In the beginning was the Word.
This book is the compilation of spiritual nostalgia as it is expressed
by the best minds that created or continue to create in the Russian
language, within the borders, as well as outside the borders of the
former Soviet Union.
LIST OF TOPICS
There is no sense in anything to such a degree that even if there were some sense in something - then what could be the sense of it?!
N. DjinThe absurd is only too necessary on earth. The world stands on absurdities.
F. DostoevskyGod sets us nothing but riddles.
F. DostoevskySometimes that which seems strange is, in reality, simply absurd.
Contemporary SayingWhat is most absurd is that absurdities need to be disproved.
Contemporary SayingIn reality, everything is not as it really is.
V. GandelsmanNo ideas, no love or forgiveness, no harmony, in brief, nothing that sages have devised from ancient times can justify the nonsense and absurdity in the fate of an individual person.
I am a man of my word. As for actions - that’s not my specialty.
Contemporary SayingJudge the trees by their fruits and the people by their deeds.
ProverbNot he is good whose face is benign, but he whose deeds are fine.
ProverbThe day is praised by the evening.
ProverbLazy hands are no match for a clever head.
Men drank and
died, still drink and die.
R. GamzatovCome drink, procrastinator,
We’ll find a reason later!
R. GamzatovA ban on drink won’t stop a drinking man,
Nor does it stop the authors of the ban.
R. GamzatovA wise man drank, into a fool he grew.
The opposite has often happened, too.
R. GamzatovWine suits all men, it’s such
A pleasure to consume.
But you must know how much,
Why, when, where... and with whom.
R. GamzatovAfter an alcoholic’s wife presented her husband with an ultimatum to choose between his marriage and vodka, the former asked: “ How much vodka are we talking about?!”
JokeI’d rather, if you ask me,
die of drink,
Than die of boredom,
or live a bore.
V. MayakovskyLet us fill our cups and bury
All our woes in frothing wine.
A. PushkinWhen black thoughts bother you,
the sure cure
is to uncork a bottle of champagne.
A. PushkinThe question is: whom will I drink with tomorrow
amongst those with whom I’m drinking today?
V. VysotskyThose who don’t eat, don’t drink.
(a parody on the Soviet slogan: Those who don’t
work, don’t eat.)
I keep wondering what provokes so many people in Latin America, Russia, and Europe to anti-American sentiment of such intensity that it can only be called hatred. There is something oddly hysterical about it all, as if America were not a country but a woman who has hurt a man’s pride by cheating on him.
V. AksyonovNew York is like a guy who perfumes his hair every day but forgets to use the toilet paper.
V. AksyonovFrom today’s vantage point the Russian Revolution looks like nothing so much as an outmoded and absurd act of violence. American capitalism, on the other hand, is on its way to a truly new, as yet unknown and undefined age of liberalism.
V. AksyonovEast is one exit out of the boundaries of European culture; America - is another.
N. BerdyaevIn order to be heard, one has to speak in half-a-whisper in America.
S. DovlatovPresident Roosevelt proved that a President could serve for life. Truman proved that anyone could be elected. Eisenhower proved that your country could be run without a President.
N. KhrushchevI’m wild about New York City,
Though I’m not about to bow to you.
We, Soviets, have our own pride
And look down at the bourgeois
With our noses in the air.
V. MayakovskyWestern thinking has become conservative; the world situation should stay as it is at any cost; there should be no changes. This debilitating status quo is the symptom of a society that has come to the end of its development.
A. SolzhenitsynYes, it is impossible for a society to remain in the abyss of lawlessness as in our country (USSR); however, it is more than demeaning for it to stay on such a soulless and smooth plane of legalism as in yours, the USA.
A. SolzhenitsynIt seems to me that an American lives for today presupposing that tomorrow will be better. A Soviet man, however, torturously remembers his yesterday, cherishing a dim hope that tomorrow will be just a little worse than today.
Democracy is but one form of state, and we Marxists are opposed to all and every kind of state.
V. LeninWhile the state exists, there is no freedom. When there is freedom, there is no state.
V. LeninGovernment is an association of men who do violence to the rest of us.
World was created by the artist after his own image so that there should be another artist who would appreciate it. An artist needed another artist: he could not be alone. The Creator needed Adam more than Adam needed Him. Only in the artist one can find if not the answer, then, a response; if not love, then, pity.
