Semyon Lipkin

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Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin
Lisnyanskaya-30 5.jpg
Lipkin and his wife, the poet Inna Lisnianskaya
Born (1911-09-06)September 6, 1911
Odessa, Russian Empire
Died March 31, 2003(2003-03-31) (aged 91)
Peredelkino, Russia
Occupation poet, translator, memoirist, prose-writer, soldier
Nationality Russian
Period 1911-2003
Genre literature
Subject World War II, History, Philosophy, Literature, Folklore, Jewish heritage, The Bible
Notable works Kvadriga Memoirs, The Lieutenant Quartermaster (An epic poem)

Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin (Липкин, Семён Израилевич) (6 September (19th New Style) 1911 – 31 March 2003) was a writer and poet.

Lipkin is renowned as a literary translator and often worked from the regional languages which Stalin tried to obliterate. Lipkin hid a typescript of his friend Vasily Grossman's magnum opus, Life and Fate, from the KGB and initiated the process that brought it to the West. Martin Amis remarked, "If it were for nothing else than the part he played in bringing Life and Fate to publication Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin would deserve to be remembered."

Lipkin's importance as a poet was achieved once his work became available to the general reading public after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In the many years prior, he was sustained by the support of his wife, poet Inna Lisnianskaya and close friends such as Anna Akhmatova, Joseph Brodsky and Alexander Solzhenitsyn (who thought him a genius and championed his poetry). Lipkin’s verse includes explorations of history and philosophy and exhibits a keen sense of peoples' diverse destinies. His poems include references to his Jewish heritage and to the Bible. They also draw on a first-hand awareness of the tragedies of Stalin's Great Purge and World War II. Lipkin's long-standing inner opposition to the Soviet regime surfaced in 1979-80, when he contributed in the uncensored almanac "Metropol" and then he and Lisnianskaya left the ranks of the official Writer's Union of the USSR.

Early years[edit]

Israel and Rosalia Lipkin were Semyon Lipkin's parents and he was born in Odessa. His father had a tailoring business.[1] His early education was disrupted by the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 and by the 1918-20 Civil War. Lipkin spent a lot of time reading and educating himself at home. In 1929 he left Odessa for Moscow where he studied engineering and economics and graduated from the Moscow Engineering-Economic Institute in 1937. While studying there he had begun to teach himself Persian followed by the other languages of the oriental regions which were disappearing as a result of Russification, including Northeast Caucasian languages, Kalmyk, Kirghiz, Kazakh, Tatar, Tadjik and Uzbek, together with their histories and cultures.

Military career[edit]

Lipkin's military career started with the German invasion in June 1941, when he enlisted as a war correspondent with the military rank of senior lieutenant, at the Baltic Fleet base in Kronstadt near Leningrad. Later he was transferred to the 110th Kalmyk cavalry division (with which he got into the German encirclement), and then to the Volga river flotilla at Stalingrad. He took part in the victorious Battle of Stalingrad in 1942-43 and covered its events as a journalist. Lipkin was awarded 4 military orders and a number of medals.

Literary career[edit]

Lipkin published his first poem when he was aged 15 and Eduard Bagritsky recognised its merit. It was not until he entered his sixth decade until the regime permitted him to publish his own poetic work, and until his seventh decade for a recognition of his status as a poet to fully develop, despite the fact that Anna Akhmatova and Joseph Brodsky (the Nobel laureate) amongst others in his immediate circle acknowledged the greatness of his poems.

Having met in the 1930s the 20th century Russian poets Osip Mandelstam, Anna Akhmatova and Marina Tsvetayeva, along with the prose writers Vasily Grossman and Andrey Platonov, Lipkin later provided a masterly description of them in his memoir Kvadriga.

His extensive oeuvre of translation won many accolades. For his translations and literary work Lipkin was honoured with the title of Kalmykia national poet (1967) and later, Hero of Kalmykia (2001), People's Artist of Kabardino-Balkaria (1957), Outstanding Cultural Worker of the Uzbek Republic (1968), Rudaki State Prize of Tajik Republic (1967), Tukay State Prize of Tatarstan (1992), Andrey Sakharov "Courage in the Literature" Prize (1992), Literary Prizes of magazines Ogonyok (1989) and Archer (1994) and The Pushkin Prize of Alfred Topfer Foundation (1995).


