Beaverson was walking down the road pondering: why is it that when you pour sand in the soup, its taste becomes spoiled?
All of a sudden, he saw a tiny little girl sitting in the road, holding in her hands a worm and crying loudly.
What are you crying about? Beaverson asked the little girl.
I’m not crying, said the little girl, I am singing.
Then why are you singing like that? asked Beaverson.
To make the worm happy, the girl said, and they call me Natasha.
So that’s how it is? Beaverson said, taken aback.
Yes, that’s how it is, said the girl. Good-bye. And the girl hopped up, climbed on a bicycle, and pedaled away.
So small and already riding bicycles, Beaverson thought to himself.
Previously published in The Literary Review, Vol. 56, Issue 03 , "Cry Baby"
I was born among the cattails. Like a mouse. My mother gave birth to me and placed me in the water. And I swam off.
Some kind of fish with four whiskers on its nose circled around me. I started to cry. And the fish started to cry also.
All of a sudden we saw, swimming on the surface, a porridge. We ate the porridge and started to laugh.
We were very happy and we swam along with the current and met a lobster. This was an ancient, giant lobster and he was holding in his claws an ax.
Swimming behind the lobster was a naked frog.
Why are you always naked? the lobster asked her. How come you aren’t ashamed?
There is nothing shameful in this, the frog said. Why should we be ashamed of our beautiful bodies, given to us by nature, when we aren’t ashamed of our despicable deeds, that we ourselves create?
You speak the truth, said the lobster. And I don’t know how to give you an answer to this. I propose that we ask a human being, because a human being is smarter than we are. Because we are wise only in fables, which human beings compose about us, so that it again appears here that the human being is wise and not we. So that’s when the lobster saw me and said:
And we don’t even have to swim anywhere because here’s one— a human.
The lobster swam up alongside me and asked:
Should one be ashamed of one’s own naked body? You are a human so tell us.
I am a human being and I will answer your question: we should not be ashamed of our naked bodies.
And now I will tell you about how I was born, how I was raised, and how the first signs of my genius were recognized. I was born twice. It happened in just this way:
My father married my mother in the year 1902, but my parents brought me into this world only at the end of the year 1905 because my father had wished that his child be born precisely on the New Year. Father had calculated that the impregnation must occur on the first of April and only on that day did he take a ride over to mother with the proposition that she become “with child.”
The first time my father visited my mother’s was on April 1 of the year 1903. Mother had long waited for this moment and was terribly overjoyed. But father, apparently, was in a very jovial mood and could not restrain himself and so said to mother: “April Fool’s Day!”
Mother was terribly hurt and would not on that day allow father near her. And so we all had to wait until the following year.
In the year 1904, on the first of April, father again prepared to arrive at mother’s with the same proposition. But mother, remembering the events of the previous year, said that now she no longer wished to be placed in such a preposterous position, and again would not let father near her. No matter how much father fumed, nothing helped.
And only a year hence did my father succeed in breaking down my mother’s resolve and siring me.
And so my germination took place on the first of April in the year 1905.
However, all of father’s plans were quashed, because I turned out to be premature and was born four months prior to term.
Father became so incensed that the neonatal nurse who delivered me, in her confusion, started to stuff me back in where I had just crawled out from.
One of our acquaintances who was present during the event, a student at the Military Medical Academy, declared that stuffing me back in would not work. Despite the student’s warning, they stuffed me in, though, it should be noted, and as was later confirmed, stuff me in they did but, being in a rush, they managed to do it into the wrong place.
That’s when the total pandemonium ensued....
In his lifetime, Daniil Kharms was known primarily as a children's poet. As I note in my introduction to the book, "The Lacanian psychoanalytic of the 'abject,' the sadomasochistic dyad inherent in Kharms’s oft-repeated and vicious attacks on children, [as well as on] women, the old, and mankind in general, is reminiscent of W. C. Fields’s comical persona. (One can only imagine the bitter irony inherent in the fact that Kharms owed his very physical existence to his “official position” as a children’s writer!)"
Today, I will try to represent a small portion of that work. But first of all.... Daniil Kharms was the pen name Daniil Yuvachev adopted while still in his teens. He spelled it variously: Harms, Charms, Daan Daan, Shardam, etc. Among his favorite models (Kharms knew English well, having studied it at the elite German Peterschule) were the alogism of Lewis Carroll and the nonsense of Edward Lear. It has also been conjectured that the name he chose for himself is close to the Russian pronunciation of that creation of another of his favorite authors, Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes. Since the 1980s, an entire cottage industry has sprung up in Russia consisting of Kharms's illustrated children's poems and animated films based on his work:
Perhaps my favorite of his children's verses is “Kak Papa Zastrelil Mne Khor'ka” (“How Father Shot me a Weasel”). The link to this page contains reproductions of the pages of the illustrated book, the text of the poem in Russian, followed by a very full tribute to his children's verse (also in Russian).
Here is an animated version of “Plikh i Plyukh,” Kharms's adaptation into Russian from the German of Wilhelm Busch. It should be noted here that the status of children's poets is much higher in Russia than in America, perhaps partly due to the fact that, because so many serious poets were not permitted to publish their "mature work," they turned either to children's verse or to translation to survive, both physically, by thus gaining admission to the Writer's Union, and as poets. Another cultural difference is that adaptation from foreign languages has always been a standard Russian translation practice, as for example Alexey Tolstoy's immensely popular adaptation of Pinocchio, Buratino, and Korney Chukovsky's Doctor Aybolit, an adaptation of Doctor Dolittle. One of Russia's most beloved children's poets was the noted Shakespeare translator, the Jewish Soviet poet, Samuil Marshak.
