Your thoughts,
dreaming on a softened brain,
like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,
with my heart’s bloody tatters I’ll mock again;
impudent and caustic, I’ll jeer to superfluity.

Of Grandfatherly gentleness I’m devoid,
there’s not a single grey hair in my soul!
Thundering the world with the might of my voice,
I go by — handsome,

Gentle ones!
You lay your love on a violin.
The crude lay their love on a drum.
but you can’t, like me, turn inside out entirely,
and nothing but human lips become!

Out of chintz-covered drawing-rooms, come
and learn-
decorous bureaucrats of angelic leagues.

and you whose lips are calmly thumbed,
as a cook turns over cookery-book leaves.

If you like-
I’ll be furiously flesh elemental,
or – changing to tones that the sunset arouses -
if you like-
I’ll be extraordinary gentle,
not a man, but – a cloud in trousers!


You think malaria makes me delirious?

It happened.
In Odessa it happened.

“I’ll come at four,” Maria promised.


Then the evening
turned its back on the windows
and plunged into grim night,

At my decrepit back
the candelabras guffawed and whinnied.

You would not recognise me now:
a bulging bulk of sinews,
and writhing,
What can such a clod desire?
Though a clod, many things!

The self does not care
whether one is cast of bronze
or the heart has an iron lining.
At night the self only desires
to steep its clangour in softness,
in woman.

And thus,
I stood hunched by the window,
and my brow melted the glass.
What will it be: love or no-love?
And what kind of love:
big or minute?
How could a body like this have a big love?
It should be teeny-weeny,
humble, little love;
a love that shies at the hooting of cars,
that adores the bells of horse-trams.

Again and again
nuzzling against the rain,
my face pressed against its pitted face,
I wait,
splashed by the city’s thundering surf.

Then midnight, amok with a knife,
caught up,
cut him down
out with him!

The stroke of twelve fell
like a head from a block.

On the windowpanes, grey raindrops
howled together, 
piling on a grimace
as though the gargoyles
of Notre Dame were howling.

Damn you!
Isn’t that enough?
Screams will soon claw my mouth apart.

Then I heard,
a nerve leap
like a sick man from his bed.
barely moving,
at first,
it soon scampered about,
Now, with a couple more,
it darted about in a desperate dance.

The plaster on the ground floor crashed.

big nerves,
tiny nerves,
many nerves!
galloped madly
till soon
their legs gave way.

But night oozed and oozed through the room
and the eye, weighed down, could not slither out of
the slime.

The doors suddenly banged ta-ra-bang,
as though the hotel’s teeth

You swept in abruptly
like “take it or leave it!”
Mauling your suede gloves,
you declared: 
”D’ you know,
I’m getting married”

All right, marry then.
So what,
I can take it.
As you see, I’m calm!
Like the pulse
of a corpse.

Do you remember
how you used to talk?
“Jack London,
But I saw one thing only:
you, a Gioconda,
had to be stolen!

And you were stolen.

In love, I shall gamble again,
the arch of my brows ablaze.
What of it!
Homeless tramps often find
shelter in a burnt-out house!

You’re teasing me now?
“You have fewer emeralds of madness
than a beggar has kopeks!”
But remember!
When they teased Vesuvius,
Pompeii perished!

of sacrilege,
and carnage,
have you seen
the terror of terrors
my face
am absolutely calm?

I feel
my “I”
is much too small for me.
Stubbornly a body pushes out of me.

Who’s speaking?
Your son is gloriously ill!
His heart is on fire.
Tell his sisters, Lyuda and Olya,
he has no nook to hide in.

Each word,
each joke,
which his scorching mouth spews,
jumps like a naked prostitute
from a burning brothel.

People sniff
the smell of burnt flesh!
A brigade of men drive up.
A glittering brigade.
In bright helmets.
But no jackboots here!
Tell the firemen
to climb lovingly when a heart’s on fire.
Leave it to me.
I’ll pump barrels of tears from my eyes.
I’ll brace myself against my ribs.
I’ll leap out! Out! Out!
They’ve collapsed.
You can’t leap out of a heart!

From the cracks of the lips
upon a smouldering face
a cinder of a kiss rises to leap.

I cannot sing.
In the heart’s chapel the choir loft catches fire!