A. BitovFor man art is as vital as eating and drinking.
F. DostoevskyI occasionally play works by contemporary composers and for two reasons. First, to discourage the composer from writing anymore, and, secondly, to remind myself how much I appreciate Beethoven.
Y. HeifetzArt is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.
V. MayakovskyBeauty plus pity - that is the closest we can get to a definition of art.
V. NabokovAll music bores me to death after some time.
V. NabokovSelf-giving is the purpose of creation.
And not the hum-drum, not the fame.
Being a subject of everyone’s elation,
When you yourself don’t mean much,
is a shame.
B. PasternakThe craft fears the craftsman.
ProverbArt is a human activity whose goal is to communicate to people those of the higher and better feelings that mankind has achieved.
L. TolstoyJust as a work of thought is a work of thought only when it contains original observations and ideas and not when it only repeats that which is already known, so a work of art is a work of art only then, when it introduces new feelings into the scope of people’s everyday lives.
L. TolstoyIt is a terrible mistake to think that the beautiful can be senseless.
L. TolstoyMediocrity is a possible element in science but as for art and literature, those who don’t reach the highest peaks fall into an abyss.
L. TolstoyNever will a writer invent anything more beautiful and forceful than the truth.
Y. TynyanovArt is the communication of ecstasy.
Beauty elevates the moral virtues.
V. BelinskyBeauty will save the world.
F. DostoevskyThe awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there, and the battlefield is the heart of man.
F. DostoevskyBeautiful children are always born with the women that we love.
L. LeonovOn the neutral land, you know,
There flowers grow,
of extraordinary beauty.
Beginning, even the saddest beginning, is better than the happiest end.
Sholom AleichemThe echo responds to the call.
ProverbMorning is wiser than night.
ProverbThe day is praised by the evening.
ProverbHe did nothing who started nothing.
ProverbThis is a mere preamble; an amble would follow.
ProverbWhere is the beginning of that end which ends the beginning.
K. PrutkovThe first step of an infant is the first step towards his death.
K. PrutkovThere are three things that once begun are difficult to finish: a) eating delicious food; b)talking to a friend who had just returned from a long journey; and c) scratching where it itches.
Life will take you by the throat and crush the breath out of you if you face it in mystical terror and servility; look it in the eye.
V. BelinskyDon’t be a lamb and wolves won’t eat you.
ProverbI am not I, and the hut is not mine.
ProverbThe decline of courage, of manhood, is perhaps the most striking thing that an outsider notices in the West... Should I remind you that the decline of courage has been considered to be the first sign of the end since the ancient times?
A. SolzhenitsynHe who risks his life out of vanity, curiosity, or greed should not be considered brave.
L. TolstoyGalileo’s contemporary scholar
was no stupider than he.
He knew the earth rotates in the solar
system, but he had a family.
Y. YevtushenkoPeople who are ready to move mountains, for some reason, always live in the low-lands.
In America, instead of making revolutions, the workers are buying cars!
V. AksyonovThe annihilation of human life taking place in peaceful bourgeois society is no less terrible than that which takes place during a war.
N. BerdyaevCapitalism isn’t merely an unjust economic system. It is a way of life that leads to corruption of important values. Television is only one of many examples.
N. KhrushchevDemocracy for an insignificant minority, democracy for the rich - that is the democracy of capitalistic society.
V. LeninMunch on your pineapples
Chew on your grouse.
Your days are numbered,
Brevity may indeed be a sister of talent, but a bureaucrat needs much more influential relatives.
Contemporary SayingIf you accidentally forgot to greet your boss, make sure to explain to him later that it wasn’t you.
(Take-off on A. Chekhov’s : “Brevity is the sister of talent.”)
Contemporary SayingIf your conscience is bugging you because of the work you do, then, it’s time to change one or the other.
Contemporary SayingBosses often forget that their employees are people also, and, thus, do not fell like thinking either.
Contemporary SayingHearts of men born into slavery
Sometimes with dogs’ hearts accord:
Crueler the punishment dealt to them,
More they will worship their lord.
