“Wakened by the shadows’ probing” (“Просыпаюсь в полумраке”), Ivan Bunin

Bunin in 1901
Bunin in 1901

Ivan Alekseyevich Bunin (1870-1953) was an associate of Gorky, but they fell out because of their disagreement about the Revolution. He left Russia permanently in 1920 and spent the rest of his life in Paris. In 1933 he became the first Russian to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Here (sourced from Wikipedia) is part of his acceptance speech:
Overwhelmed by the congratulations and telegrams that began to flood me, I thought in the solitude and silence of night about the profound meaning in the choice of the Swedish Academy. For the first time since the founding of the Nobel Prize you have awarded it to an exile. Who am I in truth? An exile enjoying the hospitality of France, to whom I likewise owe an eternal debt of gratitude. But, gentlemen of the Academy, let me say that irrespective of my person and my work your choice in itself is a gesture of great beauty. It is necessary that there should be centers of absolute independence in the world. No doubt, all differences of opinion, of philosophical and religious creeds, are represented around this table. But we are united by one truth, the freedom of thought and conscience; to this freedom we owe civilization. For us writers, especially, freedom is a dogma and an axiom. Your choice, gentlemen of the Academy, has proved once more that in Sweden the love of liberty is truly a national cult.

This short poem was written (I think) before the Revolution. The “papers” of the final line are “newspapers” – which couldn’t be forced into the meter.

Wakened by the shadows’ probing
Snowy windows with their arc –
Isaac’s swarthy gold dome’s robing
Glimmers, beautiful and dark.

Doleful, snowy morning settles,
Isaac’s cross wears misty shroud.
At the window pigeons nestle,
Snug against the glass they crowd.

All is joy to me and novel:
Chandelier and coffee’s spice,
Rug on floor of cosy hovel,
Papers’ soggy frosted ice.


Просыпаюсь в полумраке.
В занесенное окно
Смуглым золотом Исакий
Смотрит дивно и темно.

Утро сумрачное снежно,
Крест ушел в густую мглу.
За окном уютно, нежно
Жмутся голуби к стеклу.

Все мне радостно и ново:
Запах кофе, люстры свет,
Мех ковра, уют алькова
И сырой мороз газет.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

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