Уладзімер Арлоў

Arnold McMillin

From Poems in Prose to Ballads:
The Remarkable Verse of Uladzimier Arloŭ

Uladzimir Arloŭ
paručnik Piatrovič i praparščyk Zdari.
Minsk: Bielaruski knihazbor, 2018. 130 s.
ISBN: 978-985-7180-95-0
In Belarus, a country often described as the last dictatorship in Europe[1], history has been distorted or suppressed, lending particular significance to the authors of historical novels, the doyen being undoubtedly Uladzimier Arloŭ, a native of Polacak. His status as Belarus’s leading prose writer is unchallenged, although as a poet he would not assume the title of a leader. Amongst living poets Uladzimier Niekliajeŭ[2] and Aleś Razanaŭ have greater claims, although neither of them would be likely to make such an assumption. To list Arloŭ’s historical works in fiction and elsewhere would require another article, but one prose work, perhaps, deserves mention, the clearly satirical jeu d’esprit, Orden Biely Myšy (The Most Noble Order of the White Mouse, 2003), since its relevance to the present authoritarian regime effectively closed the doors of the official Belarusian publishing houses to one of the country’s most prominent writers[3]. Like most Belarusian intellectuals, Arloŭ finds the regime in Belarus highly dispiriting, although before this book he had attempted to co-exist with the largest publishers. In later years Arloŭ has turned from historical fiction to history itself, in the hope of educating his ‘denationalized’ fellow-countrymen[4]; he has also continued to write entertaining non-historical fiction, but the subject of this article is restricted to his remarkable poetry, which, although filled with national consciousness and awareness of the plight of his country, and not an entirely new phenomenon in his work, is essentially different from the historical prose that first made his name familiar to all readers of Belarusian literature.
Arloŭ’s fluent unrhymed verse is immensely rich in lexicon, imagery, variety of themes, and in frequent combinations of past and present, fantasy and reality, combining and passing between them with consummate ease. His consciousness of himself as a writer, leads to many references to the Belarusian language and books, old and modern, including his own. The language of his verse contains some dialectal and at times obsolete words, and also includes free use of unconventional lexicon and word play. In fact, sex and women (particularly his wife, the poet Valiancina Aksak) feature in many poems, as does his curiosity about the natural world and other countries and their cultures, where he displays keen intellectual and worldly interests as well as extensive reading.
His earliest poems were published in two samizdat publications, of which he was one of the editors, produced by students of the History Faculty of the Belarusian State University in Minsk: Blachitny lichtar (Blue (?) Lamp, 1971-74)[5] and Milavica (The Star of Venus, 1974-76)[6]. His first independent book of verse, Tam, za dzviaryma (There, Behind the Door), however, came out only in 1991, when he had already permanently settled in the capital, although his feelings for Polacak have remained strongly in his consciousness. The book’s designation as poems in prose, a concept dating from the 18th century and continuing in many literatures up to the present day, is ambiguous, in that one of these, ‘Haryšča’ (The Attic), was published in a major anthology, not as a poem in prose, but simply as a verse (Skobla 2003, 659). Arloŭ’s later verse collections are in blank or free verse, a subject on which the author expresses himself with characteristic vigour, suggesting in ‘Čytaŭ svaje vieršy’ (I Was Reading My Poems) that, for hungry students, free verse goes well with oral sex (UA 2009, 72). From an earlier book comes ‘Ja ryfmuju’ (I Rhyme) in which he reflects that he rhymes with everything that can be won ‘у гэтай сусветнай свалкі’ (at this universal rubbish dump [of rhymes]), but different times are coming:
набліжаючы дзень,
калі з маімі радкамі
назаўсёды зарыфмуецца
(UA 2006, 119) [7]
the approaching day,
when with my lines
there will rhyme for ever
Arloŭ’s first poetic collection, like those that followed, is notable for its broad, sometimes dialectal or even obsolete vocabulary and orthography, perhaps unsurprising in the verse of a historical novelist. Thematically, too, it sets a trend for what is to come later with an extensive range of subjects: constant themes include national consciousness, self-identity and love, the last two often in startlingly ambiguous forms. The closing lines from one of the book’s first poems, ‘Žorny’ (The Hand Mill), for instance, questions starkly the chances of nationally conscious people being heard:
Хто запомніць?
Хто пачуе?
Хто зразумее галасы нашы?
(UA 1991, 7)
Who will recall?
Who will hear?
Who will understand our voices?
Another verse, ‘Čužanica’ (The Alien Land), begins each of the six stanzas (or paragraphs) by suggesting that the poet lives in an alien land (‘гэта чужая зямля’), but he finds consolation in hearing ever more loudly that he is lying alongside his ancestors and that it will become his true native country. In another poem, ‘Nadzieja’ (Hope), he is reassured by his father that they come from the same land, a hope that is all the more necessary when many of his fellow-citizens deny Belarus’s language and heritage, suggesting that nobody understands either of them. In ‘Asudžanyja’ (The Condemned) the poet answers such people ironically, saying that the dead are silent in this language, as are the still unborn; the verse ends with a comparable assertion for the living: ‘Але тыя, што прарочаць наш скон, ужо чуюць: жывыя таксама маўчаць на нашай мове.’ (But those that foretell our demise already hear: the living are also silent in our language, UA 1991, 78)[8]. In a strong poem, ‘Liera’ (The Lyre), a blind old musician attempts to tell first God then confused people that their land has long since been alien to them and that they are not happy, contrary to what they have been constantly told by the authorities, but are in reality slaves; the result of his words is that they surround the lyre-player and smash his instrument to pieces (UA 1991, 61). Finally, in ‘Padarožniki’ (Travellers), an even more parable-like verse, three men pass the poet walking over virgin snow. Gradually they cease to leave footprints behind them. When asked why there are no traces, the first says that he was silent when it was better to speak, the second that he spoke when it was better to be silent. When he asks the third one, the others reply that he is deaf and dumb, and the three continue on their way (UA 1991, 5). National consciousness, as Marples’s experience demonstrated, is closely related to politics, and Arloŭ hints in two poems at confused attitudes and the difficulties of moving away from the past. In ‘Sutońnie’ (Dusk), a dense half-light descends and it is not clear whether it presages morning or night. Opinions are divided and uncertain people stand on a small hill, afraid to look at each other (UA 1991, 59). ‘Miortvaje dreva’ (The Dead Tree) shows how the eponymous tree attracts changes of attitude to it, but it (perhaps it represents communism?) has still not been cut down (UA 1991, 29).
Questions of self-identity, frequently complex and even confused, occur in several of these poems in prose, often depicting self-inspection in mirrors or other reflections, as, for instance, in ‘Studnia’ (The Well) in which the poet, looking down, wonders whether he is a youth or an old man or, indeed, whether there is an absence of any image. He concludes by asking who in reality anyone is, as he sees them in the mirror of deep water, whilst they see him in the mirror of the distant heavens (UA 1991, 60). In ‘Dvoje’ (Two) the poet writes that in his bed one person goes to sleep and a quite different one, physically and mentally, awakes in the morning. His hope is that one day these two people will meet (UA 1991, 83). Another poem relating to sleep is ‘Majsternia’ (The Studio), which describes his spending the night in a studio, and his fear of sleeping and awaking amongst sculptures without the consolation of loving hands and lips; at the end, however, he is convinced that in the morning the sculptor will find an additional work, something between Budny[9] and a nameless tramp (UA 1991, 13). Also worth note is a complex poem, ‘Halasy’ (Voices) in which the poet by day and night cannot decide whether to shout or be silent, but, on seeking divine help and salvation, discovers that the Almighty has the same problem, and is waiting to hear from him, so that He too can be saved; the poet, however, continues to hear the two voices (UA 1991, 34).