N. NekrasovYour master’s home is like a millstone around your neck.
ProverbThe master promised a fresh cut, but instead, gave me a kick in the gut.
ProverbThe higher the rank of the leaders, the lower is their individual value.
A. ZinovievOne doesn’t “make” a career, it is made by itself. If it is being made, it must be ruined. If a career isn’t rolling along smoothly, then one should wait till it is. Without this, a career is senseless.
If you want to be become a portrait, keep within the frames.
Contemporary SayingIf people carry umbrellas full of holes, then, they must never think that it would ever rain.
Contemporary SayingDon’t play with fire and don’t believe the water.
ProverbLook back twice and you’ll gain thrice.
ProverbA whisper has a loud echo.
ProverbTrust a wolf only when he’s dead.
ProverbThere are no forests without jackals.
ProverbLittle birdie, don’t sing yet! First, look out for a cat!
ProverbIf you are leaving for a day, pack the bread for a week.
ProverbA careless calf is a wolf’s treat-n-a-half.
ProverbCarelessness has three brothers: “may be”, “anyway”, and “somehow”.
ProverbHere a wolf is a shepherd and a fox is a bird-keeper.
ProverbWhile you were busy making a deal, the dog stole a peace of veal.
ProverbWhen a fox reads sermons, hide your geese.
ProverbsGalileo’s contemporary scholar
was no stupider than he.
He knew the earth rotates in the solar
system, but he had a family.
Childbearing is a punishment for the sexual act and, at the same time, it is also a redemption of that sin.
N. BerdyaevOh, people! Oh, beasts!
Be more like children!
Understand me, please!
A. BlokAccording to the opinion of adults, an egg cannot teach a hen. According to the opinion of the children, however, a hen is not a bird.
Contemporary SayingIf you want your children to grow up full-fledged people, start reading to them about animals.
Contemporary SayingI begot you! I will kill you!
N. GogolBoys’re bound to grow up pigs,
If the boys are porkers.
V. MayakovskyIt’s difficult to get away from your childhood.
ShklovskyLive and behave as though the next generation is watching you.
Contact with a fool might prove to be useful if that fool is smarter than you.
Contemporary SayingIf two people don’t have solitude in common, they usually split up.
Contemporary SayingThe more you get to know yourself, the less you understand others.
Contemporary SayingIn order to find a common language with a man, you need to keep quiet.
Contemporary SayingIn order to understand better your fellow men, you must listen to them less.
Contemporary SayingLife should be made in such a way , so that every single person would have at least one place where he could go to.
F. DostoevskyThe great are endowed with the talent of recognizing the great in other people.
N. KaramzinYou are not a human being until you learn to see human beings in all others.
A. RadischevWe don’t spend enough time with each other; we are always too busy.
V. ShklovskyA man lives in order to get to the true vision of things; but he must not lose the exit leading to the people.
V. ShklovskyIf you find people a nuisance, you have nothing to live for.
L. TolstoyAlways look for the good in other people, not for the bad.
Communism is mankind’s tomorrow.
L. BrezhnevWe are in a desperate need of bread, butter, cheese, sausage, milk, cottage cheese, vodka, beer, meat, and other colonial products.
Contemporary SayingA communist thinks that it was Sysyphus’ labor that created men.
Contemporary SayingCommunist is a Russian autocracy turned upside down.
A. HerzenIf a certain train traveling between two cities is scheduled to run every day, that doesn’t yet mean that it will run on Thursdays as well.
JokeProletarians of all countries, forgive me!
Joke (Marx’s last words)The Supreme Soviet consists of people who are capable of nothing and, at the same time, of everything.
JokeAdam and Eve must have been originally from the Soviet Union. Otherwise, how else would you explain the fact that having one apple to share, being barefoot and naked, they still considered themselves to be living in Paradise?!
JokeThere would be no stealing whatsoever during communism, because everything would be already stolen during socialism.
JokeA communist is someone who reads the classics of Marxism-Lenininsm, whereas an anti-communist is someone who understands them.
JokeAll the world will come to communism. History doesn’t ask whether you want it or not.
N. KhrushchevThe whole society will be one office and one factory where there is equality of labor and equality of reward for it.
