Vadim Strelchenko’s “A Flash”

Vadim Strelchenko.jpg

I couldn’t find much information about Vadim Strelchenko (1912-1942), whose life, like the lives of so many talented poets of his generation, was cut short by the Second World War. He was born in Kherson but grew up in Odessa, where he went to work at a factory and began publishing poems in local newspapers. Some of these early efforts reached Sterlchenko’s fellow Odessan, Eduard Bagritsky, who was by then one of the best known poets in the Soviet Union. Bagritsky helped his younger colleague place poems in more prominent journals, and in 1936 Strelchenko moved to Moscow and was enrolled at the Literary Institute. He saw two collections into print, The Poems of a Comrade (1937) and My Photograph (1941), before enlisting in the army. He disappeared at the front at the age of 29. The poem below, written in 1940, evokes a rare moment of stillness on a bustling square in the Soviet capital. Much of Strelchenko’s verse can be described as patriotic, and I see a certain kind of patriotism in “A Flash,” but it is in no way jingoistic. What Strelchenko expresses is a sense of genuine comradeship, of total unity, with the citizens all around him. This sense of total unity lasts only a moment, but it leaves a trace, a barely perceptible pulse, as the poet goes on with his day.

A Flash

At times there are, on Moscow squares,
flashes of quiet, fleeting islands:
no horses and no trolley-cars —
only unfathomable silence.

As if a moment’s thought were granted
to every person passing through;
as if what every heart had wanted
would, in a moment, all come true;

as if these people — perfect strangers —
were meant to meet that afternoon,
were meant to recognize each other,
to walk together,
and commune.

Yes, yes: it’s happening, it’s starting!
(… A distant hail, a cheerful cry …)
… But suddenly, without a warning,
a lorry thunders by.
Again, the sound of engines revving —
ribbons of wind float through the air.

But what’s that blowing through my hair?
Not wind — but people, breathing.



Есть, порой, на московской площади
Тихий промельк, секунда одна:
Ни троллейбуса вдруг, ни лошади —
Непонятная тишина.

Словно время на размышление
Всем идущим на миг дано,
Словно сбудется во мгновение
Все, чем сердце порой полно.

Словно всех незнакомых ранее
В этот полдень сошлись пути,
Узнаванье пойдет, братание
С кем вместе жить и идти.

Вот уж кажется: начинается!
(…Дальний оклик, веселый вскрик…)
…Но вот тут-то и появляется
Неожиданный грузовик.
Вновь машин легковых мелькание,
Ветра легкая полоса.

Но не ветер, людей дыхание
Овевает мои волоса.


9 thoughts on “Vadim Strelchenko’s “A Flash”

  1. It seems to me, that on the surface of this poem everything (almost) appears in total bliss.
    Until that is, when “suddenly, without a warning, a lorry thunders by”.
    Given the year of the writing, 1940, I am afraid, it is a thinly veiled reference to tumultuous thirties with the Stalin’s show trials, which were usually preceded by picking up a victim in the middle of the night and unceremoniously throwing him in a large car or truck called “black raven”- in Russian “чёрный воронок».
    For the automotive enthusiasts of their various models the reference is provided.Воронок_(жаргон)
    About 15-20 years ago there was an excellent film on this very topic-“Khrustalev, bring the car” or “Хрусталёв, машину».

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Jack, thank you for this valuable sidelight! It’s also possible that the sudden interruption is a presentment of the coming war — which had already begun for the USSR’s neighbors. But I like to believe that the poem is not so directly political. It speaks to an experience we’ve all had — an experience of unexpected stillness and peace. That moment of stillness is the heart of the poem; what comes before and after it is not as important.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Further to “Flash”.
    In the early sixties a very popular song “I am walking through Moscow” from the film by the same name burst on the scene.
    The text written by Gennady Shpalikov resonates very much with “Flash” as seen by you, Boris.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. […] When I was a child, it seemed to me that my relatives were obsessed with my posture… I was encouraged to stand up straight and shove out my chest. It turns out I was being molded to fit a very Odessan pattern. The following phrase, which I heard countless times, expresses my hometown’s distinct ideal of masculine beauty: “The chest of a sailor and the back of a stevedore!” This stands to reason, of course — the port is the beating heart of the city. Many Odessan poets have sung paeans to the port and its denizens, but I’m especially fond of this heartfelt proletarian ode to stevedores by Vadim Strelchenko. […]


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