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A widow in black

A widow in black -- the crying fall

Covers all hearts with a depressing cloud...

While her man's words are clearly recalled,

She will not stop her lamentations loud.

It will be so, until the snow puff

Will give a mercy to the pined and tired.

Forgetfulness of suffering and love --

Though paid by life -- what more could be desired?

I Taught Myself To Live Simply

I taught myself to live simply and wisely,

to look at the sky and pray to God,

and to wander long before evening

to tire my superfluous worries.

When the burdocks rustle in the ravine

and the yellow-red rowanberry cluster droops

I compose happy verses

about life's decay, decay and beauty.

I come back. The fluffy cat

licks my palm, purrs so sweetly

and the fire flares bright

on the saw-mill turret by the lake.

Only the cry of a stork landing on the roof

occasionally breaks the silence.

If you knock on my door

I may not even hear.

Worn out by your long look like whip...

Worn out by your long look like whip,

I've learned to torment anew,

I've been made from your man's rib

And how I couldn't love you?

To be your sister of peace & delight —

Was bequeathed by the ancient fate,

And I've become too greedy & sly,

And the sweetest thy slave of late.

But when I lie rigid, humble & meek

On your bosom like snow divine,

How triumphs your wise & too big

Heart – the sun of the country of mine!

And when in suicidal anguish

And when in suicidal anguish

The nation awaited its German guests,

And the stern spirit of Byzantium

Had fled from the Russian Church,

When the capital by the Neva,

Forgetting her greatness,

Like a drunken prostitute

Did not know who would take her next,

A voice came to me. It called out comfortingly,

It said, "Come here,

Leave your deaf and sinful land,

Leave Russia forever.

I will wash the blood from your hands,

Root out the black shame from your heart,

With a new name I will conceal

The pain of defeats and injuries."

But calmly and indifferently,

I covered my ears with my hands,

So that my sorrowing spirit

Would not be stained by those shameful words.

I hear the oriole’s ever-mournful voice

I hear the oriole’s ever-mournful voice,

And welcome the rich summer’s losses.

Through the grain, packed tightly ear on ear,

The sickle slices, with its snake’s hiss.

And the short skirts of the slim reapers,

Fly like festive flags in the breeze,

Now, the sound of bells would be joyful,

And a long gaze from under dusty lashes.

It’s not caresses I want, nor flattery,

In premonition of some pressing darkness,

But come with me and gaze at paradise,

Where we were innocent and blessed

Last Toast

I drink to our ruined house

To the evil of my life

To our loneliness together

And I drink to you—

To the lying lips that have betrayed us,

To the dead-cold eyes,

To the fact that the world is brutal and coarse

To the fact that God did not save us.

Translated by Katie Farris and Ilya Kaminsky

A land not mine

A land not mine, still

forever memorable,

the waters of its ocean

chill and fresh.

Sand on the bottom whiter than chalk,

and the air drunk, like wine,

late sun lays bare

the rosy limbs of the pinetrees.

Sunset in the ethereal waves:

I cannot tell if the day

is ending, or the world, or if

the secret of secrets is inside me again.

You will hear thunder

You will hear thunder and remember me,

And think: she wanted storms. The rim

Of the sky will be the colour of hard crimson,

And your heart, as it was then, will be on fire.

That day in Moscow, it will all come true,

when, for the last time, I take my leave,

And hasten to the heights that I have longed for,

Leaving my shadow still to be with you.


Seaside gusts of wind,

And a house in which we don't live,

And the shadow of a cherished cedar

In front of a forbidden window...

Perhaps there is someone in this world

To whom I could send all these lines. Well then!

Let the lips smile bitterly

And a tremor touch the heart again

The Echo

Long ago were paths to the past closed,

And what shall I do with past, at all?

What is there? Just washed with blood flat stones,

Or the door, immured in a wall.

Or the echo, that all time me worries,

Tho’ I pray it to be silent, hard…

To this echo happened the same story,

That – to one, I bear in my heart.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver


When, in the night, I wait for her, impatient,

Life seems to me, as hanging by a thread.

What just means liberty, or youth, or approbation,

When compared with the gentle piper's tread?

And she came in, threw out the mantle's edges,

Declined to me with a sincere heed.

I say to her, "Did you dictate the Pages

Of Hell to Dante?" She answers, "Yes, I did."

I’ve written down the words

I’ve written down the words

That I’ve not dared to speak.

My body’s strangely dumb.

Dully my head beats.

The horn cries have died.

The heart’s still confused.

On the croquet lawn, light

Autumn snowflakes fused.