V. LeninCommunism is anti-humanity.
A. SolzhenitsynThe striving towards the understanding of the essence of the communist social order is much more terrifying to it than any sensational, scandalous revelation of its disease.
A man living by the logic of use is not prone to the stings of conscience.
F. IskanderConscience is a thousand witnesses.
ProverbIt has no teeth, but it gnaws.
ProverbYou can’t run away from your own shadow.
But not one poet
has yet said
A. AkhmatovaBelieve me! The end is always same for all.
Comprehensible to none and solemnly brief.
A. BlokDeath is that something which happens to others.
J. BrodskyDon’t die! Resist! Though you don’t feel youthful.
Existence is a bore when useful..
J. BrodskyDeath is scary, but it would have been much scarier to know that you would never die.
A. ChekhovWe don’t know how to die, and this sin, stripping us off the ability to live, affirms the visctory of death over life... Death - is not the end, and if life seems an illusion to us, then death is just as illusory as well!
N. DjinThe opposite of death is not life. It is love.
N. DjinDying in this world is not so new,
Neither is living, I daresay.
S. EseninI’m aware that in that other world or other country
There are no such fields in golden haze.
That is why I cherish so the people
Who on earth, beside me spend their days.
S. EseninDon’t bombard me with grief like with knives.
Silver knives that have turned to dark lead.
You should know, I don’t cry for the dead.
I don’t know who is dead and who’s alive...
A. GalichA thousand roads you build, but one thing’s clear.
Whichever road you choose, you end up here.
R. GamzatovWhen dead, even a fish drowns.
(Inscription on a tombstone)
F. IskanderA man was born to gloriously die.
M. LomonosovDying in this world is not so hard,
Making life is harder, I daresay.
V. MayakovskyI’d rather, if you ask me,
die of drink,
Than die of boredom,
or live a bore.
V. MayakovskyI abhor every kind of deathliness!
I adore every kind of life!
V. MayakovskyYou lose your immortality when you lose your memory.
V. NabokovFor two deaths to come to you - there is no way, but from one - you will never run away.
ProverbYou can never get enough breath right before death.
ProverbThe first step of an infant is the first step towards his death.
K. PrutkovThe reason death is placed at the end of life is so we could prepare for it more comfortably.
K. PrutkovWhen a man dies, the watch in his pocket continues ticking.
V. ShklovskyPeople who fear death do so because it seems to them that death is an abyss and darkness; but they see this abyss and darkness only because they don’t see life.
L. TolstoyThere is nothing in life except death, and it shouldn’t be there.
L. TolstoyOur sentence in life has no period.
We will be immortal!
A. VoznesenskyWe forgive the dead and tease them with paradise.
V. Vysotsky“Die!” - Ivan says to Koschei - “Right now!”
“I’ll be more than glad, but I’m immortal! Don’t know how!”
V. VysotskyNo matter how much you hurry,
(Song about Koschei-the-Immortal)
You’ll still be overpassed by somebody more brave.
But nothing ever threatens you,
Only when you’re lying in your grave.
V. VysotskyAnd if in this wide world I die,
Then I’ll die from joy that I’m alive.
Y. YevtushenkoI would simply not survive it,
If I wouldn’t be alive.
Every command slaps liberty in the face.
M. BakuninPowerful states can maintain themselves only by crime; little states are virtuous only by weakness.
M. BakuninIt is not only that one man has no right to rule over the multitude, but the multitude also has no right to rule over one man.
V. ChertkovThe attainment of absolute freedom is an unlimited despotism.
I. ShigalevWe are in favor of the state withering away and, at the same time, we stand for the dictatorship of the proletariat. Is it contradictory? Yes, it is contradictory. But this contradiction is a living thing, and completely reflects Marxist dialectics.
J. StalinHow many divisions has the Pope?!
Never forget your duty. It is the only music. Without it there is no life, no passion.
A. BlokThe most difficult thing is to dictate your will to yourself.
Contemporary SayingYou cannot fulfill your duty until you grow fond of it.
