JOhn farndon

Translated Songs

selected songs

Vladimir Vysotsky

(translated by John Farndon with Olga Nakston)



The first major collection of the song lyrics of Vladimir Vysotsky in English translated to match the original lyric form. Vysotsky was one of the greatest popular artists and poets of the 20th century – the Russian Bob Dylan/Jacques Brel, the symbol of truth for an entire generation living under the oppression of the Soviet Union, and mourned by tens of millions when he died in 1980.


Stubborn horses


Along the edge of a precipice,

A rocky ledge on hell’s abyss,

I’m lashing my horses through the mist ,

The whip sings its stinging, vicious hiss!

The thin air makes me dizzy.

I gulp the wind, I drink the mist!

And now I feel a deathly bliss –

I’m lost in this, I’m lost in this!

Take it easy now, you horses,

Take it easy will you now!

Take no notice of the hissing whiplash sting!

But these stubborn horses will take me,

They will take me to the brow

And I’ve no time to live on,

No time to sing!

I’ll make these horses drink!

I’ll sing this final song!

I‘ll make this moment last long

As I stand here on the brink!

I will perish like a ball of fluff

Blown from your hand by storm,

And they’ll bear me swiftly away

On a sleigh through the snowy dawn

Slow down a little, you horses,

Slacken off your pace –

Just give me a little time, please,

Until my resting place.

Take it easy now, you horses,

Take it easy will you now!

Take no notice of the hissing whiplash sting!

But these stubborn horses will take me,

They’ll take me to the brow

And I have no time to live on,

No time to sing!

I’ll make these horses drink!

I’ll sing this final song!

I’ll make this moment long

As I stand out here, on the brink.

We’re here right on time –

You can’t be late for God, of course

So why are the angels singing

With such angry force?

Or is it the sleigh bells sobbing,

Sobbing on the horses?

Or is just me yelling

Slow down to those horses?

Take it easy now, you horses,

I beg you slow down now!

Just ignore the whiplash sting!

But these stubborn horses will take me,

They’ll take me to the brow

Please let me live on a little,

Oh please let me sing!

I will make these horses drink!

I will sing this final song!

I will make this moment long –

I will stand here, pausing on the brink.

A Song about guns


The little guys swarm round the world – they’ve got their time on loan.

There are good guys, there are bad guys; some in gangs, and some alone.

I know a few of the good ones;

I see their wings in my head.

But I’m friends too with some bad ones,

And they all want guns:

They want guns, they want guns – and bloodshed!

The Mr Bigs – rich as Croesus – they see the missile’s charms

But the little guys, what can they do? They just need firearms.

Look at that deadbeat loser –

Not a ruble in his pocket.

But what’s in there? Look closer –

A gun. He’s going to cock it.

He’s been dreaming about supper

Since he missed it last night.

His shoes are on their uppers,

Tatty jacket far too tight.

I’ll walk with him along the way,

Through the evening lightly.

But my sweaty fingers always stay

On the trigger tightly.

I’m purposeful, I’m on business –

A little hammered, slightly stoned, slightly pissed.

Hey, what you looking at me for? It’s not like I’m a cripple –

I can pass for a human if I have a decent tipple.

Ok, right, you odd ones.

A little chat, now – come along.

And when we’ve dined and had some fun,

I’ll sing to you about guns

About guns, about guns, a song!

Mr Big may look like a little guy

As he lays out card by card.

But it’s the biggest stakes he plays by –

He plays high and he plays hard.

He likes to set off a bomb or two

But that’s not for the likes of us.

We’re a much more humble crew –

Just a handgun and no fuss.

The gun I bought’s in my pocket here,

Primed and at the ready.

It’s all I need to stop the fear.

A stiletto, sharp and deadly.

The normal folk are scurrying by

Desperate not to meet.

But we’re tooled up to terrify

As we stride out down the street.

The barrel searches faces like a tease

You there! Hands on the wall.  Just freeze!

You’re wasting time with chemicals – that’s a futile plan,

But if you get yourself an axe, boy, then you’ll be a man.

Now my story has begun –

The unvarnished truth, and strong.

I’ll sing it as well as anyone.

I’ll sing to you about guns

About guns, about guns, a song!

Why ever buy new underwear?

That’s no damn use in a fight.

Better buy yourself a gun just there

Round the corner, on the right.

Let’s gets started. Come on, let’s go

Learn to shoot – it’s a cinch!

Papers like news about guns, you know,

Filling every column inch.

What a feeling deep in your gut!

What bitterness in your soul!

An artist had his life slammed shut

For a papier mache bowl.

Come on. Shoot away at will.

At people, at puppies, at kittens.

Thank God that they sell firearms still –

That won’t soon be forbidden.

As long as guns aren’t banned, you know it’s ok;

You don’t need to be scared now, everything is ok.

Easy for the barracuda with fangs – well, of course, he never shows fear.

He doesn’t need guns, ‘cos he’s Big. He’s Big and that’s enough.

But for the small guy without guns, he may as well not be here.

Yes, without guns, he’s just a target – and that is really tough.

The Mr Bigs shoot rhinos

And hunt big game with a gun.

But for us, that’s not the way it goes –

The gun game is never fun.

