publications & papers
Sample Russian poems:
[Poems with humour]
(with English translation)
Koshka i kot [Dog
(page updated 20 June 2002)
i kot [Dog and cat]
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
and cat. (A literal prose translation
is given following the English verse rendering below.)
Russian poems on this page are shown in image representation only.
they do not have the properties of electronic text.
verse translation follows
Dog and cat
(Koshka i kot)
''How big is your family?'
The accountant asked flat.
I answered: 'There's four of
Our daughter, our son,
and our dog
and our cat.'
The accountant then queried:
'No wife, I suppose?'
Peering out past his pointed
'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
The accountant was flummoxed.
'Now, how can that be?'
He became very pensive.
The sweat on his brow was
'Maybe four after all?'
Thinking over his facts.
'Could it really have happened
That now household pets
to pay tax?'
'But you said "the family"!
Your own words in truth!
And for us that includes all
The dogs and the cats
under our roof!'
'All the same,' muttered he,
'The fact still remains
That pets are included
Under no section, not even
'So what's to be done, eh?'
As he stroked his moustache.
'The thing is, it seems that
Our concepts of family
'Let's leave this,' I told him,
'For another year's chat.
See, you've got your 'four'
But our four's a daughter, son,
dog and a
27 July 1993
Translated from the Russian
by John Woodsworth
28 July 1993
prose translation follows
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
'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
'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
'All the same,' he muttered,
'the fact remains that for us there is no legal statute covering
'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!'
27 July 1993
English prose translation
by John Woodsworth
20 June 2002
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
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
The Telephone call
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.
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
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.
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