Let the last leaves rustle!

Let last thoughts torment!

I don’t wish to trouble

Those used to happiness.

I forgive those lips, eyes

Of yours, their cruel jest…

Oh, tomorrow we’ll ride

That first wintry sledge.

Drawing-room candles will glow

ore tenderly in the day.

Of conservatory roses,

I’ll bring a whole bouquet.

Here we’re all drunkards and whores

Here we’re all drunkards and whores,

Joylessly stuck together!

On the walls, birds and flowers

Pine for the clouds and air.

The smoke from your black pipe

Makes strange vapours rise.

The skirt I wear is tight,

Revealing my slim thighs.

Windows tightly closed:

Who’s there, frost or thunder?

Your eyes, are they those

Of some cautious cat, I wonder?

O, my heart how you yearn!

Is it for death you wait?

Or that girl, dancing there,

For hell to be her sure fate?

My voice is weak but not my will

My voice is weak but not my will

It’s better even without love.

High skies and mountain winds,

And my thoughts now innocent.

Insomnia, my nurse, is elsewhere.

I’m not brooding by cold ashes.

And the curved hand on the tower clock,

Is no longer a deadly arrow.

How the past loses power over the heart!

Freedom is near. Everything’s simple,

See how the sunlight falls across

The wet ivy this spring.


Mountains fall before this grief,

A mighty river stops its flow,

But prison doors stay firmly bolted

Shutting off the convict burrows

And an anguish close to death.

Fresh winds softly blow for someone,

Gentle sunsets warm them through; we don't know this,

We are everywhere the same, listening

To the scrape and turn of hateful keys

And the heavy tread of marching soldiers.

Waking early, as if for early mass,

Walking through the capital run wild, gone to seed,

We'd meet - the dead, lifeless; the sun,

Lower every day; the Neva, mistier:

But hope still sings forever in the distance.

The verdict. Immediately a flood of tears,

Followed by a total isolation,

As if a beating heart is painfully ripped out, or,

Thumped, she lies there brutally laid out,

But she still manages to walk, hesitantly, alone.

Where are you, my unwilling friends,

Captives of my two satanic years?

What miracle do you see in a Siberian blizzard?

What shimmering mirage around the circle of the moon?

I send each one of you my salutation, and farewell.


Weeks fly quickly by

I do not know what has arisen

How, my son, into your prison

The white nights stare

Now once more they stare

With eyes that focus on a hawk,

Upon your cross, the talk

is once again of death

For seventeen months I’ve pleaded,

Pleaded that you come home,

Flung myself to the hangman’s feet

For you my son,

For you my horror.

Everything has become confused

I am no longer clear

Who is animal who is human

How long, how long must I wait

Before the hangman comes?

Now there are only flowers of dust

The ringing of the thurible

Tracks running somewhere to nowhere

Staring at me, straight in my eyes

Threatening, swift and fatal,

An enormous star.



Silent flows the river Don
A yellow moon looks quietly on
Swanking about, with cap askew
It sees through the window a shadow of you
Gravely ill, all alone
The moon sees a woman lying at home
Her son is in jail, her husband is dead
Say a prayer for her instead.
Not under foreign skies

Nor under foreign wings protected -

I shared all this with my own people

There, where misfortune had abandoned us.
It isn't me, someone else is suffering. I couldn't.

Not like this. Everything that has happened,

Cover it with a black cloth,

Then let the torches be removed. . .



The word landed with a stony thud

Onto my still-beating breast.

Nevermind, I was prepared,

I will manage with the rest.

I have a lot of work to do today;

I need to slaughter memory,

Turn my living soul to stone

Then teach myself to live again. . .

But how. The hot summer rustles

Like a carnival outside my window;

I have long had this premonition

Of a bright day and a deserted house.


Madness with its wings

Has covered half my soul

It feeds me fiery wine

And lures me into the abyss.

That's when I understood

While listening to my alien delirium

That I must hand the victory

To it.

However much I nag

However much I beg

It will not let me take

One single thing away:

Not my son's frightening eyes -

A suffering set in stone,

Or prison visiting hours

Or days that end in storms

Nor the sweet coolness of a hand

The anxious shade of lime trees

Nor the light distant sound

Of final comforting words.


I have learned how faces fall,

How terror can escape from lowered eyes,

How suffering can etch cruel pages

Of cuneiform-like marks upon the cheeks.

I know how dark or ash-blond strands of hair

Can suddenly turn white. I've learned to recognise

The fading smiles upon submissive lips,

The trembling fear inside a hollow laugh.

