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Daniil Kharms - Letter to the Lipavskys

Russian literature seems always able to bring forth a crop of new and
interesting writers who are experimenting somewhere at the frontiers of
literary style, language or story. Among our contemporaries, we think of
Andrey Sinyavsky (alias 'Abram Tertz'), Vasiliy Aksyonov, Sasha Sokolov and
Yevgeniy Popov, along with the women writers who emerged under glasnost',
during the last Soviet years: Lyudmila Petrushevskaya, Tatyana Tolstaya and
others. But alongside the new writers, we continue to rediscover the old.
Mikhail Bulgakov and Andrey Platonov, unexpected jewels from the Stalinist
period, only came to prominence decades after their own span. Discoveries
from the 'Silver Age' period (roughly the 1890s to 1917) are still coming or
returning to light. Neglected figures from even further back are now
achieving or recovering a belated but deserved readership (Vladimir
Odoevsky from the Romantic period, Vsevolod Garshin from later in the
nineteenth century). Another fascinating figure, the contemporary of
Bulgakov and Platonov, but with a peculiar resonance for the modern, or
indeed the post-modern, world is Daniil Kharms.
'Daniil Kharms' was the main, and subsequently the sole, pen-name of Daniil
Ivanovich Yuvachov. The son of a St. Petersburg political, religious and
literary figure, Daniil was to achieve limited local renown as a Leningrad
avant-garde eccentric and a writer of children's stories in the 1920s and 30s.
Among other pseudonyms, he had employed 'Daniil Dandan' and 'Kharms-
Shardam'. The predilection for 'Kharms' is thought to derive from appreciation
of the tension between the English words 'charms' and 'harms' (plus the
German Charme; indeed, there is an actual German surname 'Harms'), but
may also owe something to a similarity in sound to Sherlock Holmes
(pronounced 'Kholms' in Russian), a figure of fascination to Kharms.
From 1925 Kharms began to appear at poetry readings and other avant-
garde activities, gained membership of the Leningrad section of the All-
Russian Union of Poets (from 1926), one of the many predecessors to the
eventual Union of Soviet Writers, and published two poems in anthologies in
1926 and 1927. Almost unbelievably, these were the only 'adult' works Kharms
was able to publish in his lifetime. In 1927 Kharms joined together with a
number of like-minded experimental writers, including his talented friend and
close associate Aleksandr Vvedensky (1900-1941) and the major poet Nikolay
Zabolotsky (1903-1958), to form the literary and artistic grouping Oberiu (the
acronym of the 'Association of Real Art').
Representing something of a union between Futurist aesthetics and Formalist
approaches, the Oberiut considered themselves a 'left flank' of the literary
avant-garde. Their publicity antics, including a roof-top appearance by
Kharms, caused minor sensations and they succeeded in presenting a highly
unconventional theatrical evening entitled 'Three Left Hours' in 1928, which
included the performance of Kharms's Kafkaesque absurdist drama
'Yelizaveta Bam'. Among the Oberiu catch-phrases were 'Art is a cupboard'

(Kharms normally made his theatrical entrances inside or on a wardrobe) and

'Poems aren't pies; we aren't herring'. However, in the Stalinising years of the
late 1920s, the time for propagating experimental modernist art had passed.
The rising Soviet neo-bourgeoisie were not to be shocked: tolerance of any
such frivolities was plummeting and hostile journalistic attention ensured the
hurried disbandment of the Oberiu group after a number of further
Kharms and Vvedensky evidently felt it wiser to allow themselves to be drawn
into the realm of children's literature, writing for publications of the children's
publishing house Detgiz, known fondly as the 'Marshak Academy', run by the
redoubtable children's writer (and bowdleriser of Robbie Burns), Samuil
Marshak, and involving the playwright Yevgeniy Shvarts. By 1940 Kharms
had published eleven children's books and contributed regularly to the
magazines 'The Hedgehog' and 'The Siskin'. However, even in this field of
literary activity, anything out of the ordinary was not safe. Kharms, in his
'playful' approach to children's writing, utilised a number of Oberiu-type
devices. The Oberiu approach had been denounced in a Leningrad paper in
1930 as 'reactionary sleight-of-hand' and, at the end of 1931, Kharms and
Vvedensky were arrested, accused of 'distracting the people from the building
of socialism by means of trans-sense verses' and exiled to Kursk. However the
exile was fairly brief, the times being what Akhmatova described as 'relatively
vegetarian'. Nevertheless, little work was to be had thereafter; Kharms was in
and out of favour at Detgiz and periods of near starvation followed. Kharms
and Vvedensky (the latter had moved to the Ukraine in the mid-30s: see
Kharms's letter to him) survived the main purges of the 1930s. However, the
outbreak of war brought new dangers: Kharms was arrested in Leningrad in
August 1941, while Vvedensky's arrest took place the following month in
Kharkov. Vvedensky died in December of that year and Kharms (it seems of
starvation in prison hospital) in February 1942. Both were subsequently
'rehabilitated' during the Khrushchev 'Thaw'. Most of their adult writings had
to await the Gorbachev period for publication in Russia. Both starvation and
arrest were anticipated in a number of Kharms's writings. Hunger and
poverty were constant companions; indeed, Kharms can lay claim to being
the poet of hunger (not for nothing did he take strongly to Knut Hamsun's
novel of that name), as the following translation of an unrhyming but
rhythmic verse fragment shows:
This is how hunger begins:
The morning you wake, feeling lively,
Then begins the weakness,
Then begins the boredom;
Then comes the loss
Of the power of quick reason,
Then comes the calmness
And then begins the horror.
On his general situation in life, Kharms wrote the following quatram in 1937:

We've had it now in life's realm,

Of all hope we are now bereft.
Gone are dreams of happiness,
Destitution is all that's left.
The arrest of Kharms came, reportedly, when the caretaker of the block of
flats in which he lived called him down, in his bedroom slippers, 'for a few
minutes'. He was apparently charged with spreading defeatist propaganda;
there is evidence that, even in those times, he managed to clear himself of this
charge, possibly by feigning insanity.
Kharms had been a marked man since his first arrest in 1931 and he was
probably lucky to escape disaster when he landed in trouble over a children's
poem in 1937 (about a man who went out to buy tobacco and disappeared).
In addition, his first wife, Ester Rusakova, was a member of a well-known old
emigre revolutionary family, subsequently purged; it is intriguing to recall that
Kharms had been, for several years, Viktor Serge's brother-in-law.