  • Ochevidets [Eyewitness: poems of various years]. Elista: Kalmyk Book Publishers, 1967; 2nd Edition, 1974.
  • Vechnyi den’ [Eternal Day]. Moscow: Sovetskii Pisatel, 1975.
  • Volia [Free Will]; selected by Joseph Brodsky. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1981; Moscow: O.G.I., 2003.
  • Kochevoi Ogon’ [A Nomadic Flame]. Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1984.
  • Kartiny i golosa [Pictures and Voices]. London: Overseas Publications Interchange, 1986.
  • Lira. Stikhi raznyh let [Lyre. Verses of Various Years]. Moscow: Pravda, 1989.
  • Lunnyi svet. Stikhotvoreniya i poemy [Moonlight. Verses and Poems]. Moscow: Sovremennik, 1991.
  • Pis’mena. Stikhotvoreniya i poemy [Letters. Verses and Poems]. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1991.
  • Pered zakhodom solntsa. Stikhi i perevody [Before the Sunset. Verses and Translations] Paris-Moscow-New York: Tretya Volna, 1995.
  • Posokh [Shepherd’s Crook]. Moscow: CheRo, 1997.
  • Sobranie sochinenii v 4-kh tomakh [Collected works in 4 volumes]. Moscow: Vagrius, 1998.
  • Sem’ desyatiletii [Seven Decades]. Moscow: Vozvrashchenie, 2000.
  • Vmeste. Stikhi [Together, Verses. (Together with Inna Lisnianskaya)]. Moscow: Grail, Russkiy put’, 2000.
  • Ochevidets [Eyewitness: selected poems]; compiled by Inna Lisnianskaya. Moscow: Vremia, 2008.


  • Stalingradsky korabl' [The Stalingrad Ship]. War stories, 1943.
  • Dekada [Decade]. Novel, 1983.
  • Stalingrad Vasiliya Grossmana [Stalingrad of Vasily Grossman], 1984.
  • Zhizn' i sud'ba Vasiliya Grossmana [Life and Fate of Vasily Grossman]. Farewell (With Anna Berzer), 1990.
  • Ugl' pylayuschiy ognyom [The Flaming Coal]. Sketches and Discourses, 1991.
  • Zapiski zhil'tsa [The Notes of a Lodger], 1992.
  • Vtoraya doroga [The Second Road], 1995.
  • Kvadriga [Quadriga], 1997.

Translations by Semyon Lipkin[edit]

  • Bagrat Shikuba, Moi zemlyaki [My Compatriots], a poem; transl. from Abkhaz by S. Lipkin and Ya. Kozlovsky. Moscow, 1967.
  • Gilgamesh; verse adaptation by Semyon Lipkin; afterword by Vyacheslav V. Ivanov. St. Petersburg: Pushkin Fund, 2001.
  • Geser [Geser, Buryat Heroic Epos]; Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1968
  • Derzhava rannikh zhavoronkov. Povest po motivam buryatskogo eposa [The State of Early Skylarks. A novella on the Motives of Buryat Epos]; a children’s version by S. Lipkin. Moscow: Detgiz, 1968.
  • Dagestanskie liriki [Dagestani Lyric Poets]; translations by S.I. Lipkin and others. Leningrad: Sovetsky Pisatel, 1961.
  • Shogentsukov, Ali. Poemy [Poems]; translated from Kabardian by Semyon Lipkin. Moscow: Sovetskii Pisatel’, 1949.
  • Narty [Narts, Kabardian Epos]; translated by Semyon Lipkin. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1951.
  • Kabardinskaia epicheskaya poezia [Kabardian Epic Poetry]; selected translations. Nal’chik, 1956.
  • Debet Zlatolikii i ego druzia: Balkaro-Karachaev nartskii epos [Debet Goldenface and his friends: Karachai-Balkar Nart epic]; translated by S. Lipkin. Nal’chik: Elbrus, 1973.
  • Prikliyucheniya bogatyrya Samshura, prozvannogo Lotosom [Adventures of Hero Shamshur, Nicknamed Lotus], a children’s adaptation of the Kalmyk epic story by Semyon Lipkin. Moscow: Detgiz, 1958.
  • Dzhangar: Kalmytski narodny epos [Djangar: Kalmyk national epic]; translated by Semyon Lipkin. Elista: Kalmyk Book Publishers, 1971, repr. 1977.
  • Dzhangar: Kalmytski narodny epos; novye pesni [Djangar: Kalmyk national epic; new songs]; poetic translations realised by V.N. Eremenko, S.I. Lipkin, Yu. M. Neiman. Elista: Kalmyk Book Publishers, 1990.
  • Kirgizskii narodnyi epos “Manas” [Kirghiz Folk Epos Manas], transl. Semyon Lipkin and Mark Tarlovsky. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1941.
  • Poetry Kirgizii: Stikhi 1941-1944 [Kirghiz Poets: Verses 1941-1944]; translated under the editorship of S. Lipkin. Moscow: Sovetskiy Pisatel’, 1946.
  • Manas Velikodushny: povest [Manas the Magnanimous: a novella]; [version by S. Lipkin]. Leningrad, 1947.
  • Manas: epizody iz kirgizskogo narodnogo eposa [Manas: episodes from the Kirghiz national epic]; translated by S. Lipkin and L. Penkovski. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1960.
  • Manas Velikodushny. Povest’ o drevnikh kirghizskikh geroyakh [Manas the Magnanimous: a
  • Story about Ancient Kirghiz Heroes; Riga: Polaris, 1995.
  • Mahabharata (Indian epic). In: series Biblioteka vsemirnoi literatury, vol. 2, translated from Sanskrit by S. Lipkin. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1969.
  • Poetry Tatarii, 1941-1944 [Poets of Tataria, 1941-1944]; edited by A. Erikeeva and S. Lipkin. Moscow: Sovetskii Pisatel’, 1945.
  • Poeziya Sovetskoi Tatarii: Sbornik sostavlen Soiuzom Sovetskikh Pisatelei Tatarskoi ASSR [Poetry of Soviet Tataria: Collection compiled by the Union of Soviet Tatar Writers]; editor S.I. Lipkin [translations by various hands]. Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1955.
  • Idegei: tatarskii narodnyi epos [Idegei: Tatar national epic]; translated by Semyon Lipkin.
  • Kazan’: Tatar Book Publishers, 1990.
  • Firdawsi. Skazanie o Bakhrame Chubine [Epos about Bakhram Chubin], a fragment from poem Shāhnāmah translated from Tadjik-Persian by S. Lipkin. Stalinabad [Dushanbe]: Tadzhikgosizdat, 1952.
  • Izbrannoe [Selections]; translated from Tadjik-Persian by V. Levik and S. Lipkin. Moscow, 1957.
  • Firdawsi. Poėmy iz Shakh-namė [Poems from Shāhnāmah]; in translation by S. Lipkin. Stalinabad [Dushanbe]: Tadzhikgosizdat, 1959.
  • Stranitsy Tadzhikskoy Poezii [Pages of Tadjik Poetry], ed. S. Lipkin, Stalinabad [Dushanbe]: Tadzikgosizdat, 1961.
  • Rudaki, stikhi [Rudaki, verses], transl. S. Lipkin and V. Levik, ed. I. Braginsky. Moscow: Nauka, 1964.
  • Tetrad’ bytiia [Book of Life]; Poetry in Tadjik dialect with Russian by Semyon Lipkin. Lipkin. Dushanbe: Irfon, 1977.
  • Khamid Alimdzhan. Oigul i Bakhtiyor [Oigul i Bakhtiyor]; Tashkent: Goslitizdat UzSSR, 1948.
  • Lutfi. Gul I Navruz [Gul and Navruz, a poem]; transl. S.Lipkin. Tashkent: Goslitizdat UzSSR, 1959.
  • Navoi, Leili i Medzhnun [Leili and Medjnun]; poem translated from Uzbek by Semyon Lipkin. Moscow: Goslitizdat, 1945; Moscow: Detgiz, 1948; Tashkent: Khudozhestvennaia
  • Literatura, 1957; (In: A. Navoi. Poemy [Poems].), Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1972.
  • Navoi, Sem’ Planet [Seven Planets]; poem translated from Uzbek by Semyon Lipkin. Tashkent, 1948; Moscow, 1954; (In: A. Navoi. Poemy [Poems].), Moscow: Khudozhestvennaia Literatura, 1972.
  • Golosa Shesti Stoletii [Voices of Six Centuries]; selected translations from Uzbek. Tashkent, 1960.
  • Tsarevna iz goroda T’my [Princess from the City of Darkness]; children’s story by S. Lipkin based on Uzbek tales. Moscow: Detgiz, 1961.
  • Slovo i Kamen [Word and Stone], selected translations from Uzbek poetry by S. Lipkin, Tashkent: Gafur Gulyam Publ., 1977.
Other various languages
  • Stroki Mudrykh [Lines of the Wise Ones], coll. translations by S. Lipkin, Moscow: Sovetskiy Pisatel’, 1961.
  • O bogatyriakh, umeltsakh i volshebnikhakh [On Heroes, Craftsmen and Wizards]; 3 novellas on Caucasian folklore motives, children’s adaptation by S. Lipkin. Moscow: Detgiz, 1963.
  • Zolotaya zep’ [The Golden Chain: Eastern Poems]; translated from Abkhaz, Tadzhik-Persian, old-Uzbek, etc. Moscow: Detgiz, 1970.
  • Dalekie i Blizkie: Stikhi zarubezhnykh poetov v perevode [Far and Near: Verses by foreign poets in translation]; translators: Vera Markova, Semyon Lipkin, Aleksandr Gitovich. Moscow: Progress, 1978.

