“Since Your Future Is Shrouded in Black”: Vladislav Ellis’s “Lie, My Friend”

Portrait of Vladislav Ellis
by Vladimir Odinokov

On October 7, at noon PST, the Russian-American Cultural Center and its generous director, Regina Khidekel, will host my talk on the poetry of Russian Los Angeles, which I have titled “We Trample on Our Dusty Stars,” after a line from Richard Ter-Boghossian’s “Hollywood.” Ter-Boghossian is one of five poets whose work I’ll present in translation. Three of them found their way to California after the Second World War — found their ways, I should say, as the paths they took were different. Vladimir Korvin-Piotrovsky, who fled Russia during the Civil War, was in Paris when Germany invaded. He joined the Resistance and was imprisoned in 1944, but was eventually freed and remained in France until 1961. Ter-Boghossian, a soldier in the Soviet army, was taken prisoner by the Germans at the front; after escaping from their camp, he was forced to flee Soviet territory too, as returning POWs often faced persecution and even death at home. Vladislav Ellis, whose father and brother were both arrested and executed in the Stalinist purges of the 1930s, was also taken prisoner by the Germans early in the war; unlike Ter-Boghossian, however, he was put to work. A highly trained engineer, he took part in the construction of the German state railway. After the war, together with his wife and young son, Ellis spent several years in a DP camp; eventually he found work in Belgium and, in 1950, moved to Los Angeles.

The portrait above was done in 1945, in the DP camp. The expression on Ellis’s face matches the mood of the poem below, with which he opens his collection of poems from 1968.

Lie, My Friend

Lie about all your great battles
and how you conquered your fear.
Nо need to show me your medals.
We’re all well bemedalled here.

Lie about shooting down warplanes
and the nurse that treated your wounds.
Go on – lie all you want, friend.
When you’re done, I’ll lie a bit too.

Of course, our boasting won’t free us
from what happened or drown all our pain.
Yes, back there, we were all of us heroes,
just not as much as we claim.

When the dirt rises up in your breast,
choke it down, knock a few back:
add a bold ruddy hue to your past,
since your future is shrouded in black…

Ври, мой друг

Ври, кaк рвaлись к последней стaвке
Вы в бою, презирaя стрaх.
Я с тебя не потребую спрaвки
О полученных орденaх.

Кaк косил истребителей стaю,
Кaк любил в лaзaрете сестру.
Ври мой друг, я тебя понимaю,
Ты зaкончишь и я совру.

Этим ухaрски глупым зaпоем,
Боль о прошлом не утолим,
Все мы были когдa-то герои,
Прaвдa, меньше, чем говорим.

Ври мой друг, и в душевной рaне,
Зa бутылкой, утихнет мрaзь.
Коль грядущее в чёрном тумaне,
Тaк прошедшее розовым крaсь!!!

8 thoughts on ““Since Your Future Is Shrouded in Black”: Vladislav Ellis’s “Lie, My Friend”

    1. I’m so glad Ellis’s work speaks to you! You can find two other poems of his, in my translation, by clicking his name. I hope to translate more soon. And I’ll make sure to share the YouTube link of the presentation once it’s posted!

      Liked by 1 person

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