By the 1930s, Kharms was concentrating more on prose. In addition to his only
then publishable works, his children's stories and verse, he evolved ('for his
drawer') his own idiosyncratic brands of short prose and dramatic fragment.
Theoretical, philosophical and even mathematical pieces were also penned, as
well as diaries, notebooks and a sizeable body of poetry. The boundaries
between genre are fluid with Kharms, as are distinctions between fragment
and whole, finished and unfinished states. Most of Kharms's manuscripts were
preserved after his arrest by his friend, the philosopher Yakov Semyonovich
Druskin, until they could be safely handed on or deposited in libraries. It will
come as no surprise to readers with the most cursory inkling of Soviet literary
conditions in the 1930s that these writings were then totally unpublishable --
and indeed that their author is unlikely to have even contemplated trying to
publish them. What is much more surprising is that they were written at all.
From 1962 the children's works of Kharms began to be reprinted in the Soviet
Union. Isolated first publications of a few of his short humourous pieces for
adults followed slowly thereafter, as did mentions of Kharms in memoirs. Only
when Gorbachev's policy of glasnost' took real effect though, from 1987, did
the flood begin, including a major book-length collection in 1988. Abroad, an
awareness of Kharms and the Oberiuts began to surface in the late 1960s,
both in Eastern Europe, where publication was often easier, and in the West,
where a first collection in Russian appeared in 1974. In 1978 an annotated, but
discontinuous, collected works of Kharms began to appear, published in
Bremen by the Verlag K-Presse (appropriately enough, the 'Kafka Press'),
edited from Leningrad. Four volumes (the poetic opus) have appeared to
date. It is probably safe to assume that virtually all of Kharms's surviving
works have now appeared. The most recent 'find' is a selection of rather mild
erotica, largely clinically voyeuristic and olfactory in nature, which suitably
counterpoints certain tendencies already noticeable in some of Kharms's more

mainstream writing. The English or American reader may have come across
some of Kharms's work in the anthologies published from 1971 by George
Gibian (see p. 226). In addition, scholarly literature on the Oberiuts is growing
fast. Kharms translations have appeared in German and Italian, while the
Yugoslav director Slobodan Pesic has made a surrealistic film, called 'The
Kharms Case'. In Russia Oberiu evenings and Kharms 'mono-spectaculars'
have become commonplace and Moscow News (back in 1988, in its Russian
and English issues alike) was proclaiming Kharms 'an international figure'. In
the present age of post-modernist fragmentation, Kharms's time has surely

On the assumption that Kharms's published oeuvre may now be more or less
complete (and this may still be a big assumption to make: only in 1992 his
puppet play, The Shardam Circus, was published for the first time), overall
assessments of his achievement begin to assume some validity. Definitive texts
from archival sources have, in some instances, replaced dubious sources. We
now know the intended order and content of the 'Incidents' cycle, here
presented as a complete entity for the first time in English. Many of the later
examples of Kharms's prose have only come to light recently, as have
notebooks and letters. The prose miniature has long been a genre more
commonly found in Russian literature than elsewhere. Among the disparate
examples that come to mind (many of them by authors very different from
Kharms) we may mention, from the nineteenth century: the feuilletons of
writers such as Dostoevsky, the prose poems of Turgenev and the shortest
works by Garshin and Chekhov; and, from the twentieth, short pieces by
Zamyatin, Olesha and Zoshchenko and, more recently, the aphoristic writings
of Abram Tertz and the prose poems of Solzhenitsyn. In spirit, Kharms clearly
belongs to a tradition of double-edged humour extending from the word-
play and irrelevancy of Gogol and the jaundiced mentality of Dostoevsky's
'underground' anti-heroes to the intertextual parody of Tertz and the satirical
absurd of Voinovich. Kharms has clear affinities with certain of the
experimental Soviet writings that sprang from a Futurist Formalist base in the
1920s. In a verse and prose sequence entitled 'The Sabre' (Sablya of 1929),
Kharms singles out for special admiration Goethe, Blake, Lomonosov, Gogol,
Kozma Prutkov and Khlebnikov. In a diary entry of 1937, he lists as his
'favourite writers': Gogol, Prutkov, Meyrink, Hamsun, Edward Lear and Lewis
Carroll. Such listings are revealing in determining Kharms's pedigree. On a
general European level, Kharms had obvious affinities with the various
modernist, Dadaist, surrealist, absurdist and other avant-garde movements.
Borges wrote brief masterpieces in a rather different vein. Arguably, Kafka
and Beckett provide closer parallels, while Hamsun and Meyrink furnished
Kharms with certain motifs. Some of the post-modernist and minimalist
writings of very recent decades are perhaps closer than anything else.

'The Old Woman', a story reaching almost epic proportions by Kharms's

standards, has strong claims to be regarded as his masterpiece. A deceptively
multilayered story, this work looks simultaneously back to the Petersburg
tradition of Russian story-telling and forward to the meta-fictional devices of
our post-war era. 'Incidents' signals a neo-romantic concern with the
relationship between the fragment and the whole (observable too in the
theoretical pieces) and, now in its 'complete' form, it has begun to attract
critical interpretation as an entity in itself. The 'assorted stories', arranged
chronologically, indicate the development of Kharms's idiosyncratic
preoccupations over the decade from the early 1930s. 'Yelizaveta Bam'
represents Kharms's contribution to the theatre of the absurd. The remaining
'non-fictional and assorted writings' give an idea of Kharms's excursions into
other forms of writing.
If Kharms still seems somehow different from all previous models or
comparisons, or more startling, this is perhaps most readily explained by his
constant adoption, at various levels, of what might be termed a poetics of
extremism. Take, for example, his brevity: not for nothing did he note in his
diary that 'garrulity is the mother of mediocrity'. If certain stories included
here (especially some from 'Incidents') seem texts of concise inconsequentiality,
there remain others which incommode the printer even less: consider, for
instance, the following:
"An old man was scratching his head with both hands. In places where he
couldn't reach with both hands, he scratched himself with one, but very, very
fast. And while he was doing it he blinked rapidly."
Another feature of Kharmsian extremism resides in his uncompromising quest
for the means to undermine his own stories, or to facilitate their self-
destruction: there are numerous examples of this in the texts which follow.
Kharms, then, turns his surgical glance on both the extraordinary world of
Stalin's Russia and on representation, past and present, in story-telling and
other artistic forms. He thus operates, typically, against a precise Leningrad
background. He reflects aspects of Soviet life and its literary forms, passing
sardonic and despairing comment on the period in which he lived. He also
ventures, ludicrously, into historical areas, parodying the ways in which
respected worthies, such as Pushkin, Gogol and Ivan Susanin (a patriotic hero
of 1612) were currently being glorified in print. Certain of Kharms's miniatures
seem strangely anticipatory of modern trends: 'The Lecture' could almost have
been set in politically correct America, 'Myshin's Triumph' smacks of London's
cardboard city, and 'On an Approach to Immortality' would fascinate
The most striking feature, for many readers, will be the recurrence of Kharms's
strange and disturbing obsessions: with falling, accidents, chance, sudden
death, victimisation and all forms of apparently mindless violence. These
again are often carried to extremes, or toyed with in a bizarre manner which
could scarcely be unintentional. Frequently there appears little or no