English translations of Semyon Lipkin’s work[edit]

  • After Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin, translation by Yvonne Green. London: Smith/Doorstop, 2011. A Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation. This treatment of Lipkin's verse is further discussed[permanent dead link] by Professor Donald Rayfield.
  • Four poems translated by Albert C. Todd, in Twentieth Century Russian Poetry, selected with an introduction by Yevgeny Yevtushenko, edited by Albert C. Todd and Max Hayward, with Daniel Weissbort. New York: Doubleday; London: Fourth Estate, 1993.
  • Two poems one translated by Yvonne Green and one by Robert Chandler in The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry ISBN 978-0-141-19830-9
  • Two poems translated by Daniel Weissbort. Cardinal Points Literary Journal, No. 12, vol. 2. New York: Stosvet Publishing House, 2010.
  • "Odessa to Moscow: Pages from My Life" in Semyon Lipkin, Dekada (Moscow, 1990), pp. 5–10. Translated by Rebecca Gould. Translation and Literature, 21 (2012): Online Supplement.

French translations of Semyon Lipkin’s work[edit]

  • Le Destin de Vassili Grossman (L'Age d'Homme 1990) tr Alexis Berelowitch
  • L'histoire d'Alim Safarov, écrivain russe du Caucase (Dekada [Decade]). La Tour-d'Aigues: Editions de l'Aube, 2008.

Referenced Works[edit]

Friendship with Vasily Grossman[edit]

In 1961 Lipkin's friend, Vasily Grossman's manuscript for the novel, Life and Fate, banned by the Soviet authorities, was confiscated by the KGB. Semyon Lipkin saved a copy of his friend's typescript in a bag hanging under some coats on a peg at his dacha at Peredelkino and later moved it to Elena Makarova and Sergei Makarov's attic in Khimki near Moscow for safe keeping. (Elena Makarova was the Lipkin's step-daughter, the daughter of his widow the poet Inna Lisnianskaya. Sergei Makarov is Elena's husband.) In 1975 Lipkin asked the writer Vladimir Voinovich and Academician Andrey Sakharov to help to smuggle the manuscript from the USSR and get it published in the West, which eventually happened in 1980. In July 2013, Grossman's own manuscript and other papers confiscated by the KGB in 1961 were finally released from detention and passed by the FSB secret service (former KGB) to the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI): see good news.

Chronology of historical events impacting Lipkin and his writing[edit]