Love is, of course, a staple element in almost all lyric poetry. Arloŭ’s poems in prose are only occasionally lyrical, but they do display a variety of attitudes to physical attraction and its complexities. ‘Ciahnik’ (Train) depicts a mysteriously empty train that seems like fate or inevitability, drawing the poet and his partner into a bottomless pit leading to their annihilation. Their only salvation is to die and be resurrected together, but when they awake he feels an alien breath on his cheek, and she simultaneously awakes on another’s shoulder, later telling someone thoughtfully about the train she had dreamed of (UA 1991, 10-11). Equally complex is a verse, ‘Voblaka’ (The Cloud), in which a cloud seems to bear the profile of someone the poet had once loved but later left; he constantly denies recognizing her, but when he notices tears in the eyes of the one he now loves, he pulls curtains over the windows to keep the image out; the cloud with the profile, however, continues to float on (UA 1991, 74). Three other poems may also be mentioned: in ‘Hadzinnik’ (The Clock) the poet sets the clock carefully, but instead of numbers there are names. The pendulum seems to cut off moment after moment from eternity, and the hands relentlessly rub out the names. At midnight, however, they return: ‘Ідзе гадзіннік, і кожны міг паказваюць стрэлкі тваё імя’ (The clock starts and every moment the hands show your name, UA 1991, 19). In ‘Admaŭlieńnie’ (Rejection) the poet describes the contradictions between his thoughts and words. He feels that every striving towards his beloved turns into a condemnation to loneliness: at a dark window he always seems to see his rejection approaching, and the ending is hardly more optimistic: ‘Адчай не апошні прыпынак – чую ягоныя словы: – Я не пакіну цябе’ (Despair is not the last stop – I hear its words ‘I shall not abandon you’, UA 1991, 72). (The Mirror) features different women and how they appear in a mirror. Only one person, however, remains, although she is described in a way that would raise the hackles of any feminist: ‘Толькі ты не знікаеш з майго люстэрка, / Ты у якой кожнае імгненне змагаюцца грэшніца і мадонна.’(Only you do not disappear from my mirror, / You in whom every moment there struggle a sinner and a Madonna, UA 1991, 65).
Finally, ‘Partyja ŭ biĺjard’ (A Game of Billiards) ends on a gloomy note at the prospect of time’s passing:
Хто прыдумаў,
што ўсё праходзіць,
нават тое,
што праходзіць
праз сэрца?
(UA 2006, 144)
Who conceived
that everything should pass,
even that
which passes
through the heart?
Encounters of various kinds and their difficulties play a considerable role in Arloŭ’s first verse collection. In ‘Sliach’ (The Path) the meeting takes a somewhat abstract form, ending, however, with the topic of family heritage so close to the poet: ‘Іду насустрач дзедаваму лёсу, як ішоў некалі дзед насустрач майму.’ (I go to meet my grandfather’s fate, as once my grandfather went to meet mine, UA 1991, 44). ‘Pliaž’ (The Beach) describes a boiling hot day when, walking along a deserted beach, he sees a man who is coming to meet him. Time moves on, the sun goes over the horizon, and the sea offers some respite to their bodies, but as they go to meet each other the distance between them increases (UA 1991, 44). Comparable in message is ‘Čovien’ (The Rowing Boat) in which the rower sees a boat sailing under the water and another sailing above him in the sky. The boats follow the sun, expecting to meet there, at a place where time disappears and is born, where the future has been and the past is still to come. Meanwhile the rower gazes straight ahead (UA 1991, 24).
Arloŭ’s second collection, Faŭna snoŭ (The Fauna of Dreams), takes its name from a poem in its predecessor. It also contains four verses already printed there: ‘Haryšča’ (The Attic), and the previously mentioned ‘Studnia’, ‘Padarožniki’, ‘Sutońnie’ and ‘Ciahnik’, reflecting the poet’s continuing practice of repeating some poems from book to book, with only small (if any) changes of spelling or wording. Bearing in mind that the reprints, particularly in later books, were used to make changes or improvements, in this article poems will be cited from the more recent version where there is a significant difference from the first[10]. Also notable are an increased sophistication of expression and an even broader range of subjects, as well as greater length and considerably more robust humour than in the first collection.
The opening poem, ‘Parom praź Lia-Manš’ (By Ferry Across the Channel) gives an impressionistic picture of arriving in Ramsgate before his visit to London. He misses his wife Valia and every time he mentions an attractive woman, adds: ‘калі б на свеце не было цябе’ (If in this world there had not been you) – a phrase that is repeated in various forms several times (UA 1995, 5-8). He also wonders what happens during the two-hour time difference between Britain and Belarus, and who spent those two hours in his place[11]. Another thing he constantly misses is that in England they do not speak Belarusian enough (of course, the same might be said of Belarus itself). His own versions of English names is at times bizarre; for instance London’s Green Park becomes zialiony chutar (UA 1995, 6, 8). There are several politically incorrect comments in Arloŭ’s third collection, including various encounters with people of colour, though his remarks are less a sign of racism than of surprise, coming as he does from a country where the people are white (from the authoritarian leader up or down)[12]. At the end of ‘1 krasavika 1995’ (1 April 1995)[13], for instance, describing a visit to the National Gallery, after some of the mild flirting that appears to characterize many of his travel accounts, he informs a black attendant that he is from a country where there has never been slavery, but immediately blushes to the roots, not only at his tactlessness but also because of his hyperbole (UA 2006, 85). More happily, at the end of a thoughtful visit to the British Museum, in a verse of that name, he concludes with a whimsical comparison of London and Minsk:
У Лондане цвітуць вішні.
У Менску падае дождж.
Уліс праплывае паўз выспу сірэнаў.
Мая каханая кажа не мне:
гэта – маё надвор'е.
(UA 1995, 43)
In London cherry trees grow.
In Minsk rain falls.
Ulysses sails past the sirens’ island.
My beloved says, not to me:
this is my weather.
‘Sustrečnyja’ (People encountered) introduces an element of pure fantasy into the poet’s view of England: an old man trying to pay for alcohol with out-dated money, a woman in the tube reading a sheet written in Arloŭ’s handwriting, and a child carelessly singing the names of the poet’s beloved known only to her and to him (UA 1995, 9). Arloŭ is not only a creative but also a very well-informed poet and his works refer to many historical and contemporary writers and events, only using footnotes for foreign languages, but generally expecting his readers to share his breadth of knowledge. In his description of the main Belarusian institution in Britain, where even his native language may be heard, he only uses footnotes to translate Latin. In the whimsical but essentially realistic ‘Biblijateka imia Skaryny ŭ Londanie’ (The Francis Skaryna Library in London, UA 1995, 18-20), he shows no surprise at the rare books and documents, but delight at seeing them preserved there. Amidst the historical treasures, his mind ranges widely from the European Sarmatian Chronicle of 1581 to a shelf of books with Gothic lettering which produces an alarming little wind in the ‘old’ (probably 1930s – AMcM) building in which the collection is housed. An ironic remark about the only book published in Belarusian during the 18th century leads to a disquieting feeling of temporal instability. In order to establish that changes have not yet become irreversible he cautiously meets the eyes of the library’s leaded window. After reflection, the chandelier confirms that for the time being at least he is himself (UA 1995, 20). Also derived from his visit to England in 1994 is ‘Hrynvicki mierydyjan’ (The Greenwich Meridian, UA 1995, 91) in which what might have seemed a very simple crossing from East to West turns out differently:
