The Poem

Written in the late 1950’s, Andrei Voznesensky’s “The Last Train to Malakhovka” illustrates the poet’s concern for the fate of his fellow human beings in an increasingly alienating and depersonalized world and reflects his belief in the revitalizing power of poetry. Like much of Voznesensky’s early work, “The Last Train to Malakhovka” is intended to be read aloud. The translation by poet Jean Garrigue preserves many of the aural qualities of the original Russian, although Garrigue’s interpretation does not rhyme, using blank verse instead. The poem is divided into ten four-line stanzas; lines vary from four to eleven syllables.

The opening stanzas present the passengers on the late train to Malakhovka, a run-down suburb of Moscow known for its prostitutes and its criminal element. The poem’s first line introduces switchblade-carrying toughs, and the next depicts a rough group of girls whose gold-capped teeth mark them as members of an underclass, possibly gypsies. The stanza closes with a glimpse of the conductors napping. The second stanza reveals a division among the passengers. Tired workers sleep in the front of the coach; the rougher, rowdier group is at the rear. This is where the poet, introduced in the third stanza, chooses to ride, among the “Thieves and guitars.” The back of the train, noisy and littered with trash, is likened to a gypsy camp. In the midst of the din, the poet begins to recite “First Frost,” a...

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Forms and Devices

Voznesensky is noted for his virtuosity, and in “The Last Train to Malakhovka” he takes full advantage of the flexibility that the Russian language affords, a flexibility not available in English. As a result, translation cannot reproduce some of the formal features of the original, yet Jean Garrigue’s version remains faithful to the spirit of the Russian. Garrigue’s translation re-creates a sense of a train moving over uneven patches of track and preserves the rich aural qualities through ornamental alliteration and assonance. For example, in the opening line, initial sounds in stressed syllables are repeated in the phrase “fancy flick knives,” and the terminal assonance of “knives” and “smiles” in lines 1 and 2 suggests the rhyme pattern of the original Russian.

The repetition of sounds also softens the tone of the early verses, working against the dinginess and potential danger of the scene. Wordplay and punning inject a playfulness that corresponds to the possibility of excitement and liveliness described in the latter portion of the second stanza and indicate that the poet feels at ease with his traveling companions. When he begins to recite “First Frost,” the rear of the train is noisy, “where jigs/ A hubbub of drunken strings.” The inattentiveness of the young men in his audience is explained as resulting from “rackets of their own,” alluding both to the noise they are making and to their own, most likely shady,...

(The entire section is 599 words.)