A Poem by Vladimir Vysotsky

“I’d like to say a few words about these songs of mine. Many years ago, I was with my closest friends. From my various travels I have brought back for them… well, impressions, impressions in verse set to a sort of rhythm. So I took my guitar in hand and began to strum away. And what emerged was something like a song. But it was not a song. It was, the way I see it, poetry recited with musical accompaniment. In short, poetry set to rhythm. I remember the atmosphere then. It was the atmosphere of trust and unconstrained freedom, and, what’s more important, friendship.”
Vladimir Vysotsky

History of Illness.


I was weak and vulnerable,

Trembling with my whole being

Bleeding within my ill

And tormented being.


And as if in a vulgar potpourri

An enormous forehead appeared in the door

And illuminated

With healthy evil.


But the hand jerked authoritatively,-

Lie down, face against the wall,

And now they were hitting my flanks

Upon a sticky couch.


And the chief of all sat at the table,

Sighed possessed

And began something against me,

Something resembling a case.


Now held by fingers thin and clingy

Adam’s apple trembles

They punched my groin, and then my guts,

And my poor liver.


When they were crushing my ribs

All inside me throbbed

And the pen was cawing blood

Upon the innocent paper.


In half delirium, in half a corner

I stripped naked

An old hag was preparing  a needle

For me, in the corner.


And from the roots of my hair down to my heels

Horror was crawling down me

What if they knock me out with an injection

And crack me in my sleep.


He, having finished his work with my belly,

Squashed my skull, and then

Pulled my forearms with a band

And cut the current of blood.


I almost screamed, but hushed myself,

Dry lips tightly locked,

And he was groaning, twisting the lock

And rejoicing in the hall.


He flew into rage, a familiar rage,

And I yelled

What are you scribbling there, show it to me

That secret nonsense.


The assistant, a former psychopath,

Tied my wrists,

The weapons of prejudice, lined up in a row

Were growing dim.


I am crushed, I am beaten, I am tough in my character,

I can break things into pieces,

But here they’ll restrain me and calm me,

And I droop and get bored.


I am lying down naked as a falcon,

And the chief sneaks, and sneaks behind the table,

And is writing something in the report,

Even though I don’t respond.


No, I need to save my strength,

I am weak and tired

I know they’ll be burning my heels soon

To make me laugh.


I am awake, on the alert

But I feel with disgust

That they stuck a pill in my throat,

I spat it back.


I am clutched, held by pliers

They are crawling over me, fussing about,

They want to pull out, worm out everything

And they are trying everything to the touch.


And it won’t be five minutes, before they

Will pull out your soul, rumple it, trash it,

Wear it out, wash it out.


Breath, breath deeply with your mouth,

Now exhale, otherwise you die.

If one exhales here

He probably won’t inhale any more


With all my dry mouth

I am grinning,

Well comrades, this trick, you won’t manage you won’t manage

To playing it with me.


They took away light and gave gas instead,

Some kind of a mess lit up there

And spurt out from my eyes as pus,

And the trachea gurgled.


He was going wild, turning ecstatic,

For some reason they brought a basin,

I already saw this once,

A film as a trophy.


They are approaching me from behind

And doing injection,

Pierce me, sons of bitches,

But give me the report.


I even came down on my knees

And pressed my forehead against the basin,

I was demanding, threatening,

Begging and abasing myself.


But they have immediately pulled the band,

And I can see now they are burning the alcohol lamp,

And keep waiting for the red haired witch

With hairy whip.


Here, in this place, they’ll always get what they want,

And myself, an old fool, I am guessing

When will it come, the burning whip,

Now or later.


The witches Sabbath was burning incense and growing bald,

Sweat was flowing down hotly

A chime was heard and the black raven

Sat on the white shoulder.


And the raven shouted ‘Never more’

It is artful and swift

And he reminds

The torture room leads straight into the morgue.


I weakly raise my tail,

Although for them I am stupid and simple,

“Hey, you will have to pay

For your prejudiced interrogation.


You, what are your names there,

You went back to the old times,

But the report of interrogation

You are obliged to give it to us.’


I am looking sideways at that scribbling

Over my shoulder

I won’t sign it for you

Until I read it.


But someone’s yellow back

Responded indifferently

‘Your signature is not needed here,

Even without it, all is clear to us’.


Sister, dear, don’t be afraid,

I won’t be silent, I won’t digest it,

I’ll deny the report

When I meet the lawyer.


I haven’t told them anything

I haven’t informed on anyone

Tell everyone I know

I remained a brother to them.


He said, drawing the line,

Read, and calm down,

I glued my eyes to the scribbling

And the only thing I see is Latin.


Circles in the eyes, zeros in the head

Damn fear, disappear.

They have simply started

My history of illness.




Without pretension, a first poetic post, a first and/or last making under the inspiration “that poetry is meant to be set to music & chanted or sung – for one reason alone – because it works“. (Hakim Bey, Chaos: The Broadsheets of Ontological Anarchism)

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