“A Land Where Everything’s Funny”: Sofiya Pregel’s Gifts

The Odessa-born émigré poet Sofiya Pregel (1896/97-1972) was best known — and loved — in her day for the work she did in behalf of the Russian literary community. She came from a family rich in talents — talents that served them well both in the Russian Empire and abroad. One of her brothers, Boris Pregel (1893-1976), became a successful engineer and, eventually, the president of the New York Academy of Sciences. Both Boris and Sofiya were uprooted by the Revolution and the Civil War, finding themselves first in Constantinople, then in Berlin, then in Paris. Boris soon rebuilt his business career, while his sister began to publish poems. Forced to flee Paris as the Nazis advanced, Sofiya emigrated, via Lisbon, to New York, where Boris was already well established. In 1942, she founded the literary journal Novosel’e (Housewarming), which welcomed Russian émigré writers of all generations at a particularly difficult time; most had indeed been made homeless, yet again, by the war, which also forced the closure of a number of important journals and newspapers. Preternaturally warm, energetic, and diplomatic, she kept Housewarming running for eight years, becoming the emigration’s great peacemaker, but showing no patience for those who had collaborated with the Axis powers. After the journal folded in 1950, she financed the Paris-based press Rifma (Rhyme), which she took over in 1957, after its founders death. Throughout that time, she continued to write her own poems, and in the 1960s she started a captivating memoir of her early years in Odessa, titled My Childhood. Though left unfinished at the time of her death, it was published in 1973-74, in three volumes, by her brother Boris.

The whimsical poem below appeared in her sixth collection of verse, Spring in Paris (1966), and it appealed to me this week because Jenny and I are currently tending to one of our cats, who had to undergo emergency surgery and is now bravely recovering in an undignified cone. Pushkin is three years old, and, I’m happy to say, still has all his whiskers!

He gave me a whisker-less kitten,
an apple (Golden Reinette),
and a railway ticket bitten
all over, still soaking wet.

That ticket bought me a trip
to a land where everything’s funny —
where a rabbit on roller-skates zips
past a truck driver who flips
through a book on brilliant bunnies.

He gave me a little ladder,
the summer’s sunshine and warmth,
and the gift that most truly matters —
his four-year-old being on earth!

Он дарил мне кота безусого,
И яблоко — жёлтый ранет,
И изжёванный и обкусанный
Железнодорожный билет.

Пробитый всеми контролями
Билет в страну чудаков.
Где заяц катит на роликах,
И читает про умных кроликов
Водитель грузовиков.

Он дарил мне погоду летнюю
И ступеньки в дворовой мгле
И своё четырёхлетнее
Пребывание на земле!


6 thoughts on ““A Land Where Everything’s Funny”: Sofiya Pregel’s Gifts

  1. What a lovely poem and an inspiring woman – thank you for sharing this Boris! And I’m so glad your Pushkin is recovering – I have been watching the photos on social media and hoping for the best. Coincidentally, Mr. Kaggsy and I briefly shared our home with another Pushkin many moons ago – a lovely little black cat with white paws. Alas, he was a free spirit and his time on this planet was not long, but he was adorable while he was with us…

    Liked by 1 person

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