That's why I pray not for myself

But all of you who stood there with me

Through fiercest cold and scorching July heat

Under a towering, completely blind red wall.

The hour has come to remember the dead.

I see you, I hear you, I feel you:

The one who resisted the long drag to the open window;

The one who could no longer feel the kick of familiar

soil beneath her feet;

The one who, with a sudden flick of her head, replied,

'I arrive here as if I've come home!'

I'd like to name you all by name, but the list

Has been removed and there is nowhere else to look.


I have woven you this wide shroud out of the humble


I overheard you use. Everywhere, forever and always,

I will never forget one single thing. Even in new


Even if they clamp shut my tormented mouth

Through which one hundred million people scream;

That's how I wish them to remember me when I am dead

On the eve of my remembrance day.

If someone someday in this country

Decides to raise a memorial to me,

I give my consent to this festivity

But only on this condition - do not build it

By the sea where I was born,

I have severed my last ties with the sea;

Nor in the Tsar's Park by the hallowed stump

Where an inconsolable shadow looks for me;

Build it here where I stood for three hundred hours

And no-one slid open the bolt.

Listen, even in blissful death I fear

That I will forget the Black Marias,

Forget how hatefully the door slammed and an old woman

Howled like a wounded beast.

Let the thawing ice flow like tears

From my immovable bronze eyelids

And let the prison dove coo in the distance

While ships sail quietly along the river.


Stille Don - die stil vervliedt,

Gele maan - komt binnen, ziet

Gele scheefgemutste maan

Binnen deze schaduw staan -

Van een vrouw, die kwijnt en lijdt,

Van een vrouw in eenzaamheid.

Zoon gevangen, man gedood,

Bidt om bijstand in mijn nood.


vertaling Hans Boland

Northern Elegies


I, like a river,

Have been turned aside by this harsh age.

I am a substitute. My life has flowed

Into another channel

And I do not recognize my shores.

O, how many fine sights I have missed,

How many curtains have risen without me

And fallen too. How many of my friends

I have not met even once in my life,

How many city skylines

Could have drawn tears from my eyes,

I who know only the one city

And by touch, in my sleep, I could find it…

And how many poems I have not written,

Whose secret chorus swirls around my head

And possibly one day

Will stifle me…

I know the beginnings and the ends of things

And life after the end, and something

It isn’t necessary to remember now.

And another woman has usurped

The place that ought to have been mine,

Noordelijke elegieën


Ik ben als een rivier

Door een hard tijdperk omgeleid.

Ik kreeg een ander leven.

In een nieuwe bedding

Loopt nu de stroom,

door een nieuw landschap

En ik herken mijn eigen oevers niet.



And the town is frozen solid in a vice,
Trees, walls, snow, beneath a glass.
Over crystal, on slippery tracks of ice,
the painted sleighs and I, together, pass.
And over St Peter’s there are poplars, crows
there’s a pale green dome there that glows,
dim in the sun-shrouded dust.
The field of heroes lingers in my thought,
Kulikovo’s barbarian battleground.
The frozen poplars, like glasses for a toast,
clash now, more noisily, overhead.
As though it was our wedding, and the crowd
were drinking to our health and happiness.
But Fear and the Muse take turns to guard
the room where the exiled poet is banished,
and the night, marching at full pace,
of the coming dawn, has no knowledge.


De hele stad ligt onder ijs bevroren.

Met bomen, muren, sneeuw, als achter glas.

Onzeker trekt de arreslee haar sporen,

Ik loop op het kristal met bange pas.

Boven het beeld van Peter een saffieren,

Wazige hemel, raven, populieren,

Boven het beeld van Peter een saffieren,

Wazige hemel, raven, populieren.

Het land rondom bewaart het krijgsgeweld

Van zegepralend waaiende banieren

Over de heuvels van het Snippenveld.

De toppen van de populieren klinken

Boven ons hoofd. Nu lijkt het nog het meest

Of zij te saam op onze jubel drinken

Als duizend gasten op een bruiloftsfeest.

Maar in het huis van de verbannen dichter

Staan angst en Muze beurtelings op wacht.

En het wordt nacht,

En daarna wordt het nooit meer lichter.


Maar ballingschap is pijn, een kluister,

Eeuwig beklagenswaardig uw nood,

Pelgrim, uw weg gaat door het duister,

Naar alsem geurt andermans brood.


We’ll not drink from the same glass

We’ll not drink from the same glass
Neither water nor sweet wine,
In the early morning we will not kiss
At night we’ll not look through the same window.
You breathe by the sun, I breathe by the moon
But we’re living together in same love.