зрабіўшы гэты крок,
раптам зразумеў, што
ты засталася
ва ўсходнім,
і мне зрабілася
(UA 1995, 91)
having taken this step,
I suddenly understood that
you had remained
in the East
and I felt
The sentiments here are clear, but far from all of Arloŭ poems about his beloved or other women are as straightforward.
After his fanciful approach to London, it should be noted that in all Arloŭ’s poems of travel, Belarus, one way or another, is always present in his thoughts: clear examples are ‘Božaja karoŭka z Piataj aveniu’ (A Ladybird from Fifth Avenue, UA, 60-61) and ‘Praha’ (Prague, UA, 66-69). As is already evident, the poet’s heart is in his native Polacak and the coach rides between there and the Belarusian capital are often imaginative as well as observant. In an interesting but disturbing verse we are reminded of his clear-eyed view of current reality, ‘Varažba na čainkach’ (Fortune Telling by Tea Leaves). The following lines are from the middle of the poem:
ці доўга мне
жыць у горадзе
дзе садзяць за краты
паэтаў, якія калісьці
былі выведнікамі
нашай будучыні,
ці доўга мне жыць у краіне,
што ўсё часьцей
прыводзіць на памяць
гісторыю пра павука
якому адарвалі ножкі
і загадваюць бегчы
(UA 2006, 109)
how long must I
live in a city
where they lock behind bars
poets who were once
lookouts for our future,
how long must I live in a country
which more and more
brings to mind
the story of a spider
whose legs had been torn off,
and was told to run.
Another poem, ‘Liunduš biely, kir papialovy’ (Expensive White Cloth, Cheap Dusty Material), is principally about medieval cloth, which he would have liked to give to his wife, ending with a bleak reference to the demonstrations that have marked the last two decades:
мае крокі
на паплямленым крывёю
менскім бруку.
(UA 2006, 107-08)
my steps
on the Minsk pavements
spattered with blood.
His own works, mentioned fleetingly in ‘Sustrečnyja’, figure also, usually with disapproval, by others in several poems. There is nothing surprising about his finding in the Bodleian Library (‘Oksfard’ – Oxford, UA 1995, 85) two of his books about Polacak gathering dust, but the eponymous scholar in ‘Archivaryjus Vojna’ (The Archivist Vojna) writes ironic commentaries on books given to him by the poet (UA 1995, 16), or, as we shall see later, a Dominican monk tells him that he should not have written his books at all (UA 1995, 74). Arloŭ’s own comments on some other Belarusian writers tend to be unflattering. For instance in the poem ‘U Karalievy’ (At the Queen’s) he wonders why people would pay for a book with such a dubious title as Bliuz karalieŭskaj kuchni (Blues of the Queen’s Kitchen [by Liera Som – AMcM]), UA 1995, 34). In a humorous, though heartfelt, poem about his cat Basia, ‘Epitafija majoj kotcy’ (An Epitaph to My Cat) he recalls when drunk reading his poems to her whilst abusing well-known Belarusian literary works by graphomaniacs and wankers (UA 1995, 34). On the other hand he dreams of a prominent young writer Adam Chadanovič, ‘Mnie pryśniŭsia Chadanovič’ (I Dreamed of Chadanovič), wondering whether he is Nero, Suetonius or Brutus, but ends on a humorously optimistic note:
а бамжы чытаюць кнігі
знойдзеныя на памыйках
гэта значыць што пісьменства
наша красная – жыве!
(UA 2009, 82)
and homeless people read books
found on rubbish dumps
which means that our belles letters
are alive!
Finally, in books featured in Arloŭ’s verses, between the middle ages and the present day, is Szlachcic Zawalnia, czyli Białoruś w fantastycznych opowiadaniach (Nobleman Zavalnia, or Belarus in Fantastic Tales, 1844-46), a lively collection of folk legends and conversations on the borders of Polish and Belarusian literature, to whose author the poet pays affectionate tribute in ‘Jan Barščeŭski’ (Jan Barszczewski, UA 2006, 47-48).
In ‘Kachanka’ (The Lover) we learn that the eponymous woman’s name is well-known, but after a description of what she might have been like sexually and in other respects, it turns out that her name is Night (UA 1995, 24). A curious hardly less abstract poem, ‘Pieršaja žančyna’ (My First Woman), describes how this mysterious woman emerges from the dusk and sits at his table, and while they drink he attributes to her various rare features, such as her power over time, and suggests that their bodies will meet at the end of the earth, just as their hands are meeting on the table. Her prophecies for him are recalled, as he characterizes her:
Яе голас
будзе старэйшы за яе цела.
Яе вочы
будуць старэйшыя за яе голас.
Яе душа
будзе старэйшая за гэты свет.
(UA 1995, 68)
Her voice
will be older than her body.
Her eyes
will be older than her voice.
Her soul
will be older than this world.
The poem ends by repeating the first three lines, thus increasing the sense of almost a spell created by the many repetitions during the verse. The remaining three poems in this thematic group are unmistakably about his wife. A relatively simple, though far from conventional, love poem is ‘Pakoj’ (The Room), in which the passing of people through their room only increases their longing for each other. After the sounds of the town and, last of all, the music have subsided, a new birthmark appears on her slender shoulder (UA 1995, 41). ‘Toje lieta’ (That Summer), though overshadowed by thoughts of death, depicts an overgrown pond where once she had bathed in water that was as clear as her dreams. The last three lines emphasize the elegiac mood:
Тое лета
будзе доўжыцца
даўжэй за нас.
(UA 1995, 66)
That summer
will last
longer than us.
Finally, ‘Mansarda’ (The Garret) is an interesting love poem also deriving from memories. It describes a deserted house where once they had been happy and a large map of places that they might have visited. The garret is presided over by a brass Buddha, and the poet hopes that this ‘amber moment’ will return, and that the telephone that once rang with his beloved’s voice will ring again and he will pick up the receiver (UA 1995, 21-22).
Memories of his family also feature prominently in Arloŭ’s poetry, for instance, there are instructions he received from his granny in three verses: ‘Haryšča’, ‘Trochi infantiĺnaja razmova z majoj babuliej’ (A Slightly Infantile Conversation with My Granny) and ‘Vučyla babulia’ (My Granny Taught Me): in the latter the advice is practical, such as not going to bed at sunset otherwise you won’t wake in the morning; not looking in the mirror at midnight or else you will drown in it; and not gazing at girls in the cornfield and breaking the corn down, so that many people won’t die of hunger and many young children will not be born. The last six lines sums up the present situation:
Пажатае жыта даўно
і поплаў мой
Сонца сядае.
Глыбее ў дубовай асадзе
бабуліна люстра.
(UA 1995, 23)
The corn has long since been cut,
and my meadow has been
The sun sets.
More deeply in a frame of oaks
is my granny’s mirror.
The third poem, ‘Haryšča’, has already been mentioned as an anthological verse. It is found in Za dzviaryma, Faŭna sloŭ and Parom praź Lia-Manš:
Не лазь на гарышча,
наказвае бабуля,
дзіўнае чыніцца там:
няма нікога,
ды гавораць нейкія людзі,
плача дзіця, а ўчора
круціўся сам сабою