Here is a late Soviet version (1987) of perhaps Daniil Kharms's most popular children's verse, “Ivan Ivanych Samovar”. Here is an illustrated audio book version of the same poem, and yet another one, this, perhaps the most popular illustrated version from my own childhood.
THE BRAVE HEDGEHOG
On the table there stood a box.
The animals approached the box, and started to examine, smell, and lick it.
And the box suddenly – one, two, three – and popped open.
And from the box – one, two, three – popped out a snake.
The animals got scared and ran off.
Only the hedgehog didn’t get scared and yelled: “Kukareku!”
No, not that way! The hedgehog yelled: “Af-afaf!”
No, not like that either! The hedgehog yelled: “Meow-meow-meow!”
No, again not like that! I myself don’t know how.
Who knows; how do hedgehogs scream?
* * *
Upon the river floats a boat
That’s traveled very very far
And on this boat the sailors four
Are very brave and very broad.
They have two ears upon their skulls
And tails protruding from their bums
And the only thing that scares them
Are little kittens and full-grown cats.
A VERY TERRIFYING TALE
Two brothers walking in the alley
Were finishing up a roll with butter.
Suddenly from around the gutter
A huge dog jumps out barking loudly.
The youngest to the oldest said:
He intends to draw first blood.
So that we don’t end up dead
Let’s toss him the bread instead.
In the end, all came out smoothly.
The brothers immediately understood
That for every morning stroll
It’s best to carry a breakfast roll.
From the Notebooks:
I detest children, old men, old crones, and elderly wise people.
Poisoning children is cruel. But something needs to be done about them!
[second half of 1930s]
From Daniil Kharms's magnum opus, "Starukha (Old Woman)"
I can hear the loathsome cries of boys coming from the street. I lie there, inventing ways to punish them. I like the idea of infecting them with tetanus best of these, so that they freeze in their tracks. And then the parents drag them to their homes. They lie in their little beds and can’t even eat, because they can’t open their mouths. They feed them artificially. The lockjaw passes in a week, but they are so weakened that for another full month they must stay between the sheets. Then they begin to gradually improve, but I make them relapse with another bout of tetanus, and they all perish.
I lie on the daybed with my eyes open and can’t fall asleep....
From It was Summertime
...Plato extracted himself from the hammock and followed the cat.
Behind the bush, balancing on one leg, stood a heron.
Seeing Plato, the heron flapped her wings, swung her head, and made a clicking noise with her beak.
“Greetings!” said the heron and extended its foot to Plato.
Plato, wanting to shake the heron’s foot, held out his hand.
“Don’t you dare!” the pussycat said. “Handshakes have been forbidden! If you wish to exchange greetings, you must do so with your feet!”
Plato stretched out his leg and touched the heron’s foot with his own foot.
“That’s good, now you’re acquainted,” the pussycat said.
“Arethen Letusfry!” the heron said.
“Yes, let us fly!” said the pussycat and jumped on the heron’s back.
“Fly where?” Plato asked. But the heron had already snagged him by the back of his neck and taken off.
“Let me go!” Plato screamed.
“Nonsense!” the pussycat said, sitting on the heron’s back. “If we let go of you, you will fall and die.”
Plato looked down and saw the roof of his house.
“Where are we going?” Plato asked.
“Over there,” the pussycat said, flapping his paws in all directions at once.
Plato looked down once again and saw below him the gardens, the streets, and the tiny houses. Several people stood on the town
square and, shading their eyes with their hands, gazed up at the sky.
“Save me!” Plato yelled.
“Sirence!” the heron screamed, opening its beak wide.
Plato felt something constricting in his chest and heard a deafening noise in his ears, and the square with the tiny people began to grow quickly.
And then Plato heard the pussycat’s voice above him: “Catch him! He’s falling!”
You may read this story in its entirety in the book, or in Narrative Magazine, where it was previously published (free registration required)
The Four-Legged Crow
Once upon a time there lived a four-legged crow. Truth be told, she had five feet, but there’s no point in talking about that.
So once upon a time, the four-legged crow bought herself some coffee and thought: “So here I am, got myself some coffee, but what to do with it?”
And then, as bad luck would have it, a fox came trotting by. She saw the crow and yelled to her:
“Hey!” she yells. “You, crow!”
And the crow yells back at the fox:
“You’re a crow yourself!”
And the fox yells at the crow:
“And you, crow, are a pig!”
That’s when the crow, being upset, spilled her coffee. And the fox scrammed. And the crow climbed down to the ground and slunk off on all four or, more precisely, all five of her feet to her despicable house.
February 13, 1938
An old man, for no particular reason, went off, into the forest. Then he returned and said: Old woman, hey, old woman!
And the old woman dropped dead. Ever since then, all rabbits are white in winter.
The days are fleeing like fleet swifts
And we are flying like little sticks
The clock on the shelf is ticking and
I sit here wearing a wool-knit cap
The days are fleeting like the cups
And we are fleeing like the swifts
The sky is shimmering with lamps
And we are flying like the stars
DANIIL KHARMS, 1936