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“Ode to Uncle Joe”
03 March 20031

3 Vipee so'mnoy,
2 Stariye Oosee2.
1 Pol' stolet'ya
/3 proshli, i ty4.
1 Na zdorov'ye!,
2 slawa Bogu5.
3 Konyets tebe.

in original Russian by Robert Kennedy, © 2003


Drink up with me,
Old Moustaches2.
Half a century
Has passed, and you with it.
thank God.
You're done.

freely translated by Allen Thomson, © 2003


1. Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, aka "Stalin", died on or about March 3, 1953. Monday was the Golden Jubilee of this event.

2. Sly Soviet-era nickname for Stalin, which itself was a Bolshevik codename meaning "steel" in Russian, adopted by Io.V. Dzhugashvili. "Lenin", "Gorky", etc. were also codenames.

3. Today's special date being symmetric, there's a plane of symmetry at the slash, and also three different layers of symmetry in the poem. I also tried to make every line with three syllables only, but they just wouldn't come out. I had to settle for an even four per line. Maybe not so bad, since it's possible Old Mustache passed on March 4th by Greenwich time. The symmetry would be even better if I swapped the words in the sixth line, then switched that with the seventh. But the sentiment - and the sting - works better as is. Rhymes and scans properly in Russian, and in English, too, sort of. Being drunk helps.

4. "Ty" (pronounced between English "toy" and "tea") is the familiar form of "you". Just like in Spanish or German, it is deliberately insulting to use the form to someone in authority or whom you don't know.

5. Literally, "glory to God", but Russians use this phrase like we use "Thank God" or "Thank goodness".

6. Probably the only poem in Russian I'll ever write. Spelled phonetically, since I lack a good Cyrillic character set.

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