Дзень навылёт
сяду я ціхутка на печы –
слухаю гарышча:
гігоча прыцішана конь,
стоена дыхае хтосьці
слухаючы хату
або птушак на вільчыку.

Мы жывём у хаце,
над намі жыве гарышча,
над гарышчам – неба.
(UA 1995, 60)
Don’t climb in the attic
my granny tells me,
funny things happen there:
there is nobody,
but some people say that
a child is crying, and yesterday
a little spinning wheel
turned of its own accord.

The day is over
I sit quietly on the stove
and listen to the attic: a steed quietly neighs,
someone is breathing secretly,
listening to the attic
or to the birds on the rooftop.

We live in a house,
above us is an attic,
above the attic is the sky.
‘Berlinskaja fantazija’ (Berlin Fantasy) is in some ways less fantastic than Arloŭ’s pictures of England, though it contains the same mixture of observation and speculation as his earlier poems of travel. ‘Zhadka pra mora’ (Recollection of the Sea) is a far shorter verse, but with the detail and imagination that characterize all this poet’s work, as a solemn seagull, with head to one side, tells him sternly to remember this day, the holiday of the shortest shadow (UA 1995, 84). Finally, from Faŭna snoŭ may be mentioned two historical fantasies: ‘Adnojčy daŭno’ (Once, Long Ago) in which the poet tells a tale, with deliberately uncertainty about when and where it was (with a view of the Alps or the Pyrenees) in which a weary traveller arrives at a Dominican monastery and is received by a consumptive prior on a terrace with a water clock and astrolabe, like those that appear in Skaryna’s self-portrait, and says that Arloŭ should not have written the book he holds in his hand, as he turns over its last page and turns over the water clock. In the last six lines the poet, for his part, tells us that he will be travelling in a trolleybus with a view of Miensk suburbs and reading yesterday’s paper, while the way-worn traveller drives his horse further over the mountain paths (UA 1995, 74). The second poem, ‘Recept nieŭmiručaści’ (The Prescription for Immortality), is about a legend told to the poet by an old Jew. It concerns a parchment Book of Dreams which had been stolen from the monks of Sinai who were besieged by pilgrims hoping to obtain the secret. Unfortunately for the thieves the last pages had been lost and with them the answer, which leads the poet to reflect that it is not so terrible if you do not need to come back to the wonders of nature. He left the old story teller on an empty platform in the underground waiting for the last train (UA 1995, 27-28).
Parom praź Lia-Manš is the largest of Uladzimir Arloŭ’s verse collections to date. It begins with ‘Sproba zaveršanaha žyćciapisu’ (An Attempt at a Description of My Life So Far) starting with his birth, on the day of Stalin’s (and Prokof’ev’s) death, in Polacak where he secretly received an Orthodox christening[14]. In Faŭna snoŭ the already mentioned humorous poem about two monks, ‘Archivaryjus Vojna’, leads him to wonder whether he might be а descendent of the archivist himself (UA 1995, 16); elsewhere, however, he thinks he may have gypsy blood in his veins, as is mooted in the already mentioned ‘Trochi infantiĺnaja razmova z babuliaj’, UA 2006, 138), as well as ‘Abdymajučy ciabe’ (Embracing You, UA 2006, 149) and in a later poem ‘Miod’ (Honey, UA 2009, 57). In the attempt to describe his life, he says that, barely seven, he searched the underground passages linking, since the time of Stepan Batura[15], monasteries and churches, and years later searched labyrinths for the Polacak Chronicle and the cross of St Euphrosyne, and with them, as he wryly observes, dubious fame. He plans to die on the thousandth anniversary of Usiaslaŭ the Bewitcher[16], and to be buried according to the Greek Catholic (Uniate) rite with a bunch of cornflowers and three carnations in the national colours. With a sense of humour that never leaves him, he expects that in the Belarusian text on his memorial there will be an orthographical mistake in accordance with national tradition (UA 2006, 3-4). The poem with the book’s title appeared in Faŭna snoŭ and has already been discussed.
Death is a far from rare theme in Arloŭ’s verse and in ‘Pytaju darohu’ (I Ask the Way) he asks аn old stone mason and gardener in a cemetery how to get to a certain grave; both tell him that there will be three steps down to his own grave, but he takes this well:
Зайздрошчу старым:
няма ў мяне іхніх прыкметаў.
бо прыкметы мае –
самых прыступкаў –
мне аднаму належаць.
(UA 2006, 52)
I envy the old men:
I do not have their omens.
I console myself,
for the omens are mine –
to the very steps themselves – and
belong to me alone.
Another less fanciful poem is ‘Kabinet’ (My Study), which ends with a contemplation of his will, declaring:
Зрэшты, сьмерць –
таксама свята
(хаця б таму, што бывае
толькі аднойчы.)
(UA 2006, 136)
But death is
also a celebration
[albeit just because it happens
only once].
‘Maje samahubstvy’ (My Suicides), with an epigraph to the poet himself, is about different people’s attitude (or lack of attitude) to this action. His first such thought was apparently at the age of seven and the second when he was fifty. Seneca, Socrates and Bohumil Hrabal are recalled, as he thinks of joining the water lilies in the Dźvina, noting that the event might be appreciated by a ‘living classic’ in a cascade of alliteration. Charon is on holiday, but a bronzed young pair take care of all the formalities, including payment, and the poet, making his way into the sauna, recalls the Beatles’ song ‘Let it be’ (UA 2009, 67-79).
Related to the poet’s thoughts about death are his many references to fate, some of which have been mentioned already. A relatively simple example is ‘Aziaryna’ (The Little Lake) in which, tossing pebbles into the water, he reflects that each ripple has its own fate and name (UA 2006, 27). More touching is Arloŭ’s recollection of childhood in ‘Poplaŭ’ (Water Meadow) in which his granny during a nature walk stops naming the wild flowers at one that has no name, saying to the boy that it is his fate, and that he will give it a name when he grows up. Anxiety that the meadow will be cut before he can name it brings him both fear and loneliness:
Маўчыць бабуля.
Мацнее вецер.
Стаю самотны
на сенажаці.
(UA 2006, 34)
My granny is silent.
The wind grows stronger.
I stand lonely
on the mowed field.
In ‘Liampa, fateĺ i kubak’ (Lamp, Armchair and Mug) he muses about what will happen to his most beloved possessions when he is no longer there, deciding that his mug will have the best luck:
яго знойдзе бадзяга, які
чытаў маю кніжку
і аднойчы выпіваў са мной
у альтанцы на нашым двары.
(UA 2006, 151)
it will be found by the tramp who
read my book
and once had a drink with me
under the shelter in our courtyard.
Dreams, unsurprisingly frequent in Arloŭ’s second collection, Faŭna snoŭ, are often the settings for poems that treat, amongst other things, death and fate. There are many radical time shifts from the ancient world to his favourite late medieval period and the present day. The swift-moving title poem of this book is particularly rich in changes of this kind, ranging from the tragically short-lived Belarusian poet Anatoĺ Sys to a victim of the 1863 Uprising, Leŭ Sapieha’s clothes[17], and on to Prosper Mérimée, Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and Karl Jung, to name but a few of the characters. As he sits watching passers-by from both BC and AD, he feels himself at a turning point, observing the disappearance of the old (20th) century. Dreams are central to his life, and as he sits on the edge of a New York skyscraper with the object of his dreams, they remember: ‘калі ты сьнілася мне / калі сном быў я сам’ (when I dreamed of you / when the dream was I myself, UA 2006, 38.)
Parom praź Lia-Manš ends on a note of aspiration if not hope, as he describes the various places where freedom may be found, and in ‘Saču tvaje znaki, Svaboda’ (I Look Out For Your Signs, Freedom) anticipates the new century:
сачу знакі таго,
што павінна зьдзейсьніцца
ў гэтым стагодзьдзі,
паўсюль –
дзень пры дні –
сачу твае знакі,
(UA 2006, 152)
I look out for signs of that
which should happen
in this century,
everywhere –
day by day –
I look out for your signs,
Three years later appeared a fourth verse collection, usio pa-raniejšamu toĺki imiony źmianilisia (It’s All the Same, Only the Names Have Changed)[18]. One name that did not change was Polacak, the title of the opening poem, which, however, although mentioning the ancient buildings, also introduces the less frequent though not unfamiliar theme of loneliness:

