The Last Mammoth (Последний мамонт), Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Yevtushenko wrote this in 1956, when he was 23. It was the year of the 20th Party Congress, which had addressed the crimes of Stalin and which presaged a time of relative freedom of expression under Khrushchev. So is this poem just about the last mammoth?

Along the spur the mammoth plodded
above the river, frozen fast.
They had before been
proud and
but of his kind he was the last.
And he whom storm had never tested,
today was weakened – cursèd fate.
For now, in hide
embedding arrows
became for him a heavy weight.
He weakly tried to blow his trumpet –
to plant its echo far away –
but with a wheeze the mammoth crumpled,
as arrows
pierced their prey.
Already then, a shadow trembled,
and skilful hand was poised to cut,
as meat was hacked for distribution
a blunt stone blade now sliced his gut.
If they’d but known, those ancient hunters –
this mammoth,
dreaded and severe,
would animate more their descendants
than docile elephants now here,
that such a beast by battle proven,
as proud he’d dashed in headlong race,
who never did his tusks surrender,
would one day grace museum case!


Ступал он трудно по отрогу
над ледовитою рекой.
Их было раньше,
и был последний он такой.
Не раз испробованный в буре,
сегодня сдал он, как назло.
Ему от стрел,
торчащих в шкуре,
внезапно стало тяжело.
Он затрубить пытался слабо,
чтоб эхо вздрогнуло вдали,
но повалился с хрипом набок,
и стрелы
в бок вошли.
Уже над шкурой кто-то трясся,
и, занимаясь дележом,
умело кто-то резал мясо
тяжелым каменным ножом.
О, знали б люди эти если,
что мамонт,
грозен и суров,
потомкам будет интересней
всех исполнительных слонов
и что испытанные в битве,
когда он мчался напролом,
еще не сдавшиеся бивни
храниться будут под стеклом!..

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Look for Me (Ищи меня), Vladislav Khodasevich

A poem from 1918. Here‘s an explanation of the poem, and another translation. It’s worth pointing out, perhaps, that the Guardian is mistaken in suggesting that the fourth line of each stanza is an Alexandrine: that’s true only of the fourth line of the first stanza and the second line of the fourth.

So, look for me in spring light’s threading fingers.
I am it all: the sweep of subtle wings;
A sound; a sigh; a parquet-ray that lingers,
I’m lighter than it: for to where I was it clings.

But, friend for ever, there’s no separation!
Oh, listen, I am here, and you can touch
Me with your lively handed animation,
The flowing day-flame’s embers you can clutch.

So slow yourself, with languor close those lashes.
And yet again attempt to reach me with your grasp –
And at your trembling finger tips in flashes
Perhaps I’ll burst in flames as with a gasp.


Ищи меня в сквозном весеннем свете.
Я весь – как взмах неощутимых крыл,
Я звук, я вздох, я зайчик на паркете,
Я легче зайчика: он – вот, он есть, я был.

Но, вечный друг, меж нами нет разлуки!
Услышь, я здесь. Касаются меня
Твои живые, трепетные руки,
Простёртые в текучий пламень дня.

Помедли так. Закрой, как бы случайно,
Глаза. Ещё одно усилье для меня –
И на концах дрожащих пальцев, тайно,
Быть может, вспыхну кисточкой огня.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

“There hasn’t been a transformation” (“Нет, ничего не изменилось”) , Nikolai Gumilev

It was only after I finished this translation that I realised it was a poem I had already translated. My other version is here. I think this one is better.

There hasn’t been a transformation
In nature’s poor and simple state,
But wonderful illumination
In boundless beauty’s stirred of late.

Our feeble human flesh will doubtless
When dawns the hour appear like this,
When out of the enormous darkness
With judgement calls the Lord of bliss.

So, know my friend so proud and tender,
With you and only you alone,
With red-haired snow-white form so slender
I came into my very own.

And, oh, you smiled my lovely darling,
And you then did not understand
How much you shone, what darkling, snarling,
grim shadow wrapped you with its band.


Нет, ничего не изменилось
В природе бедной и простой,
Все только дивно озарилось
Невыразимой красотой.

Такой и явится, наверно,
Людская немощная плоть,
Когда ее из тьмы безмерной
В час судный воззовет господь.

Знай, друг мой гордый, друг мой нежный,
С тобою, лишь с тобой одной,
Рыжеволосой, белоснежной
Я стал на миг самим собой.

Ты улыбнулась, дорогая,
И ты не поняла сама,
Как ты сияешь, и какая
Вокруг тебя сгустилась тьма.