The scorched figurines of words and numbers
scurry from the skull
like children from a flaming building.
Thus fear,
in its effort to grasp at the sky,
lifted high
the flaming arms of the Lusitania.

Into the calm of the apartment
where people quake,
a hundred-eye blaze bursts from the docks.
into the centuries,
if you can, a last scream: I’m on fire!


Glorify me!
For me the great are no match.
Upon every achievement
I stamp nihil

I never want
to read anything.
What are books!

Formerly I believed
books were made like this:
a poet came,
lightly opened his lips,
and the inspired fool burst into song
if you please!
But it seems,
before they can launch into a song,
poets must tramp for days with callused feet,
and the sluggish fish of the imagination
flounders softly in the slush of the heart.
And while, with twittering rhymes, they boil a broth
of loves and nightingales,
the tongueless street merely writhes
for lack of something to shout or say.

In our pride, we raise up again
the cities’ towers of Babel,
but god,
confusing tongues,
cities to pasture.

In silence the street pushed torment.
A shout stood erect in the gullet.
Wedged in the throat,
bulging taxis and bony cabs bristled.
Pedestrians have trodden my chest
flatter than consumption.

The city has locked the road in gloom.

But when
the street coughed up the crush on the square,
pushing away the portico that was treading on its throat,
it looked as if:
in choirs of an archangel’s chorale,
god, who has been plundered, was advancing in

But the street, squatting down, bawled:
“Let’s go and guzzle!”

Krupps and Krupplets paint
a bristling of menacing brows on the city,
but in the mouth
corpselets of dead words putrefy;
and only two thrive and grow fat:
and another besides,
apparently – “borsch.”

soaked in plaints and sobs,
break from the street, rumpling their matted hair 
“How with two such words celebrate
a young lady
and love
and a floweret under the dew?”

In the poets’
thousands of street folk:


thousands of street folk:

You are no beggars;
how dare you beg for alms!

We in our vigour,
whose stride measures yards,
must not listen, but tear them apart
glued like a special supplement
to each double bed!

Are we to ask them humbly:
“Assist me!”
Implore for a hymn
or an oratorio!
We ourselves are creators within a burning hymn
the hum of mills and laboratories.

What is Faust to me,
in a fairy splash of rockets
gliding with Mephistopheles on the celestial parquet!
I know
a nail in my boot
is more nightmarish than Goethe’s fantasy!

the most golden-mouthed,
whose every word
gives a new birthday to the soul,
gives a name-day to the body,
I adjure you:
the minutest living speck
is worth more than what I’ll do or did!

It is today’s brazen-lipped Zarathustra
who preaches,
dashing about and groaning!
our face like a crumpled sheet,
our lips pendulant like a chandelier;
the convicts of the City Leprous,
where gold and filth spawned leper’s sores,
we are purer than the azure of Venice,
washed by both the sea and the sun!

I spit on the fact
that neither Homer nor Ovid
invented characters like us,
pock-marked with soot.
I know
the sun would dim, on seeing
the gold fields of our souls!

Sinews and muscles are surer than prayers.
Must we implore the charity of the times!
each one of us
hold in our fists
the driving belts of the worlds!

This led to my Golgothas in the halls
of Petrograd, Moscow, Odessa, and Kiev,
where not a man 
crucify him!”
But for me
all of you people,
even those that harmed me
you are dearer, more precious than anything.

Have you seen
a dog lick the hand that thrashed it?!

mocked by my contemporaries
like a prolonged
dirty joke,
I perceive whom no one sees,
crossing the mountains of time.

Where men’s eyes stop short,
there, at the head of hungry hordes,
the year 1916 cometh
in the thorny crown of revolutions.

In your midst, his precursor,
I am where pain is everywhere;
on each drop of the tear-flow
I have nailed myself on the cross.
Nothing is left to forgive.
I’ve cauterised the souls where tenderness was bred.
It was harder than taking 
a thousand thousand Bastilles!

And when,
the rebellion
his advent announcing,
you step to meet the saviour
then I
shall root up my soul;
I’ll trample it hard
ill it spread
in blood; and I offer you this as a banner.


Ah, wherefrom this,
how explain this
brandishing of dirty fists
at bright joy!