у даўкім віне
восеньскага паветра
іду па бруку
сярод старых камяніц
пад сцягам адзіноты
(UA 2009, 3)

in the sharp wine
of an autumn wind
I walk along the pavements
between old stone buildings
under the banner of loneliness.
‘Nia viedaŭ’ (I Did Not Know) is a very lyrical verse about various parts of Polacak far from the tourist trail, ending, not for the first time, by a meeting with a mysterious woman (UA 2009, 23-24). ‘Tak zachočacca’ (I So Want) is a poem about escape: from St Petersburg (where even the Moika looks vulgar), Prague (where on the wall of a public lavatory ‘Žyvie Bielaruś!’ [Long Live Belarus!] is written in bold letters), even Paris and finally Miensk; after various historical digressions, the poet expresses his longing to return home to his ancient Belarusian city (UA 2009, 97-99). In ‘Jość harady prydumanyja Boham’ (There are Cities Conceived by God) he wonders whether his city was conceived by God or the devil, before tracing its history and the destruction of most of its heritage, at the end hoping fervently that it will rise to its former glory again (UA 2009, 100). In ‘Viecier’ (Wind) a pinching wind reminds the poet of how as a schoolboy he used to pinch or squeeze a girl, Hanna, behind the school. The verse moves quickly to the death of the girl who had in time brought up a grandson, and to the death of a dried-up river, causing him to reflect that some die too early and some too late. He curses Zoroaster, and remembers the girl’s name in its three variants (UA 2009, 8). The title poem of the collection is dedicated to the Podlasian poet, critic and translator, Jan Maksimiuk. In it Arloŭ closely observes various pairs of people in a semi-deserted metro and wonders what they will all be like in seventy-five years time. In the last stanza he thinks of things remaining to be done by him (even under a different name) such as writing a brilliant novel, visiting New Zealand, or having a drink with Milan Kundera to find out about the unbearable lightness of being.
‘Talinskaja halubka’ (The Tallinn Dove) has some elements familiar from earlier poems: Belarus and particularly Polacak are in Arloŭ’s mind when he is abroad, in this case sitting in a cafe in the Estonian capital, where he forms a friendship with a local dove, sensing that they both need to preserve their identity; there follow some anti-Russian comments, and indecent multi-lingual puns, in this case on the Estonian word pide (handle), which reminds the poet of Belarusian pidar (pederast), although the local word he likes best is terviseks! (cheers!). Conflicts with Russians are also described in ‘Poĺski tranzyt’ (Crossing Poland) a poem in which each stanza begins, ‘Як клясна ехаць па Польшчы’ (How Excellent It Is to Travel Through Poland), and he even seems to enjoy cursing a passenger from the Berlin to Moscow carriage:
як клясна ехаць па Польшчы
і сумаваць па нязбытным
палаяцца з пасажырам
з вагона ‘Бэрлін-Масква’

сказаць што мы не Расея
і што ідзіце вы ў сраку.
(UA 2009, 70)
How excellent it is to travel through Poland
to feel sad about what cannot be
to swear at a passenger
from the ‘Berlin-Moscow’ carriage

