Columbia University in the City of New York

Harriman Institute's

Latest News
Stepanova Translation Contest Winners
April 15, 2022

The Harriman Institute is pleased to announce the winners of the Translation Contest of two poems by Maria Stepanova, the Harriman Institute’s 2022 Writer in Residence. Forty-eight entries were judged by Ainsley Morse (Dartmouth College), Matvei Yankelevich (World Poetry Books), and Ronald Meyer (Columbia University). Contestants were given the choice of two poems from Stepanova’s Holy Winter. The judges awarded first prize for the best translation of each poem; namely: (A) Я просыпаюсь на белом, пустом и белом; and (другая А) Огни гаснут, наши девочки расходятся по палаткам. Nareg Seferian (Virginia Tech) and Alexander Dronin (Harvard University) were awarded first prize. Honorable mentions went to Lucia Gordon, Elaine Wilson (Columbia University), and Veronika Andrianova Schmitt and Adam Laten Wilson (Northwestern University).


Original Russian Texts


Below are the translations awarded first prize:

Nareg Seferian
Virginia Tech, School of Public and International Affairs

I get up on the white – empty and white – island, the bed you left me in.

And I get it – you left me. And I get it – I am myself the island.

Whoever said no man is an island was not left alone in an empty bed,

Where white linen marks winter, falling in between the lines,

Where there is simply white between you and me –

            tracks of invisible gaps running underneath,

            boulevards with no one strolling about,

            empty parks,

And where there is no linen uniting us together,

            nor silken threads to hold on to,

            nor shots of words gently passing between us.

Whoever is wrapped up in his own skin and whoever else has run away from confinement

            – not desiring to be a part

                        of the archipelago

                        of the federal republic

                                    seizing the embrace

                                                of the zone

                                                of territorial union –

they bare their island nature like something to be ashamed of.

I see the cliffs on their coast.

The god of love pierced me with his stake,

The god of dreams did not hold on to me in his cradle.

Coming to the rescue – the god of alcohol,

Hugging from the inside, tilling his vineyard.


Alexander Droznin
Harvard University, Ph.D. Candidate in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures

Lights out, our girls part ways to their tents,

Clean the weapons, check the ammo,

All as it should be. You ask me how I am —

I am fine, ready for battle.

What’s the point in crying: over spilled milk,

A pierced shield, a life suspended

Like a plush monkey on a string

Bouncing up and down and back and forth.

Your place is empty, dark; your sleeping bag

Folded, gathering dust, like you were never there.

You say that soldiers also weep —

Like that one in Asia Minor who wept for his boy

Who went alone to spy on Greek ships

And came back with his head cut off?

You ask me how I am? I have forgotten about you.

I don’t bother asking how you are — a young husband, a young son,

A new country, a new passport, a new war,

Past experience in a war zone,

Snipers firing on your past friends.

As a young girl, you seemed awkward to me.

Now both those girls have other troubles.

Faster than it takes to assemble and disassemble a rifle,

The memory of me will gather and disperse

Under your severed right breast

Tomorrow morning, when we take our positions

And you will earn your posthumous medal.

And I will enter into our posthumous immortality.