  • In 1931 Stalin ordered enforced collectivization, closed the Kalmyk Buddhist monasteries and burnt religious texts.
  • In 1932 Mayakovsky committed suicide, the independent literary groups were closed, and the Union of Soviet Writers was formed. In 1932-34 between three and five million peasants died in the Terror Famine in the Ukraine.
  • In 1936 Shostakovich’s Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk was denounced by the authorities and approximately half the members of the Soviet political, military and intellectual elite were imprisoned or shot, as were around 250,000 members of the various national minorities whose epics Lipkin translated to Russian or about whom he wrote poems. This period was known as the Great Terror or "Yezhovshchina" - after the Soviet secret police, the N.K.V.D.'s head Nikolay Yezhov.
  • In 1937 Lipkin graduated from the Moscow Economics Engineering Institute. While studying engineering he had begun studying Persian, followed by the other oriental languages including Dagestani, Kalmyk, Kirghiz, Tatar, Tadjik, Uzbek, Kabardinian and others.
  • In 1939 the Molotov—Ribbentrop Pact was signed, the Second World War began and 70,000 mentally handicapped Germans were euthanased by their government.
  • In 1941 Germany invaded the Soviet Union until 1945.
  • Lipkin fought in the Red Army as a war correspondent, including at Stalingrad.
  • In December 1942 the Soviets reconquered the Kalmyk ASSR and went on to win a decisive victory at the Battle of Kursk in August 1943, after which Stalin declared all Kalmyks to be Nazi collaborators and deported the entire population of the Kalmyk ASSR, including communists, to prison camps in Siberia and Central Asia in December 1943.
  • In 1941 - 1944 about two million Jews were killed in western areas of the Soviet Union and two and a half million Polish Jews were gassed at Chelmno, Majdanek, Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz.
  • On January 27, 1944 the Siege of Stalingrad was lifted, between April and June 436,000 Hungarian Jews were gassed at Auschwitz in fifty-six days; between August and October the Warsaw uprising occurred.
  • On January 27, 1945 Auschwitz was liberated, on May 9 Germany surrendered.
  • The Nuremberg trials were held in 1946 and while the Nazi leadership were judged Andrey Zhdanov tightened control over the arts in the USSR. Vasily Grossman's play, "If You Believe the Pythagoreans" was severely criticised.
  • In 1948, Solomon Mikhoels, the head of Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee, was murdered in January; in November the Committee was dissolved.
  • In 1953 an article was placed in Pravda about the Jewish "Doctors-Murderers" and a purge of Soviet Jews is being prepared. On March 5 Stalin died and on 4 April there was Official acknowledgment that the case against the Jewish doctors was fabricated.
  • In February 1956 the period known as "The Thaw" peaked, in February Khrushchev made his Secret Speech to the Communist Party, denouncing the forcible exile of the Kalmyks, Karachai, Chechen, Ingush, and Balkhars Kabardins. Millions of prisoners were released from the camps. But from October to November the Hungarian insurrection was suppressed.
  • In 1957 some Kalmyks were allowed to return to their native land.
  • In July 1958, the former Kalmyk ASSR reconstituted, Doctor Zhivago was published abroad, Pasternak declined the Nobel prize under pressure from the authorities.
  • In 1961 Lipkin's friend, Vasily Grossman’s novel Life and Fate was submitted for publication and rejected by the Communist party officials; the KGB raided Grossman’s home and seized all the copies they could. Lipkin preserved a copy and clandestinely passed it to the West, where it was eventually published.
  • In November 1962 Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich was published in the Soviet Union.
  • In 1964 Khrushchev fell and Vasily Grossman died believing Life and Fate would never be published. Sinyavski and Daniel were tried in 1966.
  • In 1967 Lipkin received the Rudaki State Prize of the Tadzhik SSR and his first collection of poetry Ochevidets, (Eyewitness) was published. His poem 'Conjunction' was read as coded support for Israel.
  • In August 1968 the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia took place.
  • In 1968 Lipkin was made the People’s Poet of the Kalmyk ASSR.
  • In 1970 the first issue of the Jewish samizdat journal "Exodus" was published, as was Lipkin’s second collection, A Notebook of Being.
  • In 1971 Jewish emigration began to be permitted. In 1974 Solzehenitsyn was deported after The Gulag Archipelago was published in Paris in 1973.
  • In 1975 Andrey Sakharov was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Lipkin’s Vechny Den' (Eternal Day) was published and he asked the writer Vladimir Voinovitch to help him get microfilm of Life and Fate to the West.
  • In 1979 Lipkin and Inna Lisnianskaya submitted their poetry to the anthology "Metropol," which was rejected by the Soviet authorities.
  • In 1980 Lipkin and Inna Lisnianskaya resigned from the Union of Writers. Sakharov was internally exiled by the authorities. Grossman’s Life and Fate was finally published in Switzerland, from pages preserved by Lipkin and microfilmed by Sakharov. In 1981 "Metropol" was published in the United States. Lipkin's Volya (variously called Will, Free Will, and Freedom) was published in the U.S. edited by Joseph Brodsky.
  • In 1982 Brezhnev died.
  • In (1984)Andropov died and Lipkin’s Kochevoi Ogon' (A Nomadic Flame) was published in the U.S.
  • In 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev became general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and perestroika began.
  • In 1986 Lipkin's Kartiny i golosa (Pictures and Voices) was published in London and Lipkin was reinstated into the Writers’ Union.
  • In 1988 Gorbachev became president. Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago and Grossman’s Life and Fate were published in the Soviet Union.
  • In November 1989 the Berlin Wall fell. In 1991 the USSR collapsed, Lipkin was awarded Tukay Prize, his Lunnyi Svet (Moonlight) and Pis΄mena (Letters) were published.
  • In 1992 civil war broke out in Tajikistan.
  • In 1993 Yeltsin suppressed the reactionary armed rising by the Supreme Soviet in Moscow.
  • In 1995 Lipkin was awarded the Sakharov Prize by the European Parliament, and the Pushkin Prize by the Alfred Topfer Foundation, in Germany.
  • In 1997 Posokh (Shepherd’s Crook) was published.
  • In 2000 Putin was elected president and Lipkin’s Sem΄ desyatiletii (Seven Decades) was published.
  • March 31, 2003 Semyon Izrailevich Lipkin died at Peredelkino.


External links[edit]