to say that we are not Russia
and kiss my arse.
In ‘Barsialona’ (Barcelona) too, the poet thinks constantly of Belarus, comparing the position of the Catalans in Spain to that of his own country with its Russian neighbour. The unfinished cathedral of the Sagrada Familia is compared to the towers of the St Sophia in Polacak, before the poem moves into fantasy, when fat and thin angels alike fly down, talking Catalonian, and, despite the poet’s suggestion that they should have been to schools or at least courses in Belarusian, the angels think he should learn Catalan (UA 2009, 52-55). Other familiar themes that receive different treatments in Arloŭ’s fourth verse collection include, dreams, more travel, his books and writing, family, introspection and, as elsewhere ubiquitously, intimacy.
‘Vam śnilasia?’ (Did You Dream It?) is a poem about being an ancient manuscript in Latin or a place of transit like the Charles Bridge in Prague; looking out of a café he images that a green-eyed woman is reading (Henry Miller or Chadanovič), before a misty current sweeps everything away apart from this woman (UA 2009, 18-19). More literary whimsy features in ‘Karektura’ (Proof Reading) where correcting a text is compared to close inspection of a body. At the end of the poem he hopes most sincerely that it will not be long before he himself turns into a book.
Several poems are set in Scandinavia, encompassing both its geography and culture. In ‘Na Hotlandzie’ (In Gotland), for instance, he dreams of an island of Polacak and his childhood there, and in Polacak dreams of a magical Gotland. In ‘Andersan i ty’ (Andersen and You) he reflects on this author of children’s stories who suffered from many fears, particularly of women and death, and who finally died of toothache. Although free of these phobias, the poet notes that he had not achieved nearly as much as Andersen did (UA 2009, 31-33). More surprising, perhaps, is ‘Razmova z Stryndberham’ (A Conversation with Strindberg) which describes a visit to his house and its lascivious curator, remembering how the Swedish playwright was banned in many countries, including Soviet Belarus, but not Poland. The poet is attracted by the thought of a meeting in some quiet place where they could arrange their own intimate theatre (UA 2009, 46-48).
As we have seen, Arloŭ’s books were not always well received, and he arouses hostility in Lviv, by remarks made to a café owner about Chernihiv, forcing him to leave his book behind with an e-mail, ‘just in case’ (‘U L’vovie’ [In Lviv], UA 2009, 40-41). ‘U bukinista’ (In a Second-Hand Book Shop) he sees his own books rubbing shoulders with those of Nobel prize-winners, but any feeling of satisfaction disappears when he realizes that some of his books have been signed to friends before landing up there. ‘To create equality’, he plans to sign his other books as well (UA 2009, 65-66). Here may also be mentioned Arloŭ’s version of a tautogram, which consists of over three hundred words (perhaps not all real)[19] beginning with the letter ‘V’ (UA 2009, 83-96).
Three poems about childhood and family have elements of humour as well as sadness. In the poem ‘Ja maryŭ stać pataliohaanatamam’ (I Dreamed of Becoming a Pathological Analyst) there are three people described as ‘Uncle’. The first is Ženia, a Jew with sad eyes, described as Arloŭ’s best friend in childhood, who lets the boy into some of the secrets of the morgue, and eventually emigrates to Israel, about which the poet comments, ‘што ні кажыце прыемней мець справу з суайчыньнікамі’ (whatever you say, it is best to deal with your fellow-countrymen); he is succeeded by Hryša, a sad Jew with merry eyes who tells him stories, including one of a young couple who made love in a garage with the car’s engine still on, and of how to have a romance with a student; when Arloŭ was already a writer, Hryša also emigrates to Israel, eliciting from him the same philosophical remark. The third ‘uncle’ Mikola was from a historically important family who favoured the preservation and use of the Belarusian language. Many of his stories were about placing mobile phones in coffins so that their inhabitants should not be lonely, although it was thought that various mudaki (pricks) might easily dig them up at night. The poet wonders whether when the time comes he should take a mobile with him, but decides that he will not be lonely, when he meets the three embodiments of his childhood dreams (UA 2009, 79-81).
The final poem in this book, ‘Paznaju siabie ŭ synie’ (I Recognise Myself in My Son), ends particularly affectionately, after a list of similarities, good and bad:
ва ўменьні пакрыўдзіць

пазнаю сябе ў сыне

так хочацца пазнаць сябе і тады
калі прысяду яму на плячо
цёплым ветрам.
(UA 2009, 101-02)
in the ability to offend
to be offended
to forgive

