The Bard – Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

My friends, can you descry that mound of earth
Above clear waters in the shade of trees?
You can just hear the babbling spring against the bank;
You can just feel a breeze that’s wafting in the leaves;
A wreath and lyre hang upon the boughs…
Alas, my friends! This mound’s a grave;
Here earth conceals the ashes of a bard;
Poor bard!

A gentle soul, a simple heart
He was a sojourner in the world;
He’d barely bloomed, yet lost his taste for life
He craved his end with yearning and excitement;
And early on he met his end,
He found the grave’s desired sleep.
Your time was but a moment – a moment sad
Poor bard!

He sang with tenderness of friendship to his friend, –
His loyal friend cut down in his life’s bloom;
He sang of love – but in a doleful voice;
Alas! Of love he knew naught but its woe;
Now all has met with its demise,
Your soul partakes of peace eternal;
You slumber in your silent grave,
Poor bard!

Here, by this stream one eventide
He sang his doleful farewell song:
‘O lovely world, where blossomed I in vain;
Farewell forever; with a soul deceived
For happiness I waited – but my dreams have died;
All’s perished; lyre, be still;
To your serene abode, o haste,
Poor bard!

What’s life, when charm is lacking?
To know of bliss, with all the spirit’s striving,
Only to see oneself cut off by an abyss;
Each moment to desire and yet fear desiring…
O refuge of vexatious hearts,
O grave, sure path to peace,
When will you call to your embrace
The poor bard?’

The bard’s no more … his lyre’s silent…
All trace of him has disappeared from here;
The hills and valleys mourn;
And all is still … save zephyrs soft,
That stir the faded wreath,
And waft betimes above the grave,
A woeful lyre responds:
Poor bard!

The Boatman – Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Driven by misfortune’s whirlwind,
Having neither oar nor rudder,
By a storm my bark was driven
Out upon the boundless sea.
‘midst black clouds a small star sparkled;
‘Don’t conceal yourself!’ I cried;
But it disappeared, unheeding;
And my anchor was lost, too.

All was clothed in gloomy darkness;
Great swells heaved all round;
In the darkness yawned the depths
I was hemmed in by cliffs.
‘There’s no hope for my salvation!’
I bemoaned, with heavy spirit…
Madman! Providence
Was your secret helmsman.

With a hand invisible,
‘midst the roaring waves,
Through the gloomy, veiled depths
Past the terrifying cliffs,
My all-powerful savior guided me.
Then-all’s quiet ! gloom has vanished;
I behold a paradisical realm…
Three celestial angels.

Providence – O, my protector!
My dejected groaning ceases;
On my knees, in exaltation,
On their image I did gaze.
Who could sing their charm?
Or their power o’er the soul?
All around them holy innocence
And an aura divine.

A delight as yet untasted –
Live and breathe for them;
Take into my soul and heart
All their words and glances sweet.
O fate! I’ve but one desire:
Let them sample every blessing;
Vouchsafe them delight – me suffering;
Only let me die before they do.

Poem – Tomorrow’s Wind

Why am I without joy,
achieving everything,
but grasping
nothing at all?
I dream of the wind
that has overtaken me,
the wind
that has leaped over me.
It shreds
all the telephone lines that sag
from unending chatter,
and all that’s wasted,
all that’s turned sour
it catapults
into oblivion.
All sorts of butwhatifers,
shaking,
like jelly in jackets,
whirled up in a vortex,
like fallen leaves,
shout down indignantly:
‘How come? ‘
Where there’s no wind,
there’s no faith.
Let clammy red pencils
be strewn
among the reeds,
scattered madly
by tomorrow’s wind.
Wind
does not crawl
before idols,
it swirls scraps
of newspapers and posters,
yesterday’s glories,
turning somersaults
over warped roofs.
As if it had swilled
the Decembrists’ hot punch,
tipsy,
the wind flings upward
all the important little papers
that press us down
to the ground.
The wind
showers
under constellations
the garbage
in which the world is bogged down:
automobiles,
which have ridden over people,
furniture,
which has sprawled on us.
The wind
pulls away from sticky screens
all the bewitched
simpletons and fools,

and without thinking
plants them
like shashlik
on the spike of their beloved TV tower…
Timid youth,
I am preaching to you:
Charge forward,
headlong into the epoch,
without wasting
the wind of history
either on fads
or the flimsy.
Each
new generation
must create
a special wind.
If it doesn’t shake
bits of dust,
young people
should send
an SOS.
Youth
is the age for a fresh airing.
In old age
it’s harder to be precocious,
if you put off
being young
in your youth.
Is it possible for you
all to be unfit?
Suck in the time
with a feverous mouth.
The calm will be
inhaled by you,
by the wind
exhaled
afterward.
And the wind,
making a gift of itself
to the universe,
is born,
sprawling
in a burst,
and structures
built on sand
rightfully will crumble.
And I, having reared
these structures not a little,
will look on happily,
blaming no one,
as it withdraws,
arching its mane,
the wind
that has leaped over me.

