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How Polish poetry can speak to a pandemic

While I’m sure we all tire of the social distancing, not seeing family and friends, it somehow seems more beautiful when phrased by a poet laureate. One poem by Joseph Brodsky, the US poet laureate and Nobel Prize winner originally from Soviet Poland, is particularly apropos and, though written in 1970 as a satirical critique of his fellow Soviet citizens who were afraid to leave their homes or speak their minds, references influenza and viral infection which speaks to us today. It is now being recast as Russian songs and in Ukrainian murals. Here is a translation from the original Russian.

‘Don’t leave your room…’ by Joseph Brodsky – Modern Poetry in Translation

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Don’t leave your room. This is better left undone.
You’ve got cheap smokes, so why should you need the sun?
Nothing makes sense outside, happiness least of all.
You may go to the loo but avoid the hall.

Don’t leave your room. Don’t think of calling a taxi.
Space consists of the hall and ends at the door; its axis
bends when the meter’s on. If your tootsie comes in – before
she starts blabbing, undressing – throw her out of the door.

Don’t leave your room. Pretend a cold in the head.
What could be more exciting than wallpaper, chair and bed?
Why leave a room to which you will come back later,
unchanged at best, more probably mutilated?

Don’t leave your room. There might be a jazzy number
on the radio. Nude but for shoes and coat, dance a samba.
Cabbage smell in the hall fills every nook and cranny.
You wrote so many words; one more would be one too many.

Don’t ever leave your room. Let nobody but the room
know what you look like. Incognito ergo sum,
as substance informed its form when it felt despair.
Don’t leave the room! You know, it’s not France out there.

Don’t be an imbecile! Be what the others couldn’t be.
Don’t leave the room! Let furniture keep you company,
vanish, merge with the wall, barricade your iris
from the chronos, the eros, the cosmos, the virus.

Joseph Brodsky, 1969/1970

Here is a lovely poem that has been repurposed about social distancing by Joseph Brodsky. In the attached video, he reads his poem.

A Song by Joseph Brodsky – “I wish you were here, dear….” – YouTube

 

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