I recognise myself in my son

I so much want to recognize myself and then
when I sit on his shoulder
as a warm wind.
Arloŭ’s most recent (2018) book of verse is mainly of ballads: paručnik Piatrovič i praparščyk Zdań (Ensign Piatrovič and Lieutenant Zdań). Varied in content but with an unfailing lightness of touch despite the immense number of literary and political references, and an unfailing sense of humour, they are likely to please this prolific writer’s many readers.
There are nine sections, not all of which are ballads in any conventional sense of the word. The first, ‘Kat Baĺtazar’ (Butcher Balthazar), is described as a Polacak ballad, and has a third-person narrator. As a child, Balthazar had helped Sobieski[20] to save Europe from the Turks at the battle of Vienna, and later defended Polacak from various enemies. Combining lust with sadism, he veers between two women, eventually seeming to tire of these activities, including his grisly job, instead replying to a phone call from America, before returning to the novel about contemporary love he is writing on his computer. This complete lack of chronology, as well as sometimes black humour, is simply the first example of elements that are common throughout this book.
The next section, ‘Arkady Padui’ (The Arcades of Padua, 2007) is not so much a ballad as a rumbustious guide, with footnotes, to the past and present of the Italian city. Were it by a lesser writer, it might be described as a romp. As in several later parts of the book, the protagonist is referred to in the second person as ‘Ty’. As always with Arloŭ, vigorous masculine humour, as well as broad learning make his account of Padua, not least, of course, Skaryna’s stay there, both amusing and informative; the cast of characters introduced range from Dante via Mérimée to Mussolini. As in all his non-historical prose and verse, this writer’s thoughts are never far from his native country. For instance, a medical theatre reminds him of the Belarusian national white-red-white flag (UA 2018, 14), and he compares one of the ways Livy is reported to have prepared eggs with that which is popular in Polacak (UA 2018, 12-13). The guide contains a vast array of historical characters, a prodigious amount of information and digressiveness, reminiscent of Gogol’ or Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, as well as rich fantasy, much of it sexual, and, amongst it all, constant evidence of the author’s lively enquiring nature.
Most of the other sections are also concerned with places and countries. ‘Alieka’ (Aleko), a Balkan ballad, set mainly in Bulgaria, begins with two rude words written in the snow which, he thinks, may be considered the first line of a poem. In this ballad the poet has been invited to receive the Aleko Konstantinov prize (earlier laureates include Heinrich Böll, Vasilii Aksenov and Maurice Druon), and is assigned an attractive young interpreter, Pienka, who has translated into Bulgarian a historical novel by Uladzimir Karatkievič and Arloŭ’s own satirical Orden Bielaj Myšy (UA 2003). She is a strong nationalist who believes that Bulgarians founded Kyiv, and that Romanians are really Bulgarians who, being on the other side of the Danube, are forbidden to speak in their native language (UA 2018, 47). The poet, however, gives most space to Stalin’s murderous policies in Belarus, and to two monuments, one to Bulgarian support for Hitler during the war, and the other to the eponymous Ensign Piatrovič and Lieutenant Zdań, who play a minimal role in this complex and immensely referential ballad. On the train home he meets Russian guards who are drunk, simple minded, foul-mouthed, and hostile to the Belarusian language as well as to the poet’s defence of his country and culture. In this they are like all the Russians in Arloŭ’s ballads.
‘Sura Sheinblit’ (2009) is mainly about the Jewish town of Berdichev in Ukraine and its other inhabitants or visitors including Conrad, Balzac and Shelley. The name of Balzac’s wife provokes from the poet, ‘Вось табе й Чалавечая камедыя!’ (There’s a Comédie humaine for you!, UA 2018, 58); the (Russian) refrain in this ballad is: ‘не был ли ты евреем в детстве?’ (Were you not a Jew when you were a child? (UA 2018, 60ff), and as he engages in a fanciful flight with his woman on this occasion, Sura (aka Bella), over Berdichev, Viciebsk, Odessa, Paris and Jerusalem, he imagines somebody from Hamas saying:
жыды ды яшчэ й лётаюць
збіць іх на х.й!
(UA 2018, 59) [21]
the yids are still flying
let’s shoot them to b.ggery
‘Vulica Salamieja’ (Salome Street, 2017), a very lively Galician ballad, is set mainly in Lviv. It begins with towers, including the 9/11 disaster in New York, before turning to questions of Belarusian cooking. Unsurprisingly, in view of the Ukrainian war, it is, in addition to the by now familiar literary and cultural fantasies, rich in criticism of Russia’s bellicosity and the crudeness of its tourists. In an uncharacteristically bleak moment, the narrator thinks of killing somebody in Lviv, although he understandably adds that it would not be poets Serhii Zhadan or Marianna Kiianovs’ka. Drinking Mexican coffee, he notes that Casanova (featured in the next ballad) does not mention Mexican women, although he praised those from Lviv, who, as we are told, were unreachable. One cafe has a plaque declaring that it was founded in 1863, the year associated by Arloŭ and all nationally conscious Belarusians with the Uprising led by Kastuś Kalinoŭski, when his predecessors fired at Muscovites or, indeed, betrayed the insurgents to members of the Russian punitive expeditions, 5 roubles for the living, 3 for the dead, which provokes a characteristic exclamation from the poet:
о святы Юр!
хіба можа ў святога
быць такога імя?
(UA 2018, 75)
O, holy Jura[22]
can a saint really
have such a name?
Other characters in addition to Salome are Alena Kiš (a Belarusian primitive painter), Oksana Zabužko and her very nationally aware book Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex, as well as Bruno Schulz and his murderer Karl Günter, while Nostradamus and Bandera are among the large audience attending the narrator’s poetry reading.
‘Apošniaja žančyna Kazanovy’ (The Last Woman of Casanova, 2017) is described as a Bohemian ballad. The woman of the title is Darota aged twenty-one, and Arloŭ mentions some of the famous lover’s male visitors from Benjamin Franklin to Mozart. Darota, for her part, devises a wonderful revenge on Casanova for when he is sixty-six. This is not specified: could it be that his picture hangs in a public lavatory, or a post box with the sign, ‘Write To Casanova He Will Write To You’?; the letters in the box, incidentally are expected to be nearly all in Russian. In a restaurant the narrator writes in his notebook that Casanova was gazing at the ceiling, but when he discovered that the swarthy waitress was also called Darota, he too gazes at the ceiling (UA 2018, 97).
‘Hvirabi’ is a Georgian ballad named after the celebrated local red wine, Gvirabi. Knut Hamsun, notorious for his open admiration for Hitler, died there, but does not want to remain in his grave. The poet wonders whether there are any other Norwegian writers without graves, noting that the right-wing murderer Anders Breivik is still in prison. Other famous visitors and exiles that come to the poet’s mind include the poet Tadeusz Łada Zabłocki and playwright Aleksandr Griboedov, but it is a later aggressive Russian presence that seems uppermost in Arloŭ’s narrative, alongside women and drinking, when he declares that no treaty with Russia is worth the paper it is written on, and laments the destruction of a 1500-year-old chapel that had been turned into a prison and all its frescoes destroyed. There is much more information about Georgia itself, presented, as always, in a semi-fantastical manner. This ballad is particularly rich in a technique also found elsewhere, namely the repetition of lines and ideas (somewhat like the leitmotivs in Wagner’s operas).
Earlier in the book, a more straightforwardly autobiographical piece ‘Miod’ (Honey), begins with a reminiscence of eating bread and honey with slightly older friends, two boys and a girl, Ninka, when he was twelve. The question arises, not for the first time, of his having a gypsy grandfather, while they eat on plates decorated with a swastika (his grandmother remembers having a wartime friend Paul). As the honey rolls down Ninka’s front, the poet reflects on the dangers and pleasures of looking at women’s breasts and the rumour that it may extend a man’s life by five years (UA 2018, 28). He describes the unpleasant fates of many of his former friends, including Ninka. Later in what is probably the most straightforward narrative in this book, forty-three years after that honey, the poet suffers a heart attack, and wonders whether he had not ogled sufficiently, although, as he wryly observes, enough to survive; he has moreover drunk three times more from a mug with an eagle and swastika than his doctors would allow (UA 2018, 31). The poem ends with a verse by one of his friends, who was later to throw himself out of an eleventh-floor window:
а можа побач з намі свет
у часе на адлегласці імгнення
і можа іншы ты у ім жывеш
і можа ў цябе чыстае сумленне.
(UA 2018, 32)
and maybe alongside us is another world