She came,
and thoughts of a madhouse
curtained my head in despair.

as a dreadnought founders
and men in choking spasms
dive out of an open hatch
so Burlyuk, panic-stricken,
though the screaming gash of his eye.
Almost bloodying his teary eyelids,
he crawled out,
and, with tenderness unexpected in one so obese,
“It’s fine!”

It’s fine, when a yellow shirt
shields the soul from investigation!
It’s fine,
when thrown at the gibbet’s teeth,
to shout:
“Drink Van Houten’s Cocoa!”

That instant
like a Bengal light,
I would not exchange for anything,
not for any money

Out of the cigar smoke,
Severyanin’s drink-sodden face lurched forward
like a liqueur glass.

How dare you call yourself a poet,
and twitter greyly like a quail!
This day
brass knuckles
split the world inside the skull!

who are supremely worried by the thought:
“Am I an elegant dancer?”
Look at my way of enjoying life
a common
pimp and cardsharp!

On you,
steeped in love
who watered
the centuries with tears,
I’ll turn my back, fixing
the sun like a monocle
into my gaping eye.

Donning fantastic finery,
I’ll strut the earth
to please and scorch;
and Napoleon
will precede me, like a pug, on a leash.

The earth, like a woman, will flop on her back,
a mass of quivering flesh, ready to yield;
things will come to life
and their lips
will lisp and lisp:

the clouds
and other cloudy things in the sky
will roll and pitch madly
as if workers in white when their way
after declaring a bitter strike against the sky.

More savagely, thunder strode from a cloud,
friskily snorting from enormous nostrils;
and, for a second, the sky’s face was twisted
in the Iron Chancellor’s grim grimace.

And someone,
entangled in a cloudy mesh.
held out his hands to a café;
and it looked somehow feminine,
and tender somehow,
and somehow like a gun carriage.

You believe
the sun was tenderly
patting the cheeks of the café?
No, it’s General Gallifet,
advancing again to mow down the rebels!

Strollers, hands from your pockets
pick a stone, knife, or bomb;
and if any of you have no arms,
come and fight with your forehead!

Forward, famished ones,
sweating ones,
servile ones,
mildewed in the flea-ridden dirt!

Painting Mondays and Tuesdays in blood,
we shall turn them into holidays.
Let the earth at knife’s point, remember
whom it wished to debase!
The earth,
bulging like a mistress
whom Rothchild has overfondled!

The flags may flutter in a fever of gunfire
as on every important holiday
will you, the street lamps, hoist high up
the battered carcasses of traders.

I swore,
fought to fasten
my teeth into somebody’s flesh,

In the sky, red as Marseillaise,
the sunset shuddered at its last gasp.

It’s madness.

Nothing at all will remain.

Night will arrive,
bite in two,
gobble you up.

is the sky playing Judas again
with a handful of treachery-spattered stars?
Night came.
Feasted like Mamai,
squatting with its rump on the city.
Our eyes cannot break this night,
black as Azef!

I huddle, slumped in corners of saloons;
with vodka drenching my soul and the cloth,
I notice
in one corner rounded eyes:
the madonna’s, which bite into the heart.
Why bestow such radiance of the painted form
upon a horde infesting a saloon!
Don’t you see! They spit
on the man of Golgotha again,
preferring Barabbaas.

Deliberately, perhaps,
I show no newer face
amid this human mash.
am the handsomest
of your sons.

Give them,
who are mouldy with joy,
a time of quick death,
that children may grow,
boys into fathers,
girls big with child.

And may new born babes
grow the hair of the magi
and they will come anon
to baptise the infants
with the names of my poems.

I, who praised the machine and England,
I am perhaps quite simply
the thirteenth apostle
in an ordinary gospel.

And whenever my voice
rumbles bawdily
then, from hour to hour,
around the clock,
Jesus Christ may be sniffing
the forget-me-nots of my soul.


Maria! Maria! Maria!
Let me in, Maria!
I can’t suffer the streets!
You won’t?
You’d rather wait
until my cheeks cave in,
until, pawed by everyone,
I arrive,
toothlessly mumbling
that today I am
“amazingly honest.”

as you see
my shoulders droop.

In the streets
men will prick the blubber of four-story craws,
thrust out their little eyes,
worn in forty years of wear and tear
to snigger
at my champing
on the hard crust of yesterday’s caress.

