Georgy Ivanov | After Russia
Georgy Ivanov
Georgy Ivanov

In 1938, a strange, controversial and macabre novel in verse by Georgy Ivanov, Disintegration of the Atom, was published in Paris. 

...The human of tomorrow will say: not all the books written in exile have turned to ashes; here is one, a remarkable one, that remains and will remain (poet and critic Zinaida Gippius) 

Roughly speaking, this prose, full of symbolic pornographic scenes, depicts the disintegration of the human soul in the face of a vile and doomed world order. 

Georgy Ivanov, a man deeply connected to all kinds of domestic nastiness, but brilliant in his own way... Despite his moral ugliness, I considered Georgy Ivanov the cleverest man in Montparnasse... (writer Vsevolod Yanovsky) 

When the impoverished Ivanov and Odoevtseva returned to Paris after the war, they lived in a cheap hotel, but in the end they could not afford it either — they had to go to a home for stateless people in the south of France. 

...Georgy Ivanov, who in those years wrote his best verse. He made his personal morbid fate (poverty, illnesses, alcoholism) into a kind of myth of self-desctruction, where, passing beyond our ordinary boundaries of good and evil... he moved in utter sordidness far beyond those who once were called “poètes maudits” and all literary down-and-outers... (writer and memoirist Nina Berberova)

These poems appeared in the last collection published before his death, Portrait Without Likeness. The gravely ill Ivanov presented it at a literary event in Paris, where two dozen admirers of the first poet of emigration gathered. 

Ivanov’s hands and feet were riddled with needle marks, cockroaches were running all over his blanket and pillow, the room had not been cleaned for weeks (it was not the management’s fault), and the sight of strangers would send the sick man into bouts of either rage or depression (writer and memoirist Nina Berberova)

Georgy Ivanov died of leukemia on August 26, 1958, and was buried in a public grave. In 1963 his remains were reburied in the Russian cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-de-Bois near Paris. But his poems are very much alive, and they returned to Russia:

Some things succeed, and some things fail;

everything’s nonsense that passes away...

But even so this reddish-brown grass

which grows by a gate in the fence will last.

...If Russian speech has the power to go

back to the land where the Neva flows —

from Paris I send these muddled words,

though even to me they sound absurd.

Translated by Stephen Capus


Return to Russia - but in verse
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A nightingale trills in the oleander branches.

The gate slammed shut with a piteous thud.

The moon slipped behind the clouds. And I am

Ending my worldly torment,

The torment that I have seen in dreams

My exile, love for you, and sins.

But I have not forgotten that I am promised

To rise again. Return to Russia — but in verse.


No more Europe, no more America...

No more Europe, no more America.

The end of Tsarskoye, of Moscow, too.

A fit of nuclear hysteria —

life atomized into a radiant blue.

Transparent, all-forgiving haze will stretch

over the seas. And he who could have done

something yet chose not to, will be left

in the expanse of pre-eternity, alone.

Translated by Robert Chandler