at the distance of an instant in time
and maybe you live in it
and maybe you have a clear conscience,
The last section of the book is also not a ballad in the usual sense: ‘Paetyčny fest u Druskienikach’ (A Poetic Festival in Druskininkai). The leitmotiv here is ‘твой арганізм атручаны паэзіяй’ (your organism is poisoned by poetry, UA 2018, 116ff), and among delegates’ discussions are the worth or otherwise of the Nobel Prize (including Svetlana Alieksievich’s award in 2015), and whether a Spaniard’s poems about Barcelona should acknowledge that it is not in Spain but Catalonia (a theme that occupied Arloŭ in his already mentioned poem devoted to that city (UA 2009, 52). Arloŭ’s verse ‘Ліст начальніку турмы’ (Letter to a Prison Governor) arouses great discussion of prisons and prisoners, but the poet wonders how much the other poets knew about what happened in 1937. A Japanese poetess recites a poem against all ‘–isms’; a sarcastic Croatian announces a poem ‘Cyšynia’ (Quiet) and then remains silent; and a Lithuanian reads a brutal poem about the Magi who find the infant Jesus in a plastic bag in a container, but leave him there for fear of trouble with the police, to suffer for our sins. When a Ukrainian reads a poem dedicated to the Bandera gang, also raising a yellow and blue flag, one listener says that she had been sick, and that such poems belong in a morgue (UA 2018, 123). The chaotic end of the conference comes with the appearance of a host of people from various countries and historical eras. Shakespeare, Milton, Frost, Whitman, Kipling, Eliot and others had been expected, although of these only the last three apparently made it. The final words, sung by the band Ben Jovi, are:
‘It’s all the same
Only the names have changed.’
In many ways this book of ballads reflects the principal elements of Arloŭ’s poetic world. All are humorous, full of national awareness whatever the setting, with Belarus always uppermost in his mind. There is an immense cast of characters, mainly cultural and political, drawn from the past and present, which very frequently intermingle. The bleak pictures of Russians, and the very physical depictions of women, familiar from the shorter poems in earlier books, are also very prominent.
Uladzimier Arloŭ is a very distinctive and immensely imaginative poet, whose vigorous free verse suits the many changes in chronology, and swift movement between fantasy and realism in his work. The rich lexicon is strongly influenced by his historical training, and he is also not averse to dialectal expressions or at times foreign words; he is moreover often tempted by word play, particularly between Belarusian and other languages. The poet’s thematic world, in which dreams play a major role, is that of the culture of Eastern Europe and beyond (although Russia, as Belarus’s ‘big brother’ fares badly in his works). He brings not only keen observation and considerable erudition to descriptions of the places he has visited, but his native Polacak is ever present in his mind. Also important is introspection in various forms, mostly related to death, resurrection, and especially his duty to protect his country from amnesia. Many verses are related to his childhood and his development as a historian and poet, with the fate of his books also prominent. His highly referential writing expects from its readers considerable classical learning as well as knowledge of Belarusian letters and history as well as world culture. Also striking is the profusion of real and imagined women that populate some of his shorter and all of his longer poems, and sex and writing appear to be connected in several verses; his muse is a far from abstract, very physical person. Arloŭ’s broad humour, even in the gloomiest verses, often breaks through in a body of immensely stimulating work that makes him one of the best living Belarusian poets of today.
Arloŭ, Uladzimir, 1991: Tam, za dzviaryma: Vieršy ŭ prozie, Minsk: Mastackaja litaratura [in text UA 1991].
Arloŭ, Uladzimir, 1995: Faŭna snoŭ: Vieršy, Minsk: Mastackaja litaratura [in text UA 1995].
Arloŭ, Uladzimir, 2003: Orden Bielaj Myšy, Minsk: Mastackaja litaratura.
Arloŭ, Uladzimier, 2006: Parom praź Lia-Manš: Vieršy, Minsk: Lohvinaŭ [in text UA 2006].
Arloŭ, Uladzimier, 2009: usio pa-raniejšamu toĺki imiony źmianilisia: Vieršy, Miensk: Lohvinaŭ [in text UA, 2009].
Arloŭ, Uladzimier, 2018: paručnik Piatrovič i praparščyk Zdań: Balady, Minsk: Knihazbor [in text UA 2018].
Bennett, Brian, 2011: The Last Dictatorship in Europe: Belarus under Lukashenko, London: Hurst and Company.
Hapiejeva, Voĺha, 2003: Rekanstrukcyja nieba (Raman u detaliach – Detaĺ u ramanie), Miensk: Lohvinaŭ.
Marples, David R, 1999: Belarus: A Denationalized Nation, Amsterdam: Harwood Academic Press.
Rice, Condoleeza, 2005: Interview for CNN with J. Dougherty.
Skobla, Michaś, 2003: Krasa i sila. Antalohija bielaruskaj paezii XX stahoddzia, Minsk: Limaryus [in text Skobla 2003].
Wilson, Andrew, 2011: Belarus: The Last European Dictatorship, New Haven and London: Yale University Press.
[1] For instance, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in an interview with Jill Dougherty for CNN on Wednesday 20 April 2005, called the country ‘the last remaining dictatorship in the heart of Europe’. Rice’s assessment has been echoed in the titles of two important recent books about Belarus by Brian Bennett and Andrew Wilson in 2011.
[2] Niakliejeŭ put himself up as a candidate for the country’s presidency in 2010, a year of many protests throughout Belarus. As a result of proposing a political party called ‘Tell the Truth’ and to become a liberal president, he was beaten almost to death by the police and security forces.
[3] The translation system used in this article is the one officially accepted in Belarus. In the Bibliography the spelling of Arloŭ’s first name and that of the geographical names follow that in the relevant publications. In the text the spelling of names, including of his own, are the ones preferred by the writer.
[4] The concept of the country being ‘denationalized’ comes from David Marples (Marples 1999). As a result of his book, Professor Marples (a Canadian citizen) was denied, so far as I know, permenently a visa to visit Belarus.
[5] The adjective in the title is some kind of occasionalism: communication from the poet 16.2.2019.
[6] This was the first and last time that Arloŭ characterized his verse in this way.
[7] After Michaś Skobla in a review referred to Faŭna snoŭ as ‘Fajna snoŭ’ (The fauna of dreams as Fine again), the poet replied to this at its launch with a witty epigram: <Паэтаў беларускіх шобла са страхам думае пра Скоблу> (The gang of Belarusian poets thinks with fear about Skobla, Skobla 2003, 658).
[8] There are many references in Arloŭ’s book of ballads to this silence. See, for example, ‘Alieka (Balkanskaja balada)’ where Romanians are believed by some to be really Bulgarians who are forced to be silent in that language: Arloŭ 2018, 47-48.
[9] Symon Budny (1530-1596), one of the great biblical translators and humanist educators in Belarusian history. It is notable that when this poem was reprinted (without paragraphs) in Arloŭ’s next book the figure who is part-tramp is the considerably more political Grand Duke Vitaŭt (1344-1430).
[10] By significant is meant changes greater than those of spelling rather than words, and of page layout. More than forty of the poems in Faŭna sloŭ are printed in revised versions in Parom praź Lia-Manš.
[11] Such considerations occupy the thoughts of another very different Belarusian poet, albeit in her novel: see Voĺha Hapiejeva, Rekanstrukcyja nieba (Raman u detaliach) – (Detaĺ u ramanie) (Reconstruction of the Sky [A Novel in Details] – [Detail in a Novel]), Minsk 2003, 91-139 (98).
[12] An exception is perhaps the droves of Chinese who have been invited to Belarus, presumably to boost the country’s flagging economy.
[13] The version of this poem in Parom praź Lia-Manś is without the year in the title that it has in Faŭna snoŭ.
[14] In a later humorous poem, ‘Brat Il’ja’ he describes an Orthodox neighbour who believes the Belarusian language to be a product of the Antichrist (and that before the Revolution all true Orthodox communicated in Church Slavonic, and all Catholics, especially the Pope, have a special place in hell), UA 2009, 49). It may be noted, incidentally, that Arloŭ is not a spiritual or religious poet in the way that his wife, Valiancina Aksak, undoubtedly is.
[15] Batura was King of Poland 1576-86.
[16] Usiaslaŭ ruled in Polacak from 1044 until his death in 1101.
[17] A magnate in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania who edited that country’s third Statute in 1588.
[18] The title is derived from a song by the group Ben Jovi.
[19] Belarusian dictionaries and even the internet are not always helpful in finding some of the words used by Arloŭ in his poems.
[20] Jan III Sobieski was King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1674 to 1696.
[21] This could be a reference to the ignorant Viciebsk councillors in the early 1970s who, receiving an offer from Chagall of his pictures, refused, having consulted equally ignorant Soviet ‘experts’ and being told that ‘there are just a few Jews flying about’.
[22] The author is making a pun from the saint’s name Jura, which as ‘Юр’ in Belarusian means lust.
Arnold McMillin