Rain has drowned the sidewalks in sobs;
the puddle-prisoned rouge,
all drenched, licks the corpse of the streets by cobbles clobbered,
but on his grizzled eyelashes
on the eyelashes of frosted icicles,
tears gush from his eyes
from the drooping eyes of the drainpipes.

The rain’s snout licked all pedestrians;
but fleshy athletes, gleaming, passed by in carriages;
people burst asunder,
gorged to the marrow,
and grease dripped through the cracks;
and the cud of old ground meat,
together with the pulp of chewed bread,
dribbled down in a turbid stream from the carriages.

How stuff a gentle word into their fat-bulged ears?
A bird
for alms,
hungry and resonant.
But I am a man, Maria,
a simple man,
coughed up by consumptive night on the dirty hand of the Presnya.

Maria, do you want such a man?
Let me in, Maria!
With shuddering fingers I shall grip the doorbell’s iron throat!


The paddocks of the streets run wild.
The fingers of the mob mark my neck.

Open up!

I’m hurt!

Look -my eyes are stuck
with ladies’ hatpins!

You’ve let me in.

Don’t be alarmed
if a mountain of women with sweating bellies
squats on my bovine shoulders
through life I drag
millions of vast pure loves
and a million million of foul little lovekins.
Don’t be afraid
if once again
in the inclemency of betrayal,
I’ll cling to thousands of pretty faces
“that love Mayakovsky!”
for this is the dynasty
of queens who have ascended the heart of a madman.

Maria, come closer!

Whether in unclothed shame
or shudders of apprehension,
do yield me the unwithered beauty of your lips:
my heart and I have never got as far as May,
and in my expended life
there is only a hundredth April.

The poet sings sonnets to Tiana,
but I
am all flesh,
a man every bit
I simply ask for your body
as Christians pray:
“Give us this day
our daily bread!”

Maria – give!

I fear to forget your name
as a poet fears to forget some word
sprung in the torment of the night,
mighty as god himself.

Your body
I shall cherish and love
as a soldier,
amputated by war,
and friendless,
cherishes his last remaining leg.

you won’t have me?
you won’t have me!
The once again,
darkly and dully,
my heart I shall take,
with tears besprinkled,
and carry it,
like a dog
to its kennel
a paw which a train ran over.

With the heart’s blood I gladden the road,
and flowering it sticks to the dusty tunic.
The sun, like Salome,
will dance a thousand times
round the earth – the Baptist’s head.

And when my quantity of years
has finished its dance,
a million bloodstains will lie spread
on the path to my father’s house.

I shall clamber out
filthy (from sleeping in ditches);
I’ll stand at his side
and, bending,
shall speak in his ear:

”Listen, mister god!
Isn’t it tedious
to dip your puffy eyes
every day into a jelly of cloud?
Let us – why not
start a merry-go-round
on the tree of what is good and evil!
Omnipresent, you will be in each cupboard,
and with such wines we’ll grace the table
than even frowning Apostle Peter
will want to step out in the ki-ka-pou.
In Eden again we’ll lodge little Eves:
and this very night, for you,
from the boulevards, I’ll round up
all the most beautiful girls.

Would you like that?

You would not?

You shake your head, curlylocks?
You’re frowning, grey brows?
You believe
creature with wings behind you
knows what love is?

I too am an angel; I was one
with a sugar lamb’s eye I gazed;
but I’ll give no more presents to mares
of ornamental vases made of tortured Sevres.
Almighty, you concocted a pair of hands,
for everyone to have a head:
but why didn’t you see to it
that one could without torture
kiss, and kiss and kiss?!

I though you a great big god almighty,
but you’re a dunce, a minute little godlet.
Watch me stoop
and reach for the shoemaker’s knife
in my boot.

Swindlers with wings,
huddle in heaven!
Ruffle your feathers in shuddering flight!
I’ll rip you open, reeking of incense,
wide open from here to Alaska!

Let me in!

You can’t stop me.
I may be wrong
or right,
but I’m as calm as I can be.
again they’ve beheaded the stars,
and the sky is bloody with carnage!

Hey, you!
Off with your hat!
I am coming!

Not a sound.

The universe sleeps,
its huge paw curled
upon a star-infested ear.



A Cloud in Trousers

Vladimir Mayakovsky


PREV / NEXTfrom this artist