difference between Kharms's avowedly fictional works and his other writings.
In his notebooks can be found such passages as:
"I don't like children, old men, old women and the reasonable middle-aged.
To poison children -- that would be harsh. But, hell, something needs to be
done with them! . . . I respect only young, robust and splendiferous women.
The remaining representatives of the human race I regard suspiciously. Old
women who are repositories of reasonable ideas ought to be lassoed . . . Which
is the more agreeable sight: an old woman clad in just a shift, or a young man
completely naked? And which, in that state, is the less permissible in public? . .
. What's so great about flowers? You get a significantly better smell from
between women's legs. Both are pure nature, so no one dare be outraged at
my words."
How far into the cheek the tongue may go is often far from clear: the degree
of identification with narrator position in Kharms is always problematic. The
Kharmsian obsessions, too, carry over into his notebooks and diaries:
"On falling into filth, there is only one thing for a man to do: just fall, without
looking round. The important thing is just to do this with style and energy."
At times the implications might seem sinister, as in the following note from
1940, which could equally be a sketch for a story, or even, as we have seen, be
a mini-story in itself:
"One man was pursuing another when the latter, who was running away, in
his turn, pursued a third man who, not sensing the chase behind him, was
simply walking at a brisk pace along the pavement."
Sometimes, a diary entry is indeed indistinguishable from a Kharms miniature:
"I used to know a certain watchman who was interested only in vices. Then his
interests narrowed, and he began to be interested only in one vice. And so,
when he discovered a specialisation of his own within this vice and began to
interest himself only in this one specialisation, he felt himself a man again.
Confidence built up, erudition was required, neighbouring fields had to be
looked into and the man started to develop. This watchman became a
Other entries rather more predictably affirm what might be supposed to be
his philosophy:
"I am interested only in 'nonsense'; only in that which makes no practical sense.
I am interested in life only in its absurd manifestation."

Letter to the Lipavskys

28 June 1932. Tsarskoye Selo

Dear Tamara Aleksandrova and Leonid Savel'evich,

Thank you for your wonderful letter. I have re-read it many times and
learned it off by heart. I can be awakened in the night and I will immediately
and word-perfectly begin: 'Hello there, Daniil Ivanovich, we are completely
lost without you. Lyonya has bought himself some new...' and so on, and so on.
I have read this letter to all my acquaintances in Tsarskoye Selo. Everyone
likes it very much. Yesterday my friend Bal'nis came to see me. He wanted to
stay the night. I read him your letter six times. He smiled very broadly, so it
was evident that he liked the letter, but he didn't have time to express a
detailed opinion, for he left without staying for the night. Today I went round
to his place myself and read the letter through to him once more, so as to
enable him to refresh his memory. Then I asked Bal'nis for his opinion. But he
broke a leg off one of his chairs and with the aid of this leg he chased me out
on to the street and furthermore said that if I turn up once more with this
drivel he will lie my hands up and stuff my mouth with muck from the
rubbish pit. These were, of course, on his part rather rude and stupid remarks.
I, of course, went away and took the view that he quite possibly had a bad
cold and that he was not himself. From Bal'nis I went off to Yekaterinskiy
Park and had a go on the rowing boats. On the whole lake, apart from me,
there were two or three other boats. And, by the way, there was a very
beautiful girl in one of the boats. And she was completely on her own. I turned
my boat (incidentally, you have to row carefully when you're turning a boat,
because the oars are liable to jump out of the rowlocks) and rowed after the
beauty. I felt as though I resembled a Norwegian and I must have cut a fresh
and healthy figure in my grey jacket and my fluttering tie and, as they say,
had quite a whiff of the sea about me. But near the Orlov Column some
hooligans were swimming and, as I rowed past, one of them just happened to
have to swim right across my path. Then another of them shouted: -- Wait a
minute, while this cross-eyed and sweaty specimen goes past! -- and pointed
at me with his foot. This was very disagreeable because the beauty heard
every word. And since she was rowing in front of me and in a rowing boat, as
everyone knows, you sit with the back of your head towards your direction of
movement, the beauty could not only hear, but she could see the hooligan
pointing at me with his foot. I tried to make out that all this had nothing to
do with me and started to look to the side with a smile on my face. But there
wasn't a single other boat around. And at this point the hooligan shouted

again: -- Now what do you think you're looking at? We're talking to you,
aren't we? Hey, you, the sucker in the cap!
I set about rowing with might and main, but the oars kept jumping out of the
rowlocks and the boat only moved slowly. Finally, after an enormous effort, I
caught up with the beauty and we got acquainted. She was called
Yekaterina Pavlovna. We took back her boat and Yekaterina Pavlovna
moved over to mine. She turned out to be a very witty conversationalist. I
had decided to dazzle my friends with wit, and so I got out your letter and
made a start on reading it: 'Hello, there, Daniil Ivanovich, we are completely
lost without you. Lyonya has bought himself some new ...' and so on.
Yekaterina Pavlovna suggested that, if we pulled in to the bank, then I might
see something. And I did, I saw Yekaterina Pavlovna making off, and out of
the bushes there crept a filthy urchin, saying: -- Mister, give us a ride in yer
This evening the letter came to grief. It happened like this: I was standing on
the balcony, reading your letter and eating semolina. At that moment Auntie
called me into the living room to help her wind the clock. I covered the
semolina with the letter and went into the room. When I came back the letter
had absorbed all the semolina into itself and I ate it.
The weather in Tsarskoye Selo is well set: variable cloud, south-west wind,
possible rain.
This morning an organ-grinder came into our garden and played a trashy
waltz, filched a hammock and ran away.
I read a very interesting book about how one young man fell in love with a
certain young person, and this young person loved another young man, and
this young man loved another young person and this young person loved
another young man yet again, who loved not her but another young person.
And suddenly this young person stumbles down a trapdoor and fractures her
spine. But when she has completely recovered from that, she suddenly catches
her death of cold and dies. Then the young man who loves her does himself in
with a revolver shot. Then the young person who loves this young man throws
herself under a train. Then the young man who loves this young person climbs
up a tram pylon from grief and touches the live wire, dying from an electric
shock. Then the young person who loves this young man stuffs herself with
ground glass and dies from perforation of the intestines. Then the young man
who loves this young person runs away to America and takes to the drink to
such a degree that he sells his last suit and, for the lack of a suit, he is obliged
to lie in hospital, where he suffers from bedsores, and from these bedsores he
In a few days I shall be in town. I definitely want to see you. Give my best
wishes to Valentina Yefimovna and Yakov Semyonovich.
Daniil Kharms

A Letter

Dear Nikandr Andreyevich,

I have received your letter and straight away I realised that it was from you.
At first I thought that it might by chance not be from you, but as soon as I
unsealed it I immediately realised it was from you, though I had been on the
point of thinking that it was not from you. I am glad that you, long ago now,
got married, because when a person gets married to the one he wanted to
marry, then this means he has got what he wanted. I am very glad you got
married, because when a person marries the one he wanted to marry, that
means he has got what he wanted. Yesterday I received your letter and
immediately thought that this letter was from you, but then I thought that it
seemed not to be from you, but unsealed it and saw: it really is from you. You
did exactly the right thing, writing to me. First you didn't write, and then you
suddenly wrote, although before that, before that period when you didn't
write, you also used to write. Immediately as I received your letter, I straight
away decided that it was from you and, then, I was very glad that you had
already got married. For, if a person should feel like getting married, then he
really has to get married, come what may. Therefore I am very glad that you
finally got married to the very one you wanted to marry. And you did exactly
the right thing, writing to me. I was greatly cheered up on seeing your letter
and I even immediately thought it was from you. It's true, while I was
unsealing it, the thought did flash across my mind that it was not from you,
but then, all the same, I decided it was from you. Thank you for writing. I am
grateful to you for this and very glad for you. Perhaps you can't guess why I
am so glad for you, but I will tell you at once that I am glad for you because
you got married, and to the very one you wanted to marry. And, you know,
it is very good to marry the very one you want to marry, because then you
have got the very thing you wanted. It's for that very reason that I am so glad
for you. But also I am glad because you wrote me a letter. I had even from
some distance decided that the letter was from you, but as I took it in my
hands I then thought: but what if it's not from you? But then I start to think:
no, of course it's from you. I unseal the letter myself and at the same time I
think: from you or not from you? From you or not from you? Well, as I
unsealed it, then I could see: it's from you. I was greatly cheered and decided
to write you a letter as well. There's a lot which has to be said, but literally
there's no time. I have written what I had time to write in this letter and the
rest I shall write another time, as now there really isn't time at all. It's a good
thing, at least, that you wrote me a letter. Now I know that you got married
a long time ago. I, from your previous letters too, knew that you had got
married and now I see again: it's absolutely true, you have got married. And
I'm very glad that you got married and wrote me a letter. I straight away, as
soon as I saw your letter, decided that you had got married again. Well, I
think it's a good thing that you have again got married and written me a

letter about it. Now write to me and tell me who your new wife is and how it
all came about. Say hello from me to your new wife.
Daniil Kharms


Letter to K. V. Pugachova: an Extract

...I don't know the right word to express that strength in you which so delights
me. I usually call it purity.
I have been thinking about how beautiful everything is at first! How beautiful
primary reality is! The sun and the grass are beautiful, grass and stone, and
water, a bird, a beetle, a fly, and a human being (a kitten and a key, a
comb). But if I were blind and deaf, had lost all my faculties, how could I
know all this beauty? everything gone and nothing for me at all. But I
suddenly acquire touch anti immediately almost the whole world appears
again. I invent hearing and the world improves significantly. I invent all the
other faculties and the world gets even bigger and better. The world starts to
exist as soon as I let it in to me. Never mind its state of disorder, at least it
exists! However, I started to bring some order into the world. And that's when
Art appeared. Only at this point did I grasp the true difference between the
sun and a comb but, at the same time, I realised that they are one and the
Now my concern is to create the correct order. I am carried away by this and
only think of this. I speak about it, try to narrate it, describe it, sketch it, dance
it, construct it. I am the creator of a world and this is the most important thing
in me. How can I not think constantly about it! In everything I do, I invest the
consciousness of being creator of a world. And I am not making simply some
boot, but, first and foremost, I am creating something new. It doesn't bother
me that the boot should turn out to be comfortable, durable and elegant. It's
more important that it should contain that same order pertaining in the
world as a whole, so that world order should not be the poorer, should not be
soiled by contact with skin and nails, so that, notwithstanding the form of the
boot, it should preserve its own form, should remain the same as it was, should
remain pure.
It is that same purity which permeates all the arts. When I am writing poetry,
the most important thing seems to me not the idea, not the content, and not
the form, and not the misty conception of 'quality', but something even more
misty and incomprehensible to the rationalistic mind, but comprehensible to
me and, I hope, to you (...) -- it is the purity of order.
This purity is one and the same -- in the sun, in the grass, in a human being
and in poetry. True art is on a par with primary reality; it creates a world and
constitutes the world's primary reflection. It is indisputably real.

But, my God, what trivialities make up true art! The Divine Comedy is a great
piece of work, but [Pushkin's] lines 'Through the agitated mists the moon
makes its way' are no less great. For in both there is the same purity and
consequently an identical proximity to reality, that is to independent
existence. That means it is not simply words and thoughts printed on paper,
but a piece of work which is just as real as the cut-glass bubble for the ink
standing in front of me on the table. These verses seem to have become a
piece of work which could be taken off the paper and hurled at the window,
and the window would smash. That's what words can do!
But, on the other hand, how helpless and pitiful these same words can be! I
never read the newspapers. They are a fictitious world, not the created one.
Just pitiful, down-at-heel typographical print on rotten prickly paper.
Does a person need anything, apart from life and art? I don't think so: nothing
else is needed, as everything genuine is to be found in them.
I think that purity can be in everything, even in the way a person eats soup.