Let the big guys in high places

Play the big game if they choose.

They can set a Panther through its paces

Or simply never lose.

But this gun here in my pocket –

It’s my new pet ‘minnow’.

For us guys down at the bottom,

A gun’s a cosy pillow.

I feel the warm blood pulsing through

My temples, wet and muddy.

My finger grips, sweaty and blue,

On the trigger, hot and sticky.

We, yes, the little people, rip holes in society’s sheet,

But if you stand aside awhile, and look at us once more.

Behind the narrow shoulders and beyond the little feet,

You’ll see looming two futile, tragic and gigantic wars.

“Lay low, keep quiet and you won’t get hit”

That’s what we’re often taught.

But you’re a mug if you fall for it.

That’s why guns are bought.

The northeast wind’s begun to blow

Now a fair price has been set.

Yes, our country, thank god I know,

Is still a free country yet!

But you know, this life is cheap –

Like dust, you blow then its gone.

The ashes scatter, there’s nothing to keep –

Like a cheap fag, smoke and move on.

And this little life hangs on

By a single stray loose hair.

One press on the trigger and it’s gone

As if nothing was ever there…

As long as we can still buy guns, we’re not in trouble yet.

Taking a life is like spitting; we were taught how to fight.

Everywhere is war without a war, and with bare hands, you bet,

You can’t threaten someone or nail them, or hijack a flight.

No-one’s out of reach of a bullet

For a bullet, there’s no devil or God.

We shoot as we wish and say ‘fuckit’!

So keep clear, and give us the nod.

All ages and colours fall prey

To the thrill of a shooting attack:

Old and young, him and her, blonde or grey.

Asian, Caucasian or black.

What a feeling deep in your gut!

It’s all too familiar today!

Not just a cover shot of a killer but

With a girl in a negligee.

Our world is awash with losers,

Clutching axes bought for a dime,

And with boys pressing their fingers

On triggers all of the time.

selected poems & songs

Alexander Pushkin





Down by the lake, where dark trees grow thick,

Lived a monk who hoped to be saved.

He drove himself on with the sternest of sticks;

He fasted, he prayed and he slaved.

As he laboured away with his humble spade,

He was digging his grave with each breath.

To the Saints every day, he earnestly prayed

To release him from life into death.

Then one summer’s day, as he kneeled by the stairs

At the door of his tumbledown shack,

This anchorite gave the good Lord his prayers.

The forest began to grow black.

A mist over the lake like smoke did arise

And a blood-red moon rose from its sleep

To roll along slowly, through churning skies.

The monk gazed on the waters so deep.

As he looks and he looks, his mind fills with fear;

He can’t understand what he’s thinking…

But he sees all too clear, water bubbling near

Then all at once quietly sinking…

And suddenly there, white as first snows,

Pale as the shadows of night,

A naked girl from the waters arose

And emerges silent and bright.

She stares at the monk as she sits by the lake

And softly combs her wet hair.

The holy old monk, in fear starts to shake,

Entranced by her beauty so fair.

She beckons him on with a wave of her hand

And nods to him quickly, come to me.

Then like a falling star she’s gone from the land

To plunge in the waters so gloomy.

All that long night, the old man can’t sleep

All the long day, he can’t pray.

His mind is filled with the girl from the deep;

Her loveliness won’t go away.

Then once again, the woods dress in night,

The moon starts to redden once more

And there in full view, so lovely and bright,

Sits the naked girl down by the shore.

She nods to the monk with so teasing a gaze –

Blows kisses to him, sweet and wild.

And like summer waves, she splashes and plays,

And laughs and cries like a child.

Then tenderly moaning, she calls to the monk,

“Monk! Monk! Come to me! Come to me!”

Then into the lake, in a trice, now she’s sunk;

Silence reigns again under the trees.

On the third day, by the enchanted shore,

Sat the passion-filled old anchorite

To wait for the maid, lovely as before,

And the woods filled with shadows of night…

When bright dawn came up and kicked out the night,

The monk was nowhere to be seen,

But some boys passing by said they caught sight

Of a beard, afloat on the waters so green.

Frost and Sun


Frost and sun – what a glorious day!

Yet still, sweet friend, you sleep away –

It’s time, gorgeous, for you to stir:

Open wide your dreamy eyes

To catch the dawnglow in northern skies –

Rise up like a northern star!


Last night, remember, a blizzard seethed.

In sombre skies, the thick clouds heaved.

The moon, a livid blotch, struck shadows

Through the dark and churning brume,

While you sat miserably in the gloom –

Well now… look out through the windows!


Under vivid azure skies

A luxurious pure carpet lies –

Snow, sparkling in the brilliant light.

Bare trees present their blackening sheen;

Through the white, spruce growing green;

Beneath the ice, a river glistening bright.


Our room is filled with an amber glow

And now the kindling’s on the go,

Crackling merrily on the stove inside –

How nice to sit by its warmth all day!

But hey…why not order out the sleigh

With the chestnut mare and ride?


Swishing over the snow we’ll race.

Surrender, sweet friend, to the pace

As our urgent steed pulls fast!

We’ll shoot through lonely fields and thence

Through thickets so recently too dense…

To my beloved riverbank, at last.

Contact Author