Tuesday, October 25, 2011

TS: Notes of a Red Guard

'We worked happily, singing as we went along, and whenever we went up or down a hill we would sing the "Dubinushka". Until then I had only read about the "Dubinushka," so now I was hearing the real thing for the first time. I'm no romantic: in fact, I'm decidedly dull and prosaic. Verses don't normally send me into raptures, but even now, in old age, I remember with warmth our "Dubinushka" and those who led the singing. 

These leaders were such masters of improvisation that never once, not even in one chastushka, did they repeat themselves. The chastushka would be about something topical--a foreman or gang leader, a woman or young girl, a priest or deacon. Each leader had his own specialty. I recall a fat, heavy-faced youth, a complete illiterate who on payday would drink away his wages, who was a master of the sharp-witted chastushka--admittedly, of a rather obscene variety. For every passerby he would invent some clever and totally unexpected jingle. He would break into an improvisation as the figure drew near, and then subside as they drew away. The appearance of the next person--whether young or old, handsome or ugly, fat or thin--would spark some new association, which would spontaneously form itself into words and rhyme. The words were rough and crude, but the rhyme would become tenderly caressing if a woman happened to please him. It would then seem as though a completely different person was singing the chastushka...

As the machines were assembled, the experienced workers were transferred to them--transferred to well-paid jobs in clean, warm workshops. The ribald young poet and I were put to work on a press, but the poet never managed to come to grips with the job. He would complain how boring it was, saying that such tedious work would never interest him even if it paid two or three rubles instead of one... 

Soon he left his fifty-ruble-a-month job for one that paid twenty or thirty rubles--a shoveling job of some kind. There he found a job where he could sing his songs and have an audience. None of the poets managed to hold down a machine job: they all slipped off elsewhere. They found machine work quite intolerable--as tedious as learning to read or write. While we literate workers crawled along the ground, the poets floated among the clouds, unable to get along on the boring old earth, eating too little, drinking too much, dying in some obscure corner. I met similar people in the prisons and concentration camps: there, too, accomplished storytellers and singers would stand out from the crowd, enjoying their popularity and success like artists on the stage.'
-Eduard Dune, Notes of a Red Guard

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