I. GoncharovEveryone is really responsible to all men for all men and for everything.
F. DostoevskyAspire to fulfilling your duty and you will instantly learn what you are worth.
L. TolstoyAll of us have an anchor that never fails us, unless we break it ourselves. It is our sense of duty.
Sun doesn’t penetrate the eyes that are closed.
I. BabelNot having faith in anything is blindness.
But more often it’s simply piggishness.
J. BrodskyFaith is nothing more than an unanswered letter.
J. BrodskyWithout an ideal, without faith, without some vague aspiration to something better , there will never be a better world.
F. DostoevskyIn order to be faithful, one doesn’t have to believe. In the very least, one has to simply not know.
V. GandelsmanThose who can’t know, believe.
A. LunacharskyIf upon a cage of an elephant you will see a sign reading : “bull”, do not believe your eyes.
K. PrutkovWhen looking at the sun, squint your eyes and you’ll readily recognize spots upon it.
K. PrutkovA believer struggles forward, never looking around himself, never asking himself the question of where he is going. Only he will get to the Promised Land, who, like Abraham, decides to set out on his journey not knowing where it would lead him.
L. ShestovFaith, only faith that looks to the Creator and that He inspires, radiates from itself the supreme and decisive truths concerning what is and what is not.
L. ShestovFaith treats the hidden as though it were revealed.
V. ShklovskyHe who has learned to think and reason, finds it difficult to believe, while to live in God is possible only through faith. Thought is evil.
L. TolstoyRational knowledge of scientists and learned men refutes the meaning of life, whereas the huge masses, the whole of mankind see the meaning of life in the irrational. Namely this irrational knowledge is what we call faith, and I had to do away with it.
L. TolstoyHe who has no ideals is a sorry sight.
From the naturalistic point of view all men are equal in the eyes of freedom. There are two exceptions to this rule of naturalistic equality: geniuses and idiots.
M. BakuninIf there is a human being who is freer than I, then I shall necessarily become his slave.
M. BakuninFreedom is -
when you forget the tyrant’s name,
and your saliva is sweeter than Persian pie.
And, though, your brain is twisted like the horn of a ram,
nothing drops from your pale blue eye.
J. BrodskyTo lose one’s independence is much worse
than to lose one’s innocence.
J. BrodskyEquality, brother, excludes brotherhood.
We should get clear on this matter.
Slavery always gives birth to slavery,
Even with the help of revolutions and
J. BrodskyNothing has been more insurmountable for a man and a human society than freedom.
F. DostoevskyDidst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil?
F. DostoevskyWhoever wants supreme freedom must kill himself. He who cares enough to take his own life is God.
F. DostoevskyPeople are the ones to blame: they had paradise, but they wanted freedom and they stole the heavenly fire, realizing that they will become unhappy; so, there’s no need to pity them.
F. DostoevskyThere is no anxiety which is more torturous or more eternal for a man than the anxiety to find something to worship as soon as he acquires some freedom.
F. DostoevskyNo free man needs a god.
V. NabokovIn critical times, freedom gives birth to terror; in more or less stable times, it gives birth to mediocre bureaucracy, spiritual grayness, and apathy.
A. SakharovThe attainment of absolute freedom is an unlimited despotism.
I. ShigalevFreedom, destructive freedom, irresponsible freedom, has been granted boundless space. Society turned out to be improperly protected against the abyss of human decadence.
A. SolzhenitsynMere naked freedom in no way solves the problems of man’s existence and in many ways adds new ones.
A. SolzhenitsynWhat can be the personal freedom of an unemployed person who goes hungry and finds no use for his toil?
J. StalinPeople think that self-denial destroys their freedom. Such people do not know that only self-denial gives us the new freedom liberating us from our own selves, from the slavery of our own depravation. Our passions are the most cruel tyrants; as soon as you yield to them, you’ll be in a constant struggle without the strength to breath easily. God, deliver me from the slavery which people are not ashamed to call freedom.
L. TolstoyFreedom is when everyone and everything agrees with me, but then, I don’t feel it because we all feel freedom only when we struggle, only when we contradict and rebel.
The more truths you know, the less friends you have.
Contemporary SayingA friend in need is a friend indeed.
ProverbFriendship is like glass - once broken, it is never mended
ProverbA bad friend is like a shadow: on a sunny day, you can’t get rid of him, and on a rainy day, he is nowhere to find.
