Translated from the Russian by Andrew Bromfield
From God I have need of nothing,
From the times I ask even less,
Just the person my heart is fond of,
A little earthly happiness.
What an idea, in this devastation,
In this intimate, hellish chaos,
Where weary thoughts are like old women
Pottering round a ruined house.
You madman, what can you pay
To the sage and the prophet for this?
The poet’s capital is too tiny.
What good is he? What use?
Two lines on a high-flown note,
For the dead and the fallen – two tears,
Two prayers – for love and for work,
For all grown weary of their desires.
And one more – to eternal sorrow,
To solitude’s gentle sounds.
You can scarcely pay with these
For the touch of kindly hands,
For a crumb of comfort on earth,
For the hope that it is true,
For the road that has sharply turned
Towards glory, or towards ruin.
Or into a swampy bog,
Where soul and limb are sucked down,
Where people, and events, and gods
Draw their victims in to drown.
And there can be no thought of rescue,
With whom, Lord, can we plead –
There is only this green-brown crust,
The infinite line of the weed.
ON READING KARAMZIN'S "HISTORY"
Verses Concerning the Man Set on a Stake
How sultry and how long the summer evening,
The stones give out a clammy heat.
Our earthly journey is but brief and venal,
That a man could thus upon a stake be set,
For some sin that the Lord alone could see.
He did not die, consciousness lingered,
He looked about him through a painful haze
Watching the Earth crookedly swinging,
Alive, transparent, incandescent,
Not cross-like, but a chalice in appearance.
All the first day the crowd stood gaping,
Although his misery was not amusing,
How well, how smoothly, the body was dying,
It was still alive, it was already flying,
Upon the stake, without the use of wings.
On the second day the boredom set in,
They felt enough time had been wasted,
He doesn't speak, they said, would you believe it?
Why should we hang around here for amusement?
And scattering like smoke, they went their way.
Smoke from a campfire, a match, a conflagration,
The smoke of fate, of truth, of time,
The smoke of the Earth's fiery consummation,
The smoke of youth, of love's inebriation,
The smoke of flags and pennants bright and fine.
The body broke his will during the third day.
Like smoke the world dissolved out of his eyes.
He lived within himself, and one could say
That he himself had chosen his own fate
Of solitude, unwanted and despised.
And a young girl, wearing boots of green,
Fat as an elephant from over-eating,
Swung her trunk-hand to cast a stone,
With a deft cat-like motion, testing
His grip on life, and her own throwing.
And like a marksman of the highest class,
With skill as great as anyone might muster,
She smashed against his chest the hurtling mass
Letting the blood, and even cutting flesh,
And out it poured, like water over boulders.
And he sighed, and saw the world again,
And he was glad that life was not yet gone,
The hazy sunset was a common one,
But he was there, and that fact alone
Lent grateful tenderness to his wise groan.
A SOLITARY TRAM
A winter's night with no moon in the sky,
And the blizzard howls like a beast at bay.
Snow covers the land, stretching for miles,
At my back the door is boarded and nailed.
What do I seek as I wander this way?
Why must I go where they believe and wait?
A solitary tram clangs its wheels on the rails
As though proclaiming the Judgement Day.
I have rejected Heaven for the blizzard,
Now how dangerous my road will be!
Where will a car turn, or the next tram whizz past?
Is there pavement or track beneath my feet?
A bell clangs at my back, I leap clear,
Again up ahead the snow covers the track.
How shall I heal my soul of its fear?
How shall I heal my weary conscience?
Who has spread out this white fluffy blanket,
Set the solitary tram at my back?
Such great hopes for this short journey
Through the snow-bound expanse,
No star or light, only the hollow clanging,
Or hollow footsteps ringing in the street.
No light or star, only the blizzard howling,
And my wrist-watch's cold, steady beat.
THOUGHTS ON WAR AND PEACE
Thunder rumbles, the powers threaten war,
The stalls are silent, the gallery is dumb.
He does not crave for fame or glory,
But simply says: I can't go on.
While you settle up your matters,
Dividing shares, arranging trade,
People go hungry and barefoot,
Wretched people of my own age.
Their lives pass like nameless dust,
He who flew can scarcely crawl,
It is not Shakespeare or Mozart
That fill his poor head at all –
His head is filled with bread and hunger,
A helpless feeling, stale and hard.
Beneath our electronic heaven
We are filled not with peace, but war.
A man crushed by deprivation,
With his face ground right away,
Will hardly halt the action
Or foresee the final day.
FORTUNE-TELLING BETWEEN TWO MIRRORS
With the link of quiet kindness I shall begin,
Casting out from the chain the link of calumny.
I shall forgive my friends their latest sin
As a horse forgives the steppe's infinity.
In trying us for deeds done and undone,
The judges of the soul's court are unjust.
They apply eternal cliché's legal code,
By which only the body may be judged.
When you approached me, shame burned in your eyes.
What a petty business this is – truth and right. . .
I see two candles here in two long mirrors –
Crooked on the left and crooked on the right.
Oh, how distorted our deep selves are,
Ever smaller, ever deeper as they retreat,
And within, there where the candles burn,
There stands a long-forgotten glass of tea.
