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15 May
Wed / 2013

story of a poem and a song

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For the Dora Maar House salon in April, Ukrainian poet Natalka Bilotserkivets shared a few of her poems with us. She talked about the significance of her poem “We’ll Not Die in Paris.” This poem, sung by the rock group Dead Rooster, became the hymn of the post-Chernobyl generation of young Ukrainians that helped bring down the Soviet Union.

Natalka explained that the poem references three poets associated with Paris. The first of course is César Vallejo, who gave her the epitaph. Vallejo was a Peruvian expatriate who lived in dire poverty in Paris and died there. The second poet referenced in the poem is Paul Celan, a Romanian poet and survivor of the Holocaust. Celon ended his life as an expatriate in Paris, committing suicide by jumping into the river Seine. Finally, Natalka gave a nod to noted French poet Guillaume Apollinaire and his famous love poem “Le Pont Mirabeau.”

Natalka explained that she had no intention of creating an anthem for a generation, but the poem reads like a prayer. She felt that the inescapable sadness of the poem was due to the fact that during the Soviet Era when this poem was written, she would not be allowed to travel to Paris. She would not be allowed to meet foreign writers and share in the richness she imagined was the expatriate’s life in Paris. With its final dreadful lines, “encircled with barricades,” the poem makes a moving song, which continues to this day to be named as one of most important and popular songs in Ukraine. To watch a video of Dead Rooster performing her song, click here.

We’ll Not Die in Paris

by Natalka Bilotserkivets (translated by Dzvinia Orlowsky)             

  
I will die in Paris on Thursday evening.  Cesar Vallejo


You forget the lines  smells colors and sounds

sight weakens  hearing fades  simple pleasures pass

you lift your face and hands toward your soul

but to high and unreachable summits it soars

 

what remains is only the depot  the last stop

the gray foam of good byes lathers and swells

already it washes over my naked palms

its awful sweet warmth seeps into my mouth

love alone remains though better off gone

 

in a provincial bed I cried  till exhausted

through the window  a scraggly rose-colored lilac spied

the train  moved on   spent lovers stared

at the dirty shelf heaving beneath your flesh

outside a depot’s spring passed  grew quiet

 

we’ll not die in Paris   I know now for sure

but in a sweat and tear-stained provincial bed

no one will serve us our cognac   I know

we won’t be saved by kisses

under the Pont Mirabeau murky circles won’t fade

 

too bitter we cried  abused nature

we loved too fiercely

                our lovers shamed

too many poems we wrote

                disregarding poets

they’ll not let us die in Paris

and the alluring water

                under the Pont Mirabeau

will be encircled with barricades.

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