Poetry Corner: Conversation with Comrade Lenin by Vladimir Mayakovsky

Conversation with Comrade Lenin by Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1929

Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930) was a Bolshevik revolutionary and came to be one of the most celebrated communist poets in the Soviet Union and internationally. He was also a talented playwright, artist and actor who used art as a medium to convey the politics and ideals of the new socialist state.

Mayakovsky was born in the small Georgian village of Bagdadi, then part of the Russian Empire and renamed after its most famous son between 1940 and 1990. He had already started working with the local Social Democrats by the time of the 1905 Revolution, joining the Bolshevik faction when he moved to Moscow a couple of years later. He did propaganda work for the party until his arrest in 1908, which resulted in an 11-month imprisonment. After imbibing culture aplenty inside prison he became one of the most visible members of the Russian artistic scene.

Mayakovsky embraced the October Revolution, putting his talents at the service of the nascent state. Although a passionate revolutionary and communist, Mayakovsky did not shy away from pointing to the faults of the young Soviet system, writing The Bedbug, a 1928 play criticising the years of the New Economic Policy while holding out hope for a communist future. He went further in The Bathhouse two years later — originally falling foul of the censors, a reworked version was critically panned.

A fiery and passionate individual to the last, Mayakovsky sadly shot himself in 1930 following a dispute with his lover, though the circumstances of his death are disputed. Mayakovsky’s funeral on 17 April 1930, was attended by around 150,000 people, the third largest event of public mourning in Soviet history, surpassed only by those of Lenin and Stalin.

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Vladimir Mayakovsky, 1893 – 1930

Awhirl with events,
                  packed with jobs one too many,
the day slowly sinks
                   as the night shadows fall.
There are two in the room:
                          I
                           and Lenin-
a photograph
            on the whiteness of wall.

The stubble slides upward
                        above his lip
as his mouth
            jerks open in speech.
                                The  tense
creases of brow
              hold thought
                          in their grip,
immense brow
             matched by thought immense.
A forest of flags,
               raised-up hands thick as grass…
Thousands are marching
                      beneath him…
                                   Transported,
alight with joy,
                I rise from my place,
eager to see him,
               hail him,
                       report to him!
“Comrade  Lenin,
               I report to you –
(not a dictate of office,
                     the heart’s prompting alone)

This hellish work
                that we’re out to do

will be done
           and  is already being done.
We  feed and we clothe
                      and give light to the needy,

the quotas
         for coal
                 and for iron
                            fulfill,
but there is
           any amount
                     of bleeding
muck
    and  rubbish
                around  us still.

Without you,
           there’s many
                      have got out of hand,

all the sparring
             and  squabbling
                                 does one in.
There’s scum
           in plenty
                    hounding our land,

outside the borders
                  and  also
                          within.

Try to
     count ’em
              and
                 tab ’em –
                          it’s no go,

there’s all kinds,
                and  they’re
                            thick as nettles:
kulaks,
      red tapists,
                and,
                    down the row,
drunkards,
         sectarians,
                   lickspittles.
They strut around
                 proudly
                        as peacocks,
badges and fountain pens
                        studding their chests.
We’ll lick the lot of ’em-
                         but
                            to lick ’em
is no easy job
             at the very best.
On snow-covered lands
                     and on stubbly fields,
in smoky plants
              and on factory sites,
with you in our hearts,
                     Comrade  Lenin,
                                    we  build,
we  think,
          we breathe,
                  we  live,
                          and we fight!”
Awhirl with events,
                  packed with jobs one too many,
the day slowly sinks
                    as the night shadows fall.
There are two in the room:
                          I
                          and Lenin –
a photograph
            on the whiteness of wall.

Vladimir Mayakovsky

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