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Translated by Richard McKane

Richard McKane was born in 1947.
Educated at Marlborough, and then
Oxford, where he studied Russian.
His first publication as translator was
Selected Poems of Anna Akhmatova
(Penguin/OUP, 1969; republished as
an expanded version by Bloodaxe in

McKane lived in Turkey for six years in the 1970s. In 1978 he was awarded the Hodder Fellowship at Princeton University. There he met his former wife, Elizabeth, with whom he later published Mandelstam’s Moscow and Voronezh Notebooks.

For over 18 years he worked for the Care of Victims of Torture at the Medical
Foundation as an interpreter from,
and into, Turkish and Russian.

As translator, alongside Ruth Christie,
he brought out two selections of
Oktay Rifat’s work, Voices of Memory
and Poems; and, with Tâlat Halman,
Beyond the Walls: Poems of Nâzým
Hikmet. He has also translated the
work of Nikolai Gumilyov, Olga
Sedakova and Aronzon.

His poetry collections include: Turkey Poems and Coffee House Poems (both bilingual Turkish publications), Amphora for Metaphors (Gnosis, New York, 1993) and Out of the Cold Blue: Poems 1999-1967 (Hearing Eye, 2009).


Leonid Aronzon Life of a Butterfly: Collected Poems (2011)


ISBN 978-1-906742-42-3


Leonid Aronzon encourages rhapsodic responses to his poems, and rightly so. He is the poet who does precisely what a poet should do, by avoiding literal-ness in favour of portraying feelings. To this end he emulates the French Symbolist poet, Stéphane Mallarmé, who believed that if poems named an object they necessarily took away its mystery; poems Mallarmé suggested, should recognise the absolute presence of what apparently is not present. Like all very considerable poets, Aronzon ignored the easy habits that pass for poetry by perpetuating the beat of the heart and the life of the soul in poems which lay claim to having traced the greatness of the human spirit. ...

It is these virtues which instantly appealed to an English academic Caroline Clark, then living in Moscow, when she first read an Aronzon poem in a 1970’s anthology compiled by the leading Russian poet Olga Sedakova:

The clear April morning as if it is the playing of a harp.
The sun is hot on my back, and the trees in every square
blue-bearded like Jewish elders
in the first days of Easter must now be beautiful.
Light shines on the walls, on a table with papers on it:
light is a shadow that an angel gives us.
Everything else came afterwards: the dragonflies in the garden, fame;
the domes of the church had to be serene while guttering
into this clear morning, going on into midday,
like a harp, and something else I do not remember.

Caroline Clark commented: ‘And with this first line I entered a still world of contemplation, was held there and came out feeling as though I had been in a place of bright sunlight. It was a place I wanted to return to, one which I had the feeling of a place I had known in my childhood as siesta: inside, the cool white walls, a lull descends and finally a stillness, outside the sunparched earth, dust, stark shadows of light, no people. The moment of stilled life. I felt in reading this poem of Aronzon a free poetry, free of narrative movement, free from the rigour of verbs. But it isn’t static, it is rather a stilled life, distilled even, pure life’ ... Now more than 40 years later, we have the chance to read the collected poems of Aronzon, made available in translation for the very first time.

from the Introduction by Geoffrey Godbert


Leonid Aronzon was born in
Leningrad (St Petersburg) on 24 March 1939. His poetic gifts
ripened early but simultaneously
with the blight of osteomyelitis.
Aronzon could not publish any
of his poetry during his lifetime,
but did record his output onto
tape. He committed suicide on 13 October 1970, aged only 31.

For Aronzon nature in all its glory is nonetheless metaphorical. He is an intensely visual, even visionary poet with a sense of humour bordering on the surreal. He is also a product of the Sixties and his own brand of ’flower power’ results in perhaps the best poetry of that decade.

Aronzon is classified neither as a Soviet or dissident poet, but as an exponent of the Third Literature which is only now gaining recognition.

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