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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

Thank you

Thank you for loving me like this,

for you feel love, although you do not know it.

Thanks you for the nights I've spent in quiet.

Thank you for the walks under the moon

you've spared me and those sunset meetings unshared.

Thank you. The sun will never bless our heads.

Take my sad thanks for this: you do not cause

my sickness. And I don't cause yours.

Much like me

Much like me, you make your way forward,

Walking with downturned eyes.

Well, I too kept mine lowered.

Passer-by, stop here, please.

Read, when you've picked your nosegay

Of henbane and poppy flowers,

That I was once called Marina,

And discover how old I was.

Don't think that there's any grave here,

Or that I'll come and throw you out ...

I myself was too much given

To laughing when one ought not.

The blood hurtled to my complexion,

My curls wound in flourishes ...

I was, passer-by, I existed!

Passer-by, stop here, please.

And take, pluck a stem of wildness,

The fruit that comes with its fall --

It's true that graveyard strawberries

Are the biggest and sweetest of all.

All I care is that you don't stand there,

Dolefully hanging your head.

Easily about me remember,

Easily about me forget.

How rays of pure light suffuse you!

A golden dust wraps you round ...

And don't let it confuse you,

My voice from under the ground.


Aloneness: retreat

into yourself, as our ancestors

fell into their feuds.

You will seek out freedom

and discover it – in solitude.

Not a soul in sight.

There is no such peaceful garden –

so search for it inside yourself,

find coolness, shade.

Don’t think of those

who win over the populace

in the town squares.

Celebrate victory and mourn it –

in the loneliness of your heart.

Loneliness: leave me,


Translation Moniza Alvi and Veronika Krasnova

Where does this tenderness come from?

Where does such tenderness come from?

These aren’t the first curls

I’ve wound around my finger—

I’ve kissed lips darker than yours.

The sky is washed and dark

(Where does such tenderness come from?)

Other eyes have known

and shifted away from my eyes.

But I’ve never heard words like this

in the night

(Where does such tenderness come from?)

with my head on your chest, rest.

Where does this tenderness come from?

And what will I do with it? Young

stranger, poet, wandering through town,

you and your eyelashes—longer than anyone’s.

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.

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?