And deep within – darkness's mysterious strands,
And the twinkling of a distant star,
The faded traces left by weary hands
In the constellation of cerberus or cancer.
Worn and faded eyes burdened with sorrow,
Worn and faded lips in a crooked wreath,
The gulf extending down into the soul,
Further than any steppe or plain can reach.
Perhaps I shall return in times to come.
But now I must go on along my road. . .
The mirrors' depths reveal to me a man
Who sought his way, but discovered only God.
OF COURSE OUR DAILY CARES
ARE MORE THAN WE CAN BEAR
How subtle is the low and lingering song,
An arm flung out to sweep above the earth,
The supreme hour has struck and brought this sign,
Momentary defiance of both life and death.
Snow spirals down and settles softly,
The perfect gesture fits the melody's refrain,
The heavy burden of my thoughts is lifted,
Nature and fate no longer cause me pain.
Fly in this snow, dance to the music's charms,
Within the festive light-rays' glittering swirl.
See how lightly glide our outspread arms,
Welcoming a deity into our world.
A surging, sweeping wave of tenderness
Towers above the heavens' wide expanse.
All I can offer is my constancy,
Acceptance or rejection is your choice.
Time flies. On your skin the light is tender.
How perfect is your gesture, how pregnant your sigh.
Of course our daily cares are more than we can bear,
But then, what is God, if we must die?
A REPLY TO A PERSON ENCOUNTERED BY CHANCE,
WHO CONSIDERS THAT NOWADAYS THE CONCEPT
OF HONOUR IS RELATIVE
Have we all gone out of our minds?
Are we all drunken, crippled, blind?
Has madness taken full control?
Has winter's chill benumbed our souls?
If honour is a fool, then why
Must conscience just stand idly by?
See how the struggle for worldly ends
Transforms our foes into our friends.
We've learned that silence leads to gain,
And mastered honour's subtle shades.
Forgetting that its colour does not change
From childhood days to sorrowful old age,
That truth preserves its single unity,
However deaf and blind the times may be.
God on one, and Satan on the other side,
Are separated by a bottomless divide.
Darkness is darkness, light is light,
There is no bridge from wrong to right.
A CHARM AGAINST LOVE
I did not go insane when I found out, or die,
Or take a gun and blow my brains out,
Curse fate, burn bridges, or fire the house.
I was simply free, after all that time.
But still I pumped my heart's integument
Until the sphere burst in bloody rocket spray.
I greeted each day like the Judgement Day,
And lived to see a brand new testament.
Flee people if you would avoid affliction,
Ask them not for truth or recompense.
Everything passes, save the lasting bronze
Of our betrayal and crucifixion.
The blow falls harder, the closer you are,
The more defenceless against every wound or smart.
But carry on, do not spill out your heart
To stain the pavement flaming cinnabar.
Love them, forgive them their ill-doings,
Abandon not the soul that has betrayed.
Retribution is the work of the creator,
It is not for me to work their ruin.
In the bright whiteness of your memory,
Or where all is blackness, charred away –
Pity people with a heartfelt pity
Lasting through the years and through the day.
White house of flame and smoke,
Of faith in us, of hope.
You flashed past me like a shot
Into the distance, hurtling on,
Glinting briefly before burning out.
Why, then, should I pray to Thee,
Just Lord, in this you are unjust.
I am alive, I am still free,
With far to go and much to see
Before I rest beneath the grass.
Ashes, dust and scalding smoke,
A dream awaiting its rebirth.
Still beloved and unique,
Still irreplaceable: strange lips speak
It all within a single breath.
How the soul languishes before its time,
How life seeps out and will not stay.
Murmur to me of life, magpie,
Give me no maxim for today,
But from my memory drive death away.
Blow winds, breathing of the south,
Where life united you with me,
Where luck and I kept company,
And we lived through the constant round
Of what is known as destiny.
White house. . .
TO THE GOD OF LOVE
Weightless, absurd, impalpable are you,
Repellent, coarse and pitiful.
And yet, oh, let your aim be true,
Hand of the god both mild and merciful.
How gauche and imbalanced this is,
Millstones in the heart and round the neck.
The only lesson learned from destiny
Is that weariness will finally prove correct.
Happiness is squalid in the human face.
Reason is right, labouring to the last breath.
But without this, the link might suddenly cease
That tightly binds together life and death.
And everything dissolve in the sterile torrent
Of the swollen stream's solemn sweep –
But let these ponderous marsh-banks come together
In the closing of your ever-hungry lips.
Snow settles gently on the earth,
The untidy forest is quiet.
Our joyous burden is to share
Between us the sorrow of life.
Let us set the skis against a spruce,
And light the campfire without haste,
Until the blizzard discovers us,
Let our souls here be at rest.
My mug is full of melting snow
Crimson steam hangs in the air.
We have no chimney or bellows,
But we have branches and twigs to burn.
Juice oozes from the ruddy meat,
And my palms are drunkenly moist.
An hour, a lifetime would be too short
To drink in all of this.
To drain your fathomless lips,
And fall asleep in the snow,
Where the spruces' organ-pipes
Sing to the river below.
The birches stand stock-still.
A flame flickers in the ashes.
How strange, after all, that we lived
On the earth, that we existed.