Letter to his sister Ye. I. Yuvachova

28 February, 1936
Dear Liza,

I convey my best wishes to Kirill on his birthday and similarly congratulate his
parents on successfully fulfilling the plan prescribed for them by nature for the
raising up to the age of two years of human offspring, unable to walk, but
therefore gradually beginning to destroy everything around and finally, in
attaining this junior pre-school age, belabouring across the head with a
voltmeter stolen from his father's writing table his loving mother, who has
failed to evade the highly skillfully delivered assaults of her not as yet fully
mature child, who is planning already in his immature skull, having done
away with his parents, to direct all his most penetrating attentions towards his
venerable grandfather and by the same means demonstrate a mental
development allotted beyond his years, in honour of which, on the 28th of
February, will gather a couple of admirers of this indeed outstanding
phenomenon, among whose number, to my great chagrin, I shall not be able
to be, finding myself at the time in question under a certain pressure, being
enraptured on the shores of the Gulf of Finland by an ability, innate since
childhood, of grabbing a steel pen and, having dipped it in an ink-well, in
short sharp phrases expressing my profound and at times even in a certain
way highly elevated thoughts.
Daniil Kharms

Letter to Aleksandr Vvedensky

Dear Aleksandr Ivanovich,

I have heard that you are saving money and have already saved thirty-five
thousand. What for? Why save money? Why not share what you have with
those who do not even have a totally spare pair of trousers? I mean, what is
money? I have studied this question. I possess photographs of the banknotes in
widest circulation: to the value of a rouble, three, four and even five roubles. I
have heard of banknotes of an intrinsic worth of up to 30 roubles at a time!
But, as for saving them: what for? Well, I am not a collector. I have always
despised collectors who amass stamps, feathers, buttons, onions and so on.
They are stupid, dull superstitious people. I know for example that what are
called 'numismatists' -- that's those who accumulate coins -- have the
superstitious habit of putting them, have you ever thought where? Not on the
table, not in a box, but... on their books! What do you think of that? Whereas
money can be picked up, taken to a shop and exchanged, well... let's say for
soup (that's a kind of food), or for grey-mullet sauce (that's also a kind of
No, Aleksandr Ivanovich, you are almost as couth a person as I, yet you save
money and don't change it into a range of other things. Forgive me, dear
Aleksandr Ivanovich, but that is not terribly clever! You've simply gone a little
stupid living out there in the provinces. There must be no one to talk to, even.
I'm sending you my picture so that you will be able at least to see before you
a clever, cultivated, intellectual, first-rate face.
Your friend Daniil Kharms

Late 1930's

How I Was Visited By Messengers

Something clicked in the clock on the wall, and I was visited by messengers. At
first, I did not realize that I was visited by messengers. Instead, I thought that
something was wrong with the clock. But then I saw that the clock worked
just fine, and probably told the correct time. Then I noticed that there was a
draft in the room. And then it shocked me: what kind of thing could, at the
same time, cause a clock to click and a draft to start in the room? I sat down
on a chair next to the divan and looked at the clock, thinking about that. The
big hand was on the number nine, and the little one on the four, therefore, it
was a quarter till four. There was a calendar on the wall below the clock, and

its leafs were flipping, as if there was a strong wind in the room. My heart was
beating very fast and I was so scared it almost made me collapse.
"I should have some water," I said. On the table next to me was a pitcher with
water. I reached out and took the pitcher.
"Water should help," I said and looked at the water.
It was then that I realized that I had been visited by messengers, and that I
could not tell them apart from the water. I was scared to drink the water,
because I could, by accident, drink a messenger. What does that mean?
Nothing. One can only drink liquids. Could the messengers be liquid? No.
Then, I can drink the water, there is nothing to be afraid of. But I couldn't find
the water. I walked around the room and looked for the water. I tried putting
a belt in my mouth, but it was not the water. I put the calendar in my mouth
-- that also was not the water. I gave up looking for the water and started to
look for the messengers. But how could I find them? What do they look like? I
remembered that I could not distinguish them from the water, therefore, they
must look like water. But what does water look like? I was standing and
thinking. I do not know for how long I stood and thought, but suddenly I
came to.
"There is the water," I thought.
But that wasn't the water, and instead I got an itch in my ear.
I looked under the cupboard and under the bed, hoping that there I might
find the water or the messengers. But under the cupboard, in a pile of dust, I
found a little ball, half eaten by a dog, and under the bed I found some pieces
of glass.
Under the chair I found a half-eaten steak, I ate it and it made me feel
better. It wasn't drafty anymore, the clock was ticking steadily, telling the
time: a quarter till four.
"Well, this means the messengers are gone," I said quietly and started to get
dressed, since I had a visit to make.

August 22, 1937


For a while I was convinced that I saw the world. But the world as a whole
was unreachable for my eyes, and I saw only fragments of it. And everything
that I saw, I called 'world fragments'. And I observed characteristics of those
fragments and, by observing them, I developed a science.
I understood that there were intelligent and unintelligent characteristics in the
fragments. I distinguished the fragments and gave them proper names. And
depending on their characteristics, I saw the world fragments to be either
intelligent or unintelligent.
There were also world fragments that could deduce. And these fragments also
observed the other world fragments, and me. And all those fragments were

similar to each other, and I was similar to them. And I would talk to those
I would say: "Fragments are the thunder."
The fragments would say: "A heap of time."
I would say: "I am, also, a part of some trinity."
The parts would respond: "We are seeing nothing but little specks."
And suddenly, I stopped seeing them, and then I stopped seeing the rest of the
fragments. And I feared that the world was disappearing.
But then I understood that I did not see the parts of the world anymore, but
all the world as a whole. At first I thought that this was NOTHINGNESS. But
then I understood that this was the world, and that what I had been seeing
earlier, was not the world. And I always knew that this was the world, but,
what that was that I had been seeing earlier, I still do not know.
When the fragments disappeared, their intelligent characteristics stopped
being intelligent, and their unintelligent characteristics stopped being
unintelligent. And the world as a whole stopped being intelligent or
unintelligent. But when I understood that I was seeing the world as a whole, I
suddenly stopped seeing it at all. I got scared because I thought the world had
disappeared. And while I was thinking, I understood, that if the world really
had disappeared than I could not be thinking. And I looked, searched for the
world, but I could not find it. After that I did not know where to look. Then I
remembered that, no matter whether I looked or not -- the world was always
around me. And now it was not anymore. There was only me.
And then I realized, that I was the world.
But the world was not me.
Although, at the same time, I was the world.
But the world was not me.
But I was the world.
But the world was not me.
But I was the world.
But the world was not me.
But I was the world.
And after that I did not think anything anymore.