I’m always with my gentle faithful friend
And you with your cheerful girlfriend
Your gray eyes are full of fright
And you are the cause of my illness.
We don’t meet often for short meetings
So our fate gives us our peace of mind.

At least your voice sings in my verses
And your verses breathe by breath,
O, there’s fire beyond
The reach of fear and oblivion…
Only if you knew how dear are
Your dry, pink lips to me!

Wij zullen met elkaar het glas niet delen

Wij zullen met elkaar het glas niet delen,

Het water niet en niet de zoete wijn,

Niet 's morgens vroeg elkaar een kus ontstelen

En 's avonds voor het venster samen zijn.

Jij ademt in de zon, ik in de maan;

Toch vormt éénzelfde liefde ons bestaan.

Mijn vriend is lief en heeft mij nooit bedrogen,

En jouw vriendin leeft opgewekt en blij.

Maar ik begrijp de schrik in grijze ogen,

En deze kwaal van mij veroorzaak jij.

Wij zien elkaar maar liever zelden even,

Veroordeeld om aldus in rust te leven.

Het is jouw stem, die zingt in mijn gedichten,

Mijn adem, die jouw verzen begeleidt.

O, er bestaat een vuur dat nooit zal zwichten

Voor angst, zomin als voor vergetelheid.

En als je eens beseffen zou hoezeer

Ik nu jouw koele rozenmond begeer!

The Fountain House

Already madness, with its wing,

Covers a half of my heart, restless,

Gives me the flaming wine to drink

And draws into the vale of blackness.

I understand that just to it

My victory has to be given,

Hearing the ravings of my fit,

Now fitting to the stranger’s living.

And nothing of my own past

It’ll let me take with self from here

(No matter in what pleas I thrust

Or how often they appear):

Not awful eyes of my dear son –

The endless suffering and patience –

Not that black day when thunder gunned,

Not that jail’s hour of visitation,

Not that sweet coolness of his hands,

Not that lime’s shade in agitation,

Not that light sound from distant lands –

Words of the final consolations.

Het Fonteinenhuis

De vleugels van de waanzin zijn

Het die zich op mijn ziel neervlijen.

Hij lest haar dorst met vlammenwijn

En lokt haar weg naar nachtvalleien.

En ik besefte dat ik hem

Als overwinnaar moest erkennen,

Want in de wartaal van mijn stem

Kon ik mijzelf niet meer herkennen.

Hoezeer ik hem ook smeek en bid

En op hem in probeer te praten,

Hij zal mij al wat ik bezit

Bevelen hier achter te laten:

De doodsangst van mijn zoon, zijn blik

Van een tot steen geworden lijden,

Het vonnis - dodelijke schrik -

En weerzien door tralies gescheiden,

De koele hand die ik bemin,

De wilde schaduw van de linden,

De lichte klank, ver weg, waarin

Ik troostwoorden vermocht te vinden.

I have come to take your place, sister

'I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest's heart.

Your eyes have grown dull, your tears cloudy,

Your hair is gray.

You don't understand the songs birds sing

Anymore, nor stars, nor summer lightning.

Don't hear it when the women strike

The tambourine; yet you fear the silence.

I have come to take your place, sister,

At the high fire in the forest's heart'

-- 'You've come to put me in the grave.

Where is your shovel and your spade?

You're carrying just a flute.

I'm not going to blame you,

Sadly a long time ago

My voice fell mute.

Have my clothes to wear,

Answer my fears with silence,

Let the wind blow

Through your hair, smell the lilac.

You have come by a hard road

To be lit up by this fire.' --

And one went away, ceding

The place to another, wandered

Like a blind woman reading

An unfamiliar narrow path,

And still it seemed to her a flame

Was close. . . In her hand a tambourine . . .

And she was like a white flag,

And like the light of a beacon.

Ik ben gekomen om je te vervangen, zuster,

door het hoge vuur in het bos

Je haar is grijs geworden. Je ogen

zijn dof en mistig van tranen.

Het lied van de vogels versta je niet meer

noch bespeur je de bliksem, de sterren.

De tamboerijn is al heel lang verstomd

maar ik weet je bent bang van de stilte.

Ik ben gekomen om je te vervangen, zuster, door het hoge vuur in het bos



Something of heavens ever burns in it,

I like to watch its wondrous facets' growth.

It speaks with me in fate's non-seldom fits,

When others fear to approach close.

When the last of friends had looked away

From me in grave, it lay to me in silence,

And sang as sing a thunderstorm in May,

As if all flowers began to talk in gardens.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver