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Lavrov The Poet: Russian Foreign Minister Showcases His Literary Side

  • Robert Coalson

The pen may be mightier than the sword for Russian Foreign Minister-cum-poet Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

The pen may be mightier than the sword for Russian Foreign Minister-cum-poet Sergei Lavrov (file photo)

The Russian literary journal Russky Pioner has published three poems by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for a special edition on the topic of "Abroad." It has come as something of a surprise that the stern-faced, chain-smoking Lavrov has a bit of the poet in his Russian soul.

The poems are not new: one was composed in 1989, before the collapse of the Soviet Union when Lavrov had just completed a stint at the Soviet mission to the United Nations in New York and was working in Moscow as deputy head of the Section of International Economic Relations.

The other two are dated 1995 and 1996, when he was back at the UN as Russia's ambassador there. In his short introduction, Lavrov says the 1989 poem and the 1996 poem were written for a friend who was traveling first to New York and then back to Russia. The middle poem was written, he says, at a time when "it seemed the whole country was sailing abroad."

Lavrov says his purpose is "to show how the theme of 'abroad' was understood by my generation at various stages of the formation of its civic position."

The 1989 poem is titled One For The Road in which a narrator in a carriage is preparing to leave his homeland, "as if there is no road back… having given sacred bows to the graves and crosses of his people."

"The coachman is heading for Manhattan, bearing his whip above the horses," it reads. But then it is as if a mystical force holds the carriage back and the horses struggle to cross some invisible line in the dirt. The poem ends with an ambiguous toast -- "To our weakness. To Russia. To our destiny and our limits."

In January 1995, Lavrov writes about the theme of the various waves of Russian emigration that fled oppression at home and found refuge "on foreign shores." Their homeland ("rodina") pushed them away with "the lash."

"Now a third wave is arising," he writes. "from the irrepressible Russian land. The holy wells have dried up and sorcerers are circling. But Russia -- irrepressible again -- raises up wave after wave. And fate smiles like a witch and the country does not feel its losses."

"But what if this terrible third wave is the last? Study the coffee grounds in the saucer. Can you guess where the bridges have been burned? Can you guess where are the bridges by which the emigrants of the last wave can return?"

Lavrov's third poem harkens back to the first. It is titled As If It Were Yesterday (One For The Road, Part 2). He speaks of six years passing like the spark from a fire. He speaks of "a first love and betrayal," of passing whims of youth being overtaken by "other matters and other worries." He speaks of a country that has been wiped away by the wind.

"There is no longer such a country, but somehow the pride remains." He speaks of the taxi waiting at the door, his packed bags and "one for the road." "But this time it is for the road home."

"The road ahead is just the beginning of the road home."

"And you remember now and nothing at all seems in vain. This moment -- this drink for the road home -- will tomorrow become the memory of our yesterday."

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