The Thing

A mom, a dad, and the maid named Natasha, were sitting at the table,
The dad was, undoubtingly, an alcoholic. Furthermore, even the mom was
looking down on him. But that didn't prevent the dad from being a good
man. He was smiling honestly while rocking in a chair. Maid Natasha had a
lace apron and was extremely very shy. The dad was playing tricks with his

beard, but maid Natasha was lowering her eyes shyly, showing, in that way,
that she was ashamed.
The mom, a tall woman with a big hairdo, spoke with a horselike voice. Her
voice was spreading around the dining room and echoing back from the yard
and other rooms.
After the first drink, everybody was quiet for a moment while they were
eating a sausage. A moment later, they all started talking again.
Suddenly, completely unexpected, somebody knocked at the front door.
Neither the dad, nor the mom nor the maid, Natasha, could guess who was
knocking at the front door.
-- How strange! -- said the dad. -- Who could that be?
The mom looked at him with compassion and, even if it was not her turn,
poured another glass, chugged it down and said:
-- Strange.
The dad did not swear, but also poured a glass, chugged it down and got up
from the table.
The dad was a short man. Completely opposite from the mom. The mom was
a tall, plump woman with a voice like a horse, and the dad was, simply, her
husband. And above all that, the dad had freckles.
He approached the door in one step and said:
-- Who is that?
-- Me, -- said the voice behind the door.
The door opened immediately, and into the room entered a maid, Natasha,
all confused and blushing. Like a flower. Like a flower.
The dad sat down.
The mom had another drink.
Maid Natasha, and the other one, the like-a-flower one, got very shy and
blushed. The dad looked at them but he did not swear, instead he had
another drink and so did the mom.
The dad opened a can of crab pate to get the bad taste out of his mouth.
Everybody was happy and they were eating until the morning. But the mom
was quiet and she did not move from the chair. That was very impolite.
When the dad was about to sing a song, something hit the window. The mom
jumped up terrified and screamed that she could clearly see somebody
looking through the window from the street. The others were convincing the
mom that that was impossible, because they were on the third floor and
nobody from the street could possibly look through the window, for that one
would have to be a giant or Goliath.
But the mom would not change her mind. Nothing in the world could
convince her that nobody could have been looking through the window.
They gave her another drink, in order to calm her down. The mom chugged it
down. The dad, also, poured a glass and drank it.
Natasha and the maid, the like-a-flower one, were sitting, looking down in

-- I cannot be happy when somebody is looking at us through the window. --

the mom said.
The dad was desperate, he did not know how to calm the mom down. So, he
went down to the yard and tried to look through the window on the first
floor. Of course, that was impossible. But that did not convince the mom. She
did not even see that he couldn't reach the first floor window.
Finally, confused by the situation, the dad run into the dining room and had
two drinks in the row, giving one to the mom. The mom had her drink, and
said that she was drinking for the sole reason that somebody was looking at
them through the window.
The dad spread his hands.
-- Here, -- he said to the mom, and opened the window.
A man with a dirty coat and a big knife in his hands tried to get in through
the window. When the dad spotted him, he closed the window and said:
-- Nobody is there.
But, the man with a dirty coat was outside looking in the room through the
window, and furthermore, he opened the window and got in.
The mom was extremely disturbed by this. She started acting hysterically, and,
after she had a drink that the dad gave her and ate a little mushroom, she
calmed down.
Soon the dad calmed down, too. Again everybody sat at the table and
continued to drink.
The dad took the papers and spent a long time flipping them up and down
trying to determine what comes up and what comes down. But, no matter
how long he tried he couldn't sort it out so he put the papers aside and had a
-- Nice, -- said the dad -- but we are out of pickles.
The mom made a sound like a horse, which was pretty inappropriate, and
made the maids look at the table cloth and laugh silently.
The dad had another drink and suddenly grabbed the mom and put her on
the cupboard.
Mom's gray, big, light hair was shaking, she got red spots all over her face,
and, generally speaking, she was pretty upset.
The dad fixed his trousers and started a speech.
But at this point a secret hatch opened down on the floor and from it crawled
out a monk.
The maids were so confused that one of them started to puke. Natasha was
holding her forehead and trying to hide what was going on.
The monk, the one that got out of the floor, aimed at the dad's ear and hit
him so hard that everybody could hear the bells ringing in the dad's head!
The dad just sat down without even finishing his speech.
Than the monk approached the mom and with his hand, or leg, somehow
from below, he kicked her.
The mom started to scream and cry for help.

Then the monk grabbed both maids by their aprons and, after swinging them
through the air, let them hit the wall.
Then, unnoticed, the monk crawled back into the floor and closed the hatch
behind himself.
For a long time neither the dad, nor the mom nor maid Natasha could
recover. But later, when they got some fresh air, they had another drink while
fixing their appearance, they sat down at the table, and started to eat salad.
After another drink everybody was talking quietly.
Suddenly the dad got red in the face and started to yell:
-- What! What! -- the dad was yelling. -- You think that I am anal! You look
at me like at a devil! I do not ask for your love! You are the devils!
The mom and maid Natasha ran out of the room and locked themselves in
the kitchen.
-- Go away you drunk! Go, you son of a devil! -- whispered the mom and the
totally confused maid Natasha, behind the door with.
And the dad stayed in the dining room until the morning when he took his
bag, put on a white hat and quietly went to work.

31 May 1929

A man left his house

A man left his house

With a cane and a sack,
Set off
Down the road
And never looked back.

He walked ever onward,

He walked ever straight,
Never slept,
Never drank,
Never drank, slept, or ate.

He came to a forest
As dark as the night.
He walked
Right in
And vanished from sight.

But if ever you chance

To meet up with this man
Oh please
Let us know

As quick as you can.

A Tale
(A story written by Daniil Charms in 1935, translated freely by Nick
Sushkin, 1994)
(Translator's note: Vanya is a boy, Lenochka is a girl.)

-- Here,-- said Vanya, putting his notebook on the desk, -- let's start writing a
-- Ok,-- said Lenochka, taking a seat.
Vanya took a pencil and wrote:
"Once upon a time there was a king..."
Then he started thinking and raised his eyes to the ceiling.
Lenochka peeked into the notebook and read Vanya's writing.
-- Such a tale has already been written,-- said Lenochka.
-- How do you know? -- asked Vanya.
-- I know because I've been reading,-- said Lenochka.
-- What is that tale about? -- asked Vanya.
-- Well, it's about the king who was drinking tea with an apple and choked
suddenly, when the queen started patting him on the back to make a piece
of an apple pop back. But the king decided that the queen was fighting him
and hit her head with a glass. Then the queen got angry with the king and hit
him with a plate. But the king hit the queen with a bowl. But the queen hit
the king with a chair. But the king got up and hit the queen with a table. But
the queen tapped a kitchen shelf over the king. But the king got out from
under the kitchen shelf and threw a crown at the queen. Then the queen
grabbed king's hair and threw him out of the window. But the king got back
into the room through the other window, grabbed the queen and stuffed her
into the oven. But the queen climbed to the roof through the chimney, then
slided down a lightning rod to the yard and came back to the room through
the window. Meanwhile the king was starting fire in the oven to burn the
queen. The queen sneaked from the back and pushed the king. The king fell
into the oven and burned down. That was the end of the story,-- said
-- It is a very silly tale,-- said Vanya.-- I was going to write quite a different
-- Well, why won't you,-- said Lenochka.
Vanya took a pencil and wrote:
"Once upon a time there was a bandit..."
-- Wait! -- yelled Lenochka.-- Such a tale has already been written!
-- I didn't know,-- said Vanya.
-- How come,-- said Lenochka,-- haven't you known how a bandit, when
trying to escape the guards, tried to jump on horse, but fell to the other side
and hit the ground. Tha bandit cursed and tried to ride the horse again, but

his jump was still inaccurate, so he fell to the ground from the other side of the
horse. The bandit got up, waved his clenched fist, jumped on the horse and
again flew over and dropped to the ground. Then he grabbed a pistol from
his belt, shot into the air and jumped on the horse with such a force that he
again flew over and collapsed on the ground. Then the bandit ripped a hat
off his head, danced all over it and again jumped on the horse, and again
flew over, collapsed on the ground and broke his leg. The bandit limped to
the horse and hit its forehead with a fist. The horse ran away. Meanwhile the
guards arrived on their horses, caught him and lead him to the jail.
-- Well, I won't write about a bandit then,-- said Vanya.
-- But about whom then? -- asked Lenochka.
-- I will write a tale about a smith,-- said Vanya.
Vanya wrote:
"Once upon a time there was a smith..."
-- Such a tale has already been written, too! -- cried out Lenochka.
-- What? -- said Vanya and put down the pencil.
-- Surely,-- said Lenochka.-- Once upon a time there was a smith. One day he
was forging a horseshoe and made such a swing with a hammer, that it tore
the hammer head off the handle, the hammer head flew out through the
window, killed four pigeons, hit the fire watch tower, bounced to the side,
broke window in a house of a fire marshall, flew over the table, at which the
fire marshall was sitting himself with his wife, broke through the wall in the
house of the fire marshall and flew out to the street. Here it tipped a street
lamp pole to the ground, hit down an ice-cream seller, and struck the head of
Karl Ivanovich Shusterling, who took off his hat for a minute to check the
back of his head. After bouncing off the head of Karl Ivanovich Shusterling,
the hammer head flew back, hit down the ice-cream seller again, threw two
fighting cats off the roof, turned a cow upside down, killed four sparrows and
flew back into the smithy and sat back on its handle, which the smith was
holding in his right hand. All that happened so fast, that the smith had not
noticed anything and still kept on forging the horseshoe.
-- Well, since a tale about a smith has already been written, I will write a tale
about myself,-- said Vanya and wrote:
"Once upon a time there was a kid Vanya..."
-- The tale about Vanya has already been written,-- said Lenochka.-- Once
upon a time there was a kid Vanya, and one day he came to...
-- Wait,-- said Vanya,-- I was going to write a tale about myself.
-- A tale about you has allready been written too,-- said Lenochka.
-- This can't be so! -- said Vanya.
-- I am telling you, it has,-- said Lenochka,
-- Where is it, then? -- Vanya was surprised.
-- Buy a "Chizh" magazine, issue number 7 and there you will read a tale
about yourself,-- said Lenochka.
Vanya bought "Chizh" number 7 and read exactly the same tale, that you
have just read.


A Letter to T. A. Meyer-Lipavsky
Translated by Serge Winitzki

Dear Tamara Aleksandrovna, Valentina Efimovna, Leonid Savelyevich,

Yakov Semyonovich, and Valentina Efimovna.

Send my greetings to Leonid Savelyevich, Valentina Efimovna, and Yakov

How are you doing, dear Tamara Aleksandrovna, Valentina Efimovna,
Leonid Savelyevich, and Yakov Semyonovich? What is new with Valentina
Efimovna? Please do write to me, dear Valentina Efimovna, about how
Yakov Semyonovich and Leonid Savelyevich are feeling.
I missed you very much, dear Tamara Aleksandrovna, and also Valentina
Efimovna, and Leonid Savelyevich, and Yakov Semyonovich. And what
about Leonid Savelyevich, is he still at the dacha or already returned? If he is
back, please send him my greetings. And also my greetings to Valentina
Efimovna, Leonid Savelyevich, and Tamara Aleksandrovna. All of you are so
much on my mind that at times it seems I could never forget you. Valentina
Efimovna stands so lifelike before my eyes, and even Leonid Savelyevich is
rather lifelike. Yakov Semyonovich is to me like a brother and a sister, and
also you are like a sister or at the very least a cousin. Leonid Savelyevich is to
me like a brother-in-law and also Valentina Efimovna like a relative of sorts.
Every now and then I remember one of you or another, and always with such
a terrifying clarity and distinctness. But none of you has appeared to me in
dreams, and this even surprises me. For if I had dreamt of Leonid Savelyevich
it would be one thing, but if instead I imagined Yakov Semyonovich it would
be an altogether different matter. One cannot disagree with that. And if I
dreamt of you, it would have been again a different matter than if I had
dreamt of Valentina Efimovna. And wasn't it quite a happening a few days
ago! Imagine that as I was almost ready to go somewhere I took my hat to
put it on, and suddenly I noticed that the hat seems to be not mine, as if mine
but then, it seems, it's not mine. Gee, I said, what a story! Is it my hat or not?
And in the meantime I'm putting it on, all the while. As I had it on, I looked at
myself in the mirror: well, the hat seemed as if mine. Although I'm still
thinking: what if it is not mine. But then it's perhaps mine. It turned out to be
mine, in fact. Also Vvedensky got caught in a fishnet while bathing in the river
and was so upset that as soon as he was freed he came home and had a
drink. And please also write to me about your life. Has Leonid Savelyevich
already returned from the dacha or not yet.

