This poem caught my eye at a performance of Shostakovich’s fourteenth symphony this summer. The symphony is a set of eleven symphonic poems, all about death, with the poems sung in Russian by an alternating bass and soprano. Needless to say, it’s a little bit somber. I’d never heard of the Cossacks’ insult before, but I’d say it’s history’s sharpest “yo mama” diss. This particular translation was the one in the Ravinia program.
Réponse des Cosaques Zaporogues au Sultan de Constantinople (The Zaporozhian Cossacks’ Answer to the Sultan of Constantinople) by Guillaume Apollinaire, translated by M. Kudinov
You are a hundred times more criminal than Barabbas.
Living as the neighbour of Beelzebub,
you wallow in the most foul vices.
Fed on filth since childhood,
know this you’ll celebrate your Sabbath without us.
Rotten cancer, Salonica’s refuse,
a terrible nightmare which cannot be told,
one-eyed, putrid and noseless,
you were born while your mother
was writhing in fecal spasms.
Evil butcher of Podolye, look:
you are covered in wounds, sores and scabs.
Rump of a horse, snout of a pig,
may all the drugs be found
for you to heal your ills!