There is no forgiveness for you Jesus Christ! No forgiveness!
I. BabelDo you believe in God?.... Let him who won two hundred thousand golden rubles believe in God!
I. BabelIf God existed , it would be necessary to abolish him.
M. BakuninWe have not yet decided on the question of the existence of God, and you want to eat?!
V. BelinskyThe worship of God is founded on the cult of male love.
(a controversy was raging amongst several men
and one of them proposed dinner)
N. BerdyaevUsually, he who spits at God,
First spits at men.
J. BrodskyGod sets us nothing but riddles.
F. DostoevskyAnd it would not have been that strange, it would not have been that marvelous, if God did really exist; but what is strange and marvelous is that such a thought - the thought of the necessity of God - could have crawled into the head of such a savage and vicious beast as a man.
F. DostoevskyAs soon as man denies miracles, he, at once, denies God as well, for man seeks not God, but miracles.
F. DostoevskyOh, Lord! Deliver!
S. EseninI’m ashamed that I never believed in God,
And I’m pained that I don’t believe in him, still.
S. EseninI went out to create the Lord.
A kind One to whom I could kneel.
But my Lord whom I made from the word,
whispered to me: “ Go and kill!”
A. GalichThe majority believes in God because of its lack of spirit, and only the few believe in him because of the richness of spirit.
M. GorkyThe minority needs God because it has everything else, whereas the majority needs him because it has nothing else.
L. TolstoyAll of you people,
Are merely bells,
Chiming away on
V. MayakovskyNo free man needs a god.
V. NabokovGod is not in power but in truth.
A. NevskyI need someone to pray to and adore,
Imagine, an ordinary ant,
Suddenly, felt like falling to someone’s feet
Believing he had been enchanted.
B. OkudjavaWhere was God when the rich man was kicking the poor man?
ProverbIf God you will follow, your pockets will stay hollow.
ProverbWithout God the road is always wider.
ProverbPeople do not obey God but adore him. It is better not to adore, but to obey him.
L. TolstoyThe necessity of accepting God is felt most strikingly when we renounce Him, forget Him.
L. TolstoyAnd can you tell me that the people who were burned on the steak by the Christians are less in number than the burned Christians themselves? And still, still, they glorified this God as the God of Love. What an absurdity!
Y. ZamyatinAncient God created ancient man, that is, a man who was capable of making a mistake. Multiplication table is much more wiser, much more perfect than the ancient God. You see, it never, never makes a mistake!
Fog is curling,
A. BlokEvil is here to fight against it,
And not to weigh it on the beam.
J. BrodskyBeing a good man is, of course, not a profession. It is merely a hobby.
Contemporary SayingIf you can choose between two evils, that’s already not that bad!
Contemporary SayingJust think! There are so many evils in this world, but they give us only two to choose from!
Contemporary SayingA bad person is he, who treats me - a good person - badly.
Contemporary SayingDidst thou forget that man prefers peace, and even death, to freedom of choice in the knowledge of good and evil?
F. DostoevskyIf you are a scoundrel, don’t delude yourself that you are being original.
M. GorkyEvil produces evil. Suffering makes one understand how pleasant it is to do evil to others.
M. LermontovDon’t expect a good deed from a bad seed.
ProverbMorality cannot exist without its antipode - immorality. Evil is necessary for the good; it serves as the object of its vengeance.
L. ShestovThe “good” which we have always believed to be beyond the hereditary action of egoism, shows itself to be just as human as all other, purely pagan goals - glory, power, wealth. For the sake of the good, just as implacable struggle is possible.
L. ShestovThere are people who upon meeting their rival who is happy about anything at all are ready to deny anything good that might be inherent in him, and see in him only the bad; and, there are people who, on the contrary, most of all wish to discover in that rival those qualities with which he conquered them, and, so, they seek in him, with a futile pain in their hearts, only the good.
L. TolstoyThe rational and the moral always coincide.
L. TolstoyGoodness is the eternal and supreme aim of our life. Whatever the meaning we put into goodness, our life is an explicit striving for it.
L. TolstoyA good deed is done with effort, but after the effort is repeated, the deed becomes a habit.