“The evening peal at monastery’s wall” (“Вечерний звон у стен монастыря”), Anna Akhmatova

A poem from 1914.

The evening peal at monastery’s wall
Appears to mirror nature’s benediction…
A pallid face hits faded pool with friction –
As now the grey-winged gloaming starts to fall.

Above the distant meadow white canoes
From alien world now with the shadows skitter…
O faithless hour, the hour of thoughts so bitter
Beneath the rising moonlight’s silver hue.

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Вечерний звон у стен монастыря,
Как некий благовест самой природы…
И бледный лик в померкнувшие воды
Склоняет сизокрылая заря.

Над дальним лугом белые челны
Нездешние сопровождают тени…
Час горьких дум, о, час разуверений
При свете возникающей луны.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Windmills

We climbed to tilt. The mad-dog sun
Concealed by unaccustomed cloud
Still burned. And beggared Spain, so proud
Beneath, Baroque accretion spun
Behind the flaking Gothic walls.

And at the top, midst skylarks’ calls,
We sweated and we foolish posed.
As all before we there supposed
Quijote spoke. But dowdy palls
Have long since facile victory won.

Rupert Moreton

Moonlight (Лунный свет), Konstantin Balmont

A sonnet from 1894.

I’m not pleased with this. I failed to reproduce Balmont’s rhyme scheme (ab ab ab ab) – Russian’s inflection makes this considerably easier, of course.

When shines the moon amidst the dark of night
With sickle’s scintillation, bright and tender,
It’s then my spirit starts to take her flight,
In thrall to all that’s filled with distant splendour.

And in my dreams I race towards the chases
Of forest glades and snow-white mountain peaks;
With pining soul I guard serene world’s places,
And sweetly weep and breathe by moon’s mystique.

I drink in all this pallid incandescence,
And, elf-like, swing amidst the gridded rays,
And bend my ear to bliss’s silent accents.

My people’s passions fade then in the distance,
And alien are all earthly struggling days,
I am a cloud, a breath of wind’s quintessence.

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Когда луна сверкнет во мгле ночной
Своим серпом, блистательным и нежным,
Моя душа стремится в мир иной,
Пленяясь всем далеким, всем безбрежным.

К лесам, к горам, к вершинам белоснежным
Я мчусь в мечтах; как будто дух больной,
Я бодрствую над миром безмятежным,
И сладко плачу, и дышу – луной.

Впиваю это бледное сиянье,
Как эльф, качаюсь в сетке из лучей,
Я слушаю, как говорит молчанье.

Людей родных мне далеко страданье,
Чужда мне вся земля с борьбой своей,
Я – облачко, я – ветерка дыханье.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

“He lived and died and so did she” (“Тот жил и умер, та жила”), Arseny Tarkovsky

Arseny Tarkovsky (with Andrei in the background)

A poem from 1975.

This was fiendishly difficult. Tarkovsky’s economy combined with the economy of Russian posed particular challenges. My insertion of the Ark (of the Covenant) here is perhaps a step too far, but I hope I have come close to capturing the poem’s sense.

He lived and died and so did she,
And so they lived and died together;
And in one grave, as if in tether,
They lay, so they’d together be.

Than glass the soil is not as dark,
The killed and killer it uncovers:
For death’s decaying’s dusty smothers
Unearth the passions of the Ark.

Above, the shades of generations
Interred beneath in soil’s striations
Now rush, but they’d have no design
Away from us, the baying rabble,
If we ourselves were not in line
To hear our own accusers’ babble.

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Тот жил и умер, та жила
И умерла, и эти жили
И умерли; к одной могиле
Другая плотно прилегла.

Земля прозрачнее стекла,
И видно в ней, кого убили
И кто убил: на мертвой пыли
Горит печать добра и зла.

Поверх земли метутся тени
Сошедших в землю поколений;
Им не уйти бы никуда
Из наших рук от самосуда,
Когда б такого же суда
Не ждали мы невесть откуда.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

 

The Descendants of Cain (Потомки Каина), Nikolai Gumilev

A sonnet from 1909.

That sad-strict spirit then did not dissemble –
The one who called himself the morning star –
When uttered he: “Fear not the highest’s bar,
Just eat the fruit, and you’ll the gods resemble.”

To young men then all highways stretched before them,
And old men were relieved of all their toil,
And damsels took the amber fruits as spoil,
And snow-white were the unicorns – we saw them.

