The Night before 1st June (Ночь под первое июня), Arseny Tarkovsky

Arseny Tarkovsky (with Andrei in the background)
Arseny Tarkovsky (with Andrei in the background)

Arseny Alexandrovich Tarkovsky (1907-1989) is less well known outside Russia than his son, the film director Andrei. He was, however, an important poet, whose work deserves to be better known outside Russia. Anna Akhmatova was convinced of his merit; she wrote of Tarkovsky: “Of all contemporary poets Tarkovsky alone is completely his own self, completely independent. He possesses the most important feature of a poet, which I’d call the birthright.”

He narrowly escaped execution in 1921, when he and some friends were arrested for writing an acrostic about Lenin. His friends perished.

He translated poetry from Georgian, Armenian and Arabic.

Here is a review of a recent anthology of Tarkovsky’s work in translation, which contains much detail about the poet, and also about the challenge of translating Russian poetry.

The last of nightingales of spring are singing
Their lovely trilling songs are yet unfinished
And on your bed in glimmer now diminished
The froth of rosy hawthorn’s pearls is stringing,

Like suicidal man the railway arches
Are under rushing locomotives lying
My life above dark reach’s ripple’s flying
And none can stop its headlong dashing marches,

So sleep, as if on stage, or in a clearing,
So sleep – your love is shorter than the darkness –
So sleep in children’s tale, night’s prison’s starkness,
Without a name through forest’s memories steering.

So when again I’ve come back to my senses
To me each day new day is all the dearer,
But every night more partial and austerer
My eager court is judge of my offences.


Пока еще последние колена
Последних соловьев не отгремели
И смутно брезжит у твоей постели
Боярышника розовая пена,

Пока ложится железнодорожный
Мост, как самоубийца, под колеса
И жизнь моя над черной рябью плеса
Летит стремглав дорогой непреложной,

Спи, как на сцене, на своей поляне,
Спи,- эта ночь твоей любви короче,-
Спи в сказке для детей, в ячейке ночи,
Без имени в лесу воспоминаний.

Так вот когда я стал самим собою,
И что ни день – мне новый день дороже,
Но что ни ночь – пристрастнее и строже
Мой суд нетерпеливый над судьбою…

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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