The Birch (Берёза), Vladimir Soloukhin


Years ago, as a student of Russian, I read a short story by Vladimir Soloukhin about a young man’s obsession with a Polish girl. It addressed the complexities of the Russian-Polish relationship, while skilfully circumventing any possible objection from the censor. I’d love to find that story again.

In this 1955 poem, of course, the lone birch stands for the individuality that Soviet life could not tolerate.

In fir plantation all is dreary,
The tone is muted and subdued.
A silver birch’s flash shines cheery
Alone among the firs that brood.

For people, death’s less complicated.
I saw myself an hour ago,
In distant grove, when agitated,
Birch started cheerful autumn show.

And here her leaves she now is shedding,
From other birches tucked away.
In hazy covert, blaze is spreading,
A hundred paces’ golden spray.

And dreary firs uncomprehending
Still closer in upon her crowd:
We both were verdant skywards trending
A while ago. Why’s she so proud?

And so the serious firs stand thinking
As if they’re lowering gaze to ground.
For dying birch that now is shrinking
They vigil keep without a sound.


В лесу еловом все неброско,
Приглушены его тона.
И вдруг белым-бела березка
В угрюмом ельнике одна.

Известно, смерть на людях проще.
Видал и сам я час назад,
Как начинался в дальней роще
Веселый, дружный листопад.

А здесь она роняет листья
Вдали от близких и подруг.
Как от огня, в чащобе мглистой
Светло на сто шагов вокруг.

И непонятно темным елям,
Собравшимся еще тесней:
Что с ней? Ведь вместе зеленели
Совсем недавно. Что же с ней?

И вот задумчивы, серьезны,
Как бы потупив в землю взгляд,
Над угасающей березой
Они в молчании стоят.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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