But why, deprived of strength, then do we bow,
Why do we feel forgotten, and why now
Comes old temptation’s horror’s revelation,

When accidentally someone’s idle hand
Connects two sticks, two poles, two grasses, and
Beholds the crucifix that’s his creation?

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Он не солгал нам, дух печально-строгий,
Принявший имя утренней звезды,
Когда сказал: “Не бойтесь вышней мзды,
Вкусите плод, и будете, как боги”.

Для юношей открылись все дороги,
Для старцев – все запретные труды,
Для девушек – янтарные плоды
И белые, как снег, единороги.

Но почему мы клонимся без сил,
Нам кажется, что кто-то нас забыл,
Нам ясен ужас древнего соблазна,

Когда случайно чья-нибудь рука
Две жердочки, две травки, два древка
Соединит на миг крестообразно?

Translation by Rupert Moreton

To Delvig (Дельвигу), Alexander Pushkin

Anton Antonovich Delvig (1798-1831) was a poet, journalist and close friend of Pushkin. They were contemporaries at the Lyceum in Tsarskoye Selo. Pushkin wrote this in 1830, the year before Delvig’s death.

It’s a wonderful poem. Ian Mac Eochagáin (to whom I’m indebted for clarifying a couple of points) says of it: “You really get the sense of Pushkin mourning a partner in crime, the passage of years, and still trying to sound lofty and acerbic and not tawdry.”

There were some particular challenges. The first stanza of the original refers to Киприда, Феб и Вакх румяный – “Cypris [Aphrodite], Phoebe and ruddy Bacchus”. It proved beyond me to accommodate all three deities, though I confess I’m quite pleased with my solution. Likewise, finding a rhyme for Phoebe was impossible.

Derzhavin was the grand old man of Russian poetry – Salieri to Pushkin’s Mozart.

Our births, for we are too like brothers,
Took place beneath the self-same star,
And ruddy Bacchus and the others
Our fate have fiddled from afar.

We both appeared bright and early,
The races, not the market, graced,
Derzhavin’s tomb, ’midst hurly-burly,
Was where we idle rapture chased.

From adolescence we were pampered.
And being filled with lazy pride
In truth we really were not hampered
By thoughts of children’s rights denied.

But you, O carefree son of Phoebe,
Would not betray your lofty art
To cunning traders, those who would be
The judges of your noble heart.

Oh yes, they’ve scolded us, the scribblers,
We’ve heard ourselves by all maligned:
We’re glory-hunters, boozy dribblers,
Whose glass enflames our reckless mind.

But yet your word, so strong, so soaring,
Is taunted by some parodist,
Your verses, richly hope restoring,
Are chewed by toothless journalist.

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Мы рождены, мой брат названый,
Под одинаковой звездой.
Киприда, Феб и Вакх румяный
Играли нашею судьбой.

Явилися мы рано оба
На ипподром, а не на торг,
Вблизи Державинского гроба,
И шумный встретил нас восторг.

Избаловало нас начало.
И в гордой лености своей
Заботились мы оба мало
Судьбой гуляющих детей.

Но ты, сын Феба беззаботный,
Своих возвышенных затей
Не предавал рукой расчетной
Оценке хитрых торгашей.

В одних журналах нас ругали,
Упреки те же слышим мы:
Мы любим славу да в бокале
Топить разгульные умы.

Твой слог могучий и крылатый
Какой-то дразнит пародист,
И стих, надеждами богатый,
Жует беззубый журналист.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

My Dreams (Мои мечты), Sergei Yesenin

Yesenin with his sisters in 1912

Yesenin wrote this when he was 16 or 17. Life in a peasant hut outside Ryazan was beginning to pale.

On distant place my dreams are set
Where all can hear the cries and sobbing,
To share in alien sorrow’s net
And anguished grieving’s painful throbbing.

For there, I’m sure that I can find
Delight in life and exaltation,
And there, escaping fortune’s bind,
I’ll cast about for inspiration.

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Мои мечты стремятся вдаль,
Где слышны вопли и рыданья,
Чужую разделить печаль
И муки тяжкого страданья.

Я там могу найти себе
Отраду в жизни, упоенье,
И там, наперекор судьбе,
Искать я буду вдохновенья.

Translation by Rupert Moreton