has never heard of "such a village", -- either "Canada" or "Ottawa".  Eventually she identifies the correct location but tells him it will be "expensive -- five roubles a minute" -- and that he might as well make a call to Lesotho for that kind of money.

II.  Trial

The narrator is eventually handed an order blank.  But in filling it out, he inadvertently puts down "30" minutes instead of "3" minutes and is shocked when asked to pay 150 roubles.  He also temporarily forgets to give the pen back to the clerk, which causes the latter some annoyance.

III.  Torture

After the time is corrected on the order blank, the narrator is now told his call is scheduled for 1 p.m. "on the 8th" -- two days later.  He is obliged to explain that he won't be here then -- he is leaving for Canada tomorrow and his phone call is to advise his family of his arrival.  He throws himself upon the mercy of the clerk.

IV.  Understanding

The clerk explains that, of course, it is their policy to help people in difficulty, even foreigners, and after some fumbling finds the order blank and makes the adjustment.  But she tells the Canadian that it will still be an hour before his call can be put through.  Returning at the appointed time, he finally hears over the PA system the words he has been waiting for: "Canada -- Booth 6".  After completing his call, he expresses the hope that this experience has made at least one Russian person slightly better acquainted with a place called "Canada".

Poem completed 5 September 1993

Summary by John Woodsworth
18 June 2002

NOTE: Several other humourous poems by JW may be read on-line (in Russian only) on the Moskva neofitsial'naja site:

V parke Algonkvin, na ozere [In Algonquin Park, on the lake]

Besedka [The Gazebo]

Byk ili ne byk [A play on the Russian word for 'bull']

Tsep' pitanija [The Food chain]

Special note:  The Russian fonts used to display the poems above were designed by JW in the late 1980s, using the font editor "FonTastic" on an old 512K Macintosh computer.





"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you... 
Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid."

-- John 14:27

E-mail : <jw[at ]kanadacha.ca>
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