Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
Although they are
Although they are
only breath, words
which I command
LEST as the immortal gods is he,
The youth who fondly sits by thee,
And hears and sees thee, all the while,
Softly speaks and sweetly smile.
‘Twas this deprived my soul of rest,
And raised such tumults in my breast;
For, while I gazed, in transport tossed,
My breath was gone, my voice was lost;
My bosom glowed; the subtle flame
Ran quick through all my vital frame;
O’er my dim eyes a darkness hung;
My ears with hollow murmurs rung;
In dewy damps my limbs were chilled;
My blood with gentle horrors thrilled:
My feeble pulse forgot to play;
I fainted, sunk, and died away.
The stars around the fair moon fade
Against the night,
When gazing full she fills the glade
And spreads the seas with silvery light.
Set are the Pleiades; the Moon is down
And midnight dark on high.
The hours, the hours, drift by,
And here I lie,
My handwriting is not calligraphic.
Not following the rules of beauty,
words stagger about,
as if clobbered on the jaw.
But you, the descendant, my textual critic,
following on the heels of the past,
take stock of those gales
your ancestor got caught in.
He walked on a pugnacious coastal freighter,
a bit arrogant,
should see beyond the pitched handwriting
not only the author’s traits.
Your ancestor wrote while tossed about,
not kept too warm by squalls,
like having a pack
of his usual cigarettes.
Of course, far off we made our way courageously,
but it’s hard to write a line,
when your head is smashed with relish
against the bulkhead.
Risking skin and bones,
it’s tough to sing acclaim,
when what you see compels you
not to praise, but only to throw up.
When churning water strangles motors
and a wave’s curl is aimed at your forehead,
then smudges are better than flourishes.
They’re black-but true.
Here- fingers simply grew numb.
Here- the swell slyly tormented.
Here- the pen jerked with uncertainty
away from some mean shoal.
But if through all the clumsiness,
through the clutches of awkwardness,
an idea breaks through the way a freighter on
the Lena breaks through to the arctic shore-
then, descendant, be slow to curse the style,
don’t judge an ancestor severely,
and even in the handwriting of the poet
find a solution to the enigma of time.
Goodbye, fame! Put someone else in my niche.
I’d swap a seat in the President’s jeep
for a warm corner in a ditch
where I could go soundly off to sleep.
Oh, how I would unload my fears,
pour all my deadly, dreary pride
into the burdocks’ hairy ears
as I lay fidgeting on my side.
And I would wake up, with unshaven chin,
amongst the bugs and little insects.
Oh how marvelously unknown! –
someone fit to dance gypsy steps.
Far off, people would grasp for power,
hang by their nails from the top of the tower,
but none of this would send me sour,
in a ditch I would be lower.
And there, embracing a mangy dog,
I would lie down and make my berth
in the friendly dust, holding dialogue
on the highest level-of the earth.
Alongside, the bare feet of a girl
would float innocently by,
and pale blades of grass would twirl
down from the haycarts between me and the sky.
On a bench a smoker would toss out
a cigarette pack, squashed and empty,
and from the label the twisted mouth
of Blok would sadly smile at me.
The ice had not even begun to break,
no boat could possibly sail yet,
but the letters lay in a pile at the post office,
with all their requests and instructions.
Among them trying vainly to leave,
in the scrawls of fishermen,
were reproaches, complaints, cries,
awkward confessions of love.
In vain the huskies gazed out to sea,
searching the waves through the fog,
lying like gray hillocks
on the bottoms of overturned boats.
But, like a ghost, dreamed up
from the desperate monotony,
the ice-covered mail boat
showed her gray masts.
She was beaten up and dirty,
but to the fishing village
her chilly, husky voice
sounded like the sweetest music.
And the gloomy sailors, throwing us a line
to the shore, like Vikings,
carried canvas sacks full of people’s souls.
And again the ship went out, tiredly,
her hull breaking the ice with difficulty,
and I sat in her dank hold
among the piled sacks.
Tormented, I searched for an answer
with all my restless conscience:
‘Just what am I, in fact,
and where am I going? ‘
Can it be I am like a frail boat,
and that the passions, like the waves, roll
and toss me about? ‘ But my inner voice
answered me: ‘You are a mail boat.
Make speed through the angry waves,
heavy with ice, to all those people
who have been seperated by the ice,
who are waiting to get in touch again.
And like the first sign of the ship
for which people waited so long,
carry onward the undying light
of the duty that links us together.
And along the foaming arctic sea of life,
through all the ice and against the nor’wester,
carry with you those mailbags
full of hopelessness and hopes.
But remember, as you hang on the whistle,
as soon as the storms die down,
steamers, real ships,
will go through these waters, not afraid anymore.
And the fishermen, standing up in the barges,
will look admiringly at them,
and their sleek, velvety whistles
and make them forget your husky voice.
But you, with the stink of fish and blubber,
don’t lower your rigging gloomily.
You’ve done the job on schedule.
Be happy then. You are the mail cutter.’
Thus the inner voice spoke to me,
impressing upon me the burden of prophecy.
And amid the white night of the Arctic Ocean
somehow it was all morning for me.
I didn’t think enviously
of someone else, covered with honours,
I was simply happy that a few things
also depended on me.
And covered in someone’s fur coat,
I was dependent on so much,
and like that letter from Vanka Zhukov,
I dozed on heaps of other letters.
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