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Precious ladies long ago,

Richardson-reading company;

I visited your ancient home,

glanced from the lofty balcony

at far-off meadowlands and woods,

and sweetly came to the realization:

all your world has disappeared

and gone all its fascination.

Gardens with no flowers now,

a harpsichord that no one plays;

no more the old men's endless sighs

for darling Empress Catherine's days.

I did not run my fingers down

the books that stood in serried rows,

and yet their mouldy graveyard smell

I found congenial to my nose.

I thought how fifty years have left

this place deserted, void and glum.

O may my life be troubled now

entirely by the things to come!

I walk in bliss through flowerbeds

of broken urns, and glorify

thy flight, O Saturn, over us

along the empty starry sky.


God alive! I’m not beyond coherence:
mindfully, I walk among my poems
like a disobliging abbot
among his humble monks.
I shepherd my obedient flock
with a staff that’s bursting into bloom.


Here’s the sower walking along the even rows:

his father, and his father’s father, went the way he goes


And you my native country, and her people, you

will perish and survive, after this year is through –

because this single wisdom is given us to obey:
every thing that lives shall go the seedcorn’s way.


2 nd November’  

Long queues were trailing
at the shops. Wires hung in shreds
above the streets. Broken shards of glass
crunched underfoot. With a yellow eye
the unwarming sun of November
was looking down, at women who had aged,
and unshaven men.



I have shaken hands with beauties, poets,

leaders of nations – not one hand displayed

a line of such nobility! Not one hand

has ever touched my hand so like a brother’s.


An Episode

And the person sitting on the sofa

seemed to me a simple, old, old friend,

who had been worn out from years of travelling;

as if it happened that he’d called on me

and, falling silent in our peaceful talk,

he turned suddenly, gave a sigh, and died.


Berlin View

And sliding through the stagnant night

the tramcar windows as they pass

reflect my café tabletop

in every alien pane of glass.


Blind Man

With a cane he feels his way,
blind man on a random walk,
carefully he plants a foot
and mumbles something to himself.
In the whiteness of his eyes
a universe reflected back:
a house, a field, a fence, a cow,
patches of a pale blue sky -
everything that he can't see.


for Sergei Krechetov

A thin howl from the dogs on guard.
Tonight still camped in the same place,
no-good vagabond orphans, we are
warming our hands at the bonfire.

A sullen look beneath the brows
from empty nights of far-fetched sleep.
The smoke is full of ruby floaters
whirled from flames that whistle and crack.

The waste says nothing. Silent, barbed,
a distant wind pursues the dust;
we sing with an evil dreariness
that's chafing at our curling lips...
A thin howl from the dogs on guard.

In Front of the Mirror

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

Me, me, me. What a preposterous word!
Can that man there really be me?
Did Mama really love this face,
dull yellow with greying edges
like an ancient know-it-all snake?

Can the boy who danced in summer
at the Ostбnkino country-house balls
be myself, whose every response
to freshly-hatched poets inspires
their loathing, malice and fear?

Can that youthful energy thrown into
arguing full pelt well after midnight
have been my own, now that I've learnt
when conversation turns to tragedy
better say nothing - or make a joke?

But that's how it always is at the mid point
of the way through your fate on earth:
from one worthless cause to another,
and look, you've wandered away from the path
and can't even trace your own tracks.

Well, there was no leaping panther
chasing me up to my Paris garret,
and there's no Virgil at my shoulder -
there's only my singular self in the frame
of the talking, truthtelling looking-glass.

Step over

Step over, leap across,
fly beyond, however you like, get through it -
but tear yourself off: be a stone from a sling,
be a star that breaks away from the night...
You lost it yourself - now look for it.

God knows what you grunt to yourself,
looking for spectacles or keys.

Translation: Peter DANIELS

It’s both happy and hard


You, young ones cannot grasp

all the invincible tenderness

with which the branches desire

to touch once more their native earth

Het is een vreugde en een last

Het is een vreugde en een last
Een afgetakeld lijf te dragen.
Wat vroeger wild en vloeiend was
Is nu vermoeid en aangeslagen.

Het bloed gaat in een trage stroom
De moegeworden schouders zakken.
Zo nijgt een volle appelboom
Onder gewicht van eigen takken.

Gij jongelieden hebt geen weet
Van tederheid en smart die maken
Dat bomen met hun bladerkleed
Eens nog de aarde willen raken.