Translation by Rupert Moreton


“You aren’t yet dead” (“Еще не умер ты”), Osip Mandelstam

Cherdyn in 1912

Mandelstam wrote this at the beginning of 1937, a year before he died on his way to the Gulag. He and Nadezhda were in exile in the city of Voronezh. Their time there was something of a reprieve – they had previously endured great hardship in exile in Cherdyn in the Northern Urals. In her last letter to Osip, which he probably never received, Nadezhda wrote of that time:

Do you remember how we dragged whatever we’d found for our miserable feasts to wherever it was we’d pitched our tent? Do you remember how good the bread was when the miracle was granted and we ate it together? And last winter in Voronezh – the joyous poverty and the poetry… I remember coming back from the bath house having bought eggs or sausages or something. A cart with a load of hay was passing. It was still cold, and I was freezing in my jacket (and still we must freeze: I know you are cold now). That day I remember now. And I realise that that winter, those days, those trials – they were the best and final happiness that will come to us in this life.

You aren’t yet dead, and you are not as yet alone,
As long as with your beggared lover
By joy of wide expanses of the plains you’re thrown
As dark and cold and blizzards cover.

In lavish destitution and in mighty dearth
Then live in peace and consolation.
For blessed then the days and nights on earth
And sinless is sweet occupation.

Unhappy he, who shadow-like is scared
By yelp, who’s by the wind prostrated,
And poor is he, whom death has scarcely spared,
Whom shadow-begging leaves unsated.


Еще не умер ты, еще ты не один,
Покуда с нищенкой-подругой
Ты наслаждаешься величием равнин
И мглой, и холодом, и вьюгой.

В роскошной бедности, в могучей нищете
Живи спокоен и утешен.
Благословенны дни и ночи те,
И сладкогласный труд безгрешен.

Несчастлив тот, кого, как тень его,
Пугает лай и ветер косит,
И беден тот, кто сам полуживой
У тени милостыню просит.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

“I’m not of those whose conversation” (“Я не из тех, которых слово”), Karolina Pavlova

A poem from 1841.

I’m not of those whose conversation
Is always humble, like their gaze,
Whose condescension’s weary station
Smooths every sentence with its ways.

I’m not of those who lack the daring
To say sincerely all that’s true,
Whose thought is passing fool’s ensnaring
And dealings’ preservation, too,

Who are so tentative, so wary,
That empty phrase is what they own,
Who, knowing all their art is airy,
Attend but to themselves alone.


Я не из тех, которых слово
Всегда смиренно, как их взор,
Чье снисхождение готово
Загладить каждый приговор.

Я не из тех, чья мысль не смеет
Облечься в искреннюю речь,
Чей разум всех привлечь умеет
И все сношения сберечь,

Которые так осторожно
Владеют фразою пустой
И, ведая, что всё в них ложн
Всечасно смотрят за собой.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

“The spring, the spring” (“Весна, весна”), Alexander Pushkin

The thaw in Helsinki
The thaw in Helsinki

Pushkin wrote this in 1827. Although his exile had ended, he still found himself subjected to censorship, and his travel was severely restricted. Perhaps this poem expresses some of his personal frustration; or perhaps – like many of us who live in northern climes – he found the muddy thaw th emost depressing time of the year.

The spring, the spring – you bring love’s flood,
How hard for me your apparition,
What listless and yet crazed condition
Afflicts my soul and taints my blood…
Unknown to heart is joy’s ignition…
And all that joys and swells to bud
Brings yawn and sloth, by definition.

So give me storm and icy blizzard,
Long winter filled with inky nights.


Весна, весна, пора любви,
Как тяжко мне твое явленье,
Какое томное волненье
В моей душе, в моей крови…
Как чуждо сердцу наслажденье…
Всё, что ликует и блестит,
Наводит скуку и томленье.


Отдайте мне метель и вьюгу
И зимний долгий мрак ночей.

Translation by Rupert Moreton

Dreams (Сны), Arseny Tarkovsky


Now, having donned her magic glasses,
The night alights on window sill,
And, like a priest, the hours she passes,
With Babylonian dream-chant shrill.

And upwards now her steps are leaving,
But void is not by railing lined,
As if on stage, and scarce believing,
Shades judge your foreign gabble’s mind.

There is no sense, no date, no measure.
Who are the judges? What your fall?
To leave the cave has been our pleasure,
One cuneiform there is for all.

To watch is our predestination
To Euclid’s proofs from Noah’s flood.
Return your loot; your observation
Betray – as will your flesh and blood.

And so, you’ll find yourself a shelter
At someone’s threshold soon one day,
As godlike bulls in midday’s swelter
Along the road in rubbing welter
Then chew the cud of time away.


Садится ночь на подоконник,
Очки волшебные надев,
И длинный вавилонский сонник,
Как жрец, читает нараспев.

Уходят вверх ее ступени,
Но нет перил над пустотой,
Где судят тени, как на сцене,
Иноязычный разум твой.

Ни смысла, ни числа, ни меры.
А судьи кто? И в чем твой грех?
Мы вышли из одной пещеры,
И клинопись одна на всех.

Явь от потопа до Эвклида
Мы досмотреть обречены.
Отдай – что взял; что видел – выдай!
Тебя зовут твои сыны.

И ты на чьем-нибудь пороге
Найдешь когда-нибудь приют,
Пока быки бредут, как боги,
Боками трутся на дороге
И жвачку времени жуют.

Translation by Rupert Moreton