Aug. 1st, 1932. Kursk.


Excerpt from a biography of Daniil Charms, by Vladimir Glotser

Translated from Russian by Nicholas Sushkin, (C) 1995.

"I am thinking about the beauty of all that is first!"

Daniil Ivanovich Yuvachev (1905 -- 1942) invented a pen name "Charms" for
himself when he was still in high school. He varied this name rather
inventively, even within a single original: Kharms, Khorms, Charms, Haarms,
Shardan, Harms-Dandan, etc. The thing was that Charms believed that a
fixed name brings bad luck. He was taking a new last name each time as if
trying to avoid it. "Yesterday my father told me, that while I was Charms, I
would be always in need. Daniil Charms. December 23, 1936" (a diary record)
He was brought up in a family of a well-known populist figure of Ivan
Pavlovich Yuvachev, who was sentenced to death but whose sentence was
substituted by life in prison, and who was being in exile in Sakhalin, where he
made friends with Chekhov. Daniil was born after his father had been
released, when Yuvachev came back to St. Petersburg. In those years at the
beginning of the century, when Charms's father became an author of religious
book and memoirs, he became a prototype of books by Leo Tolstoy and
Anton Chekhov. So Charm's roots are very much in literature. But it is known
that Ivan Pavlovich did not approve of his son's works, the works being rather
unlike those Ivan Pavlovich was fond of in literature.
Charms formed as a writer in the 20s, influenced by V. Khlebnikov and a
"zaumnik" (complicator) A. Trufanov. Charms gained understanding in a
circle of poets, who called themselves "Oberiuts" (from OBERIU - acronym for
Association for Real Art). "Who are we? Why are we?" they were asking in
their manifesto. "We are poets of new world awareness and new art... In our
creations we expand and deepen the meaning of an object and a word, but
we nowhere near destroying it. A concrete object becomes an object of art
when washed off its literary and everyday-life shell. In poetry, a collision of
word meanings expresses this object with a mechanical precision", etc.
Oberiuts find a shelter for themselves under a roof of St. Petersburg House of
Press, where their largest evening performance "Three Left Hours" took place
on January 24, 1928. Charms, along with Nikolai Zabolotsky, A. Vvedensky, K.
Vaginov, I. Bakhterev and others, were reading their poems sitting on a
cabinet during the first hour. During the second hour they staged his piece
"Elizaveta Bam", its author also being one of the producers. OBERIU very
much captivated Charms, and he was torn apart (let's recall his age) between
his OBERIU involvment and his beloved. "Who would advise me what to do?
Esther brings misfortunes with her. I am perishing with her" -- exclaimed he in
his diary record of January 27, 1928. -- "Where did the OBERIU go? Everything
disappeared when Esther came into me. I was miserable ever since I stopped

writing properly. If Esther brings misery with her, how can I let here go. But
also, how can I jeopardize OBERIU, which is my job? -- God, help me! Make
Esther leave me next week and live happily! Make me get on writing again
and be free as before!"
However some other external and evil forces helped to break this knot, after
several years had passed. Wishing to end the OBERIU performances on
campuses, clubs, military bases, etc, a youth newspaper "Next Generation" of
St. Petersburg issued an article "Reactionary Juggling" (Apr 9, 1930) subtitled
"About One Prank of the Literary Hoolihans." It was boldly stated that "the
literary hoolihans" (read OBERIUtists) are nothing different but class enemies.
The authors of the article were obviously quoting a real dialog between the
"proletariat studentry" and OBERIUtists: "Vladimirov (the youngest
OBERIUtist Yurij Vladimirov -- note by Vl.Glotser) was obnoxius enough to
call the audience the aborigens, who turned up at the European city and
stared at an automobile."
Levin (a prosaist, OBERIUtist Dojvber Levin -- note by Vl. Glotser) declared
that they are not "yet" (!) understood, but they are the only representatives (!)
of the real art, who are building a large building.
-- Who are you building this for? -- he was asked.
-- For the whole Russa. -- the classical reply followed.
And in 1931 Charms, Vvedensky and some of their friends were arrested and
exiled to the town of Kursk for a year.
Only two "adult" publications were left behind by Charms, one verse each, in
two compilations by the Poet's Union (in 1926 and 1927). Daniil Charms (and
also Alexander Vvedensky) couldn't publish one more "adult" line during their
Did Charms long for publications of his "adult" works? Was he thinking about
them? I believe that he did. Firstly, this is the imminent law of any creative
activity. Secondly, there is an indirect evidence that Charms considered more
than forty of his compositions be ready for the publication.
But still (what a feeling of "no-escape"!) he made no attempts of to publish
any of his "adult" works after 1928. At least no one knows of such attempts
Moreover, he was trying not to share his writings with the people he knew.
Artist Alisa Poret was recalling: "Charms himself was quite fond of drawing,
but he never showed me his sketches, nor anything he wrote for the adults. He
forbade all his friends and made me swear that I wouldn't try to obtain his
original drafts." However, I think, that a small circle of his friends, namely A.
Vvedensky, L. Lipavsky (L. Savelyev), Ya. S. Druskin and some others, were his
customary audience in the 30th.
And he was writing, or at least was trying to write, every day. "I didn't
accomplish my goal of 3-4 pages a day today," he was blaming himself. And
after that, in these days, he writes down "I was the most happy when they
took the pen and the paper from me and forbade me to do anything. I had
no anxiety that I wasn't doing anything of my own will, my conscience was

clear, I was happy. It was when I was in the prison. But if they have asked me
if I wanted to go there or be in a position similar to the jail, I would've said No,
I don't want to."