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Amidst the dust of bookshops, wide dispersed
    And never purchased there by anyone,
Yet similar to precious wines, my verse
    Can wait: its turn will come.

Translation Vladimir NABOKOV

I know the Truth

I know the truth — give up all other truths!

No need for people anywhere on earth to struggle.

Look — it is evening, look, it is nearly night:

what do you speak of, poets, lovers, generals?

The wind is level now, the earth is wet with dew,

the storm of stars in the sky will turn to quiet.

And soon all of us will sleep under the earth, we

who never let each other sleep above it.

Translation : Elaine Feinstein.

Whence cometh such tender rapture?

Whence cometh such tender rapture?
Those curls--they are not the first ones
I've smoothened, and I've already
Known lips--that were darker than yours.

The stars have risen and faded,
--Whence cometh such tender rapture?--
And eyes have risen and faded
In face of these eyes of mine

I'd never yet hearkened unto
Such songs in the depths of darkness,
--Whence cometh such tender rapture?--
My head on the bard's own breast

Whence cometh such tender rapture?
And what's to be done with it, artful
Young vagabound, passing minstrel
With lashes--too long to say.

An Attempt at Jealousy
How is your life with that other one?

Simpler, is it? A stroke of the oars

and a long coastline—

and the memory of me

is soon a drifting island

(not in the ocean—in the sky!)

Souls—you will be sisters—
sisters, not lovers.

How is your life with an ordinary

woman? without the god inside her?

The queen supplanted—

How do you breathe now?

Flinch, waking up?

What do you do, poor man?

“Hysterics and interruptions—

enough! I’ll rent my own house!”

How is your life with that other,

you, my own.

Is the breakfast delicious?

(If you get sick, don’t blame me!)

How is it, living with a postcard?

You who stood on Sinai.

How’s your life with a tourist

on Earth? Her rib (do you love her?)

is it to your liking?

How’s life? Do you cough?

Do you hum to drown out the mice in your mind?

How do you live with cheap goods: is the market rising?

How’s kissing plaster-dust?

Are you bored with her new body?

How’s it going, with an earthly woman,

with no sixth sense?

Are you happy?
No? In a shallow pit—how is your life,

my beloved? Hard as mine

with another man?

Bound for Hell

Hell, my ardent sisters, be assured,

Is where we’re bound; we’ll drink the pitch of hell—

We, who have sung the praises of the lord

With every fiber in us, every cell.

We, who did not manage to devote

Our nights to spinning, did not bend and sway

Above a cradle—in a flimsy boat,

Wrapped in a mantle, we’re now borne away.

Every morning, every day, we’d rise

And have the finest Chinese silks to wear;

And we’d strike up the songs of paradise

Around the campfire of a robbers’ lair,

We, careless seamstresses (our seams all ran,

Whether we sewed or not)—yet we have been

Such dancers, we have played the pipes of Pan:

The world was ours, each one of us a queen.

First, scarcely draped in tatters, and disheveled,

Then plaited with a starry diadem;

We’ve been in jails, at banquets we have reveled:

But the rewards of heaven, we’re lost to them,

Lost in nights of starlight, in the garden

Where apple trees from paradise are found.

No, be assured, my gentle girls, my ardent

And lovely sisters, hell is where we’re bound.

Translated by Stephen Edgar

In Paris

Starlit houses, and sky below,

Earth dazed in the nearness.

The same secret longing though

In Paris, so vast and joyous.

The evening boulevards noisy,

The last ray of light dies,

Couples, paired round me,

Fierce lips, insolent eyes.

I’m alone. It’s sweet to rest

My head on a chestnut tree.

As in far Moscow, my breast

Throbs to Rostand’s poetry.

Paris at night, painful strangeness,

Dear the heart’s ancient folly!

I’m going back to violets, sadness,

A portrait of someone kind to me.

There that gaze, pensive, a brother,

There that mild profile, on the wall.

Rostand, L’Aiglon that martyr,

And Sarah – in dream I find them all!

In Paris, so vast and joyous,

I dream of clouds and grass,

Laughter, shadows, ominous,

And the pain that will not pass.

What shall I do, a stepchild and blind

What shall I do, a stepchild and blind,

In a world where all have fathers and eyes?

Where to anathemas, as along embankments –

Love flies! Where it’s only a cold,

–When one cries?

What shall I do, by rib and by trade,

A singer? A wire! Sunburn! Siberia!

On my delusions, as on a bridge!

Across them, weightless,

In a world so much heavier.

What shall I do? Firstborn, and a singer,

In a world where darkness is – grey!

Where inspiration’s stored – in a thermos!

With immeasurability,

In this measured day?