Poem – I Dreamed I Already

I dreamed I already loved you.
I dreamed I already killed you.

But you rose again; another form, but you,
a girl on the little ball of the earth,
naive simplicity, curve-necked
on that early canvas of Picasso,
and prayed to me with your ribs:
‘Love me, ‘ as though you said, ‘Don’t push me off.’

I’m that played-out, grown-up acrobat,
hunchbacked with senseless muscles,
who knows that advice is a lie,
that sooner or later there’s falling.

I’m too scared to say: ‘I love you, ‘
because I’d be saying: ‘I’ll kill you.’

For in the depths of a face I can see through
I see the faces-can’t count them-
that, right on the spot, or maybe
not right away, I tortured to death.

You’re pale from the mortal balance. You say:
‘I know everything; I was all of them.
I know you’ve already loved me.
I know you’ve already killed me.
But I won’t spin the globe backwards:
Love again, and then kill again.’

Lord, you’re young. Stop your globe.
I’m tired of killing. I’m not a damn thing but old.

You move the earth beneath your little feet,
you fall, ‘Love me.’
It’s only in those eyes, so similar, you say:
‘This time don’t kill me! ‘

Poem – Murder

No one sleeps more beautifully than you.
But I am afraid
that you will waken just now,
and touch me with an indifferent glance, lightly passing,
and commit the murder of beauty.

Poem – My Universities

I learned not only from those
who brightly beam out of golden frames,
but from everyone whose ID photo
didn’t come out quite right.
More than from Tolstoy
I learned from blind beggars
who sang in train cars about Count Tolstoy.
From barracks
I learned more than from Pasternak
and my verse style was hot ‘barracko’.
I took lessons on Yesenin
in snack bars from invalids of war
who tore their striped sailor shirts
after spilling out their plain secrets.
Mayakovsky’s stepped verse
didn’t give me as much
as the dirty steps of staircases
with handrails polished by kids’ pants.
I learned in Zima Junction
from my most untalkative Grannies
not to be afraid of cuts, scratches,
and various other scrapes.
I learned from dead-end streets that smell of cats,
from crooked spattered lanes,
to be sharper than a knife,
more ordinary than a cigarette butt.
Empty lots were my shepherds.
Waiting lines my nursing mothers.
I learned from all the young toughs
who gave me a whipping.
I learned
from pale-faced harried hacks
with fatal content in their verse
and empty content in their pockets.
I learned from all the oddballs in attics,
from the dress cutter Alka
who kissed me
in the dark of a communal kitchen.
I was put together out of the birthmarks of the Motherland
from scratches and scars,
cradles and cemeteries,
hovels and temples.
My first globe was a rag ball,
without foreign threads,
with brick crumbs sticking to it,
and when I forced my way to
the real globe,
I saw-it was also made of scraps
and also subject to blows.
And I cursed the bloody soccer game,
where they play with the planet without refs or rules,
and any tiny scrap of the planet,
which I touched,
I celebrated!
I went round the planet
as if it were a gigantic Zima Station,
and I learned from the wrinkles of old women,
now Vietnamese, now Peruvian.
I learned folk wisdom
taught by the worldwide poor and scum,
the Eskimo’s smell for ice,
and the Italian’s smiling non-despair.
I learned from Harlem
not to consider poverty poor,
like a Black
whose face is only painted white.
And I understood that the majority bends
its neck on behalf of others,
and in the wrinkles of those necks
the minority hides as if in trenches.
I am branded with the brand of the majority.
I want to be their food and shelter.
I am the name of all without names.
I am a writer for all who don’t write.
I am a writer
created by readers,
and readers are created by me.
My debt has been paid.
Here I am
your creator and your creation,
an anthology of you,
a second edition of your lives.
I stand more naked than Adam,
rejecting court tailors,
the embodiment of imperfections-
yours and my own.
I stand on the ruins
of loves I destroyed.
The ashes of friendships and hopes
coