Night (Ночь), Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak with Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter, Irina Emelyanova, 1957
Boris Pasternak with Olga Ivinskaya and her daughter, Irina Emelyanova, 1957

In A Captive of Time: My Years with Pasternak, Pasternak’s mistress, Olga Ivinskaya (on whom he modelled Lara in Dr Zhivago), writes this of his poetry:

In Pasternak the ‘all-powerful god of detail’ always, it seems, revolted against the idea of turning out verse for its own sake or to convey vague personal moods. If ‘eternal’ themes were to be dealt with yet again, then only by a poet in the true sense of the word – otherwise he should not have the strength of character to touch them at all. Poetry so tightly packed (till it crunched like ice) or distilled into a solution where ‘grains of true prose germinated,’ a poetry in which realistic detail cast a genuine spell – only such poetry was acceptable to Pasternak; but not poetry for which indulgence was required, or for which allowances had to be made – that is, the kind of ephemeral poetry which is particularly common in an age of literary conformism. [Boris Leonidovich] could weep over the ‘purple-gray circle’ which glowed above Blok’s tormented muse and he never failed to be moved by the terseness of Pushkin’s sprightly lines, but rhymed slogans about the production of tin cans in the so-called ‘poetry’ of Surkov and his like, as well as the outpourings about love in the work of those young poets who only echo each other and the classics – all this left him cold at best and for the most part made him indignant.” (Sourced from Wikipedia)

Ivinskaya was herself a poet. She died in 1995. She spent  three years in the Gulag. Pasternak was convinced that he owed his life to her refusal to capitulate to the authorities’ demands for information about him.

The night is now departing
It’s lifting its dark shrouds,
And pilot, voyage starting,
Is bound for heaven’s clouds.

He’s swallowed in the vapour,
In jet plane disappeared,
A cross as marked by draper,
A blotch on linen sheared.

Below in foreign places
Are gay nocturnal bars,
And soldiers’, stokers’ faces,
And station’s railway cars.

Its wing is shadow spreading
Across the cloud on high.
And clustered stars are treading
Around it in the sky.

With dreadful, dreadful churning
And sickening display
To other worlds is turning
The slick of Milky Way.

And in the boundless spaces
Are continents on fire.
In subterranean places
The sleepless stokers tire.

In Paris under gable
Some Venus or a Mars
Is scanning tawdry playbill
Announcing some new farce.

At safe remove some fellow
In garret cannot sleep,
And candle flickers yellow
In tile-reflected leap.

A planet he peruses
As if the starry vault
Connection somehow chooses
With anxious night’s assault.

Don’t sleep, don’t sleep, but labour,
To work don’t set a bar,
Fight nodding off with sabre
Like pilot, like a star.

Don’t rest from art’s creation,
To sleep do not succumb.
For time’s incarceration
Must endless beat its drum.


Идет без проволочек
И тает ночь, пока
Над спящим миром летчик
Уходит в облака.

Он потонул в тумане,
Исчез в его струе,
Став крестиком на ткани
И меткой на белье.

Под ним ночные бары,
Чужие города,
Казармы, кочегары,
Вокзалы, поезда.

Всем корпусом на тучу
Ложится тень крыла.
Блуждают, сбившись в кучу,
Небесные тела.

И страшным, страшным креном
К другим каким-нибудь
Неведомым вселенным
Повернут Млечный путь.

В пространствах беспредельных
Горят материки.
В подвалах и котельных
Не спят истопники.

В Париже из-под крыши
Венера или Марс
Глядят, какой в афише
Объявлен новый фарс.

Кому-нибудь не спится
В прекрасном далеке
На крытом черепицей
Старинном чердаке.

Он смотрит на планету,
Как будто небосвод
Относится к предмету
Его ночных забот.

Не спи, не спи, работай,
Не прерывай труда,
Не спи, борись с дремотой,
Как летчик, как звезда.

Не спи, не спи, художник,
Не предавайся сну.
Ты – вечности заложник
У времени в плену.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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