When a Man Gets to Forty, Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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I might have met Yevtushenko – or at least his English wife. When I went to Moscow as a student in 1986 I was given his phone number, and told that Jan (his wife) was always grateful to meet students from the West. But I was young and gauche, and daunted at the possibility of meeting a man then acclaimed as the greatest Soviet dissident poet – a man who had filled football stadiums for his recitations – so the telephone call was always put off till the next day.

Like many figures of the Soviet era, Yevtushenko straddled the divide between official recognition and active dissidence. His most famous poem, Babi Yar, which addresses Soviet anti-Semitism through the prism of a Nazi World War II atrocity, was the inspiration for Shostakovich’s 13th Symphony – a work by another Soviet ambivalent. Akhmatova and Brodsky were dismissive of Yevtushenko’s poetic merit; others would probably regard him as Russia’s greatest living poet.

Yevtushenko wrote the following poem in 1972, as he was himself approaching forty. It was a troubled time – the relative freedom of expression possible under Khrushchev had given way to the stagnation of the Brezhnev years. This perhaps explains its yearnful tone – his “leaping” of the early sixties has slowly given way to plodding reality. Translation presented quite a challenge here. Yevtushenko departs a little sometimes from his metre, but I decided not to – the effect of a shift is not always duplicated in English. The ninth stanza is very perplexing – and I should acknowledge here the help of Ian Mac Eochagáin in making it less so.

A man, attaining forty years,
will find it’s time to answer fears:
assuage his soul forsaken –
confront the years so stark, inert,
account for every milky spurt,
and every crumb he’s taken.

A man, attaining forty years,
will not find leniency for tears
he’s shed for self and heaven.
For every teardrop that he’s caused
and every snotty inked lie scrawled
will catch him quite unshriven.

A man, attaining forty years,
to new proscription now adheres –
the end of thirst for pleasure:
for if the flesh is conquered not,
lipsmacking flesh will strike the spot –
consume the soul’s prized treasure.

Of flesh the end is always bad
when at life’s end you turn quite mad –
like false Messiah’s gabbling.
Extended then romances’ list,
and in the end there’s only mist
of bathing crones a-babbling.

Until you’re forty there’s a goal.
Till forty life’s a beery stroll –
hangover comes at forty.
Befuddled head begins to ache.
The slews of words a jumble make.
In dungeon there’s a party.

Till forty comes, till forty comes,
at heart-strings lucky fortune strums –
around the market leaping;
at forty – market’s done on foot
with empty bag on shoulder put,
so ravaged now and weeping.

A man, attaining forty years,
perforce his own advice he hears:
from market be now distant.
For there, the cheat beguiles to buy.
The trader is the cheating guy.
That’s law of sales consistent.

Still worse when trader clasps the rein
of trembling horse with nervous neigh –
the avaricious chancer.
The shame the same, no matter what –
if selling is your chosen lot,
or you’re the one who’s cheated.

A man, attaining forty years,
is cast by life in colours drear,
so don’t pretend you’re reddish –
much better to be dappled grey.
And please don’t sell on market day
from hide a dappled blemish.

A man, attaining forty years
finds light has not converged its spears
with market’s dinning trauma.
For all’s ahead – now only wait.
In comedy do not delight,
and don’t succumb to drama!

A man, attaining forty years,
decays or thrives, he grieves or cheers –
it’s at his own deciding.
From death himself he cannot save,
in midst of death he yet is brave
despite with fate colliding.

::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
ему пора держать ответ:
душа не одряхлела? –
перед своими сорока,
и каждой каплей молока,
и каждой крошкой хлеба.

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
то снисхожденья ему нет
перед собой и перед богом.
Все слезы те, что причинил,
все сопли лживые чернил
ему выходят боком.

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
то наложить пора запрет
на жажду удовольствий:
ведь если плоть не побороть,
урчит, облизываясь, плоть –
съесть душу удалось ей.

И плоти, в общем-то, кранты,
когда вконец замуслен ты,
как лже-Христос, губами.
Один роман, другой роман,
а в результате лишь туман
и голых баб – как в бане.

До сорока яснее цель.
До сорока вся жизнь как хмель,
а в сорок лет – похмелье.
Отяжелела голова.
Не сочетаются слова.
Как в яме – новоселье.

До сорока, до сорока
схватить удачу за рога
на ярмарку мы скачем,
а в сорок с ярмарки пешком
с пустым мешком бредем тишком.
Обворовали – плачем.

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
он должен дать себе совет:
от ярмарки подальше.
Там не обманешь – не продашь.
Обманешь – сам уже торгаш.
Таков закон продажи.

Еще противней ржать, дрожа,
конем в руках у торгаша,
сквалыги, живоглота.
Два равнозначные стыда:
когда торгуешь и когда
тобой торгует кто-то.

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
жизнь его красит в серый цвет,
но если не каурым –
будь серым в яблоках конем
и не продай базарным днем
ни яблока со шкуры.

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
то не сошелся клином свет
на ярмарочном гаме.
Все впереди – ты погоди.
Ты лишь в комедь не угоди,
но не теряйся в драме!

Когда мужчине сорок лет,
или распад, или расцвет –
мужчина сам решает.
Себя от смерти не спасти,
но, кроме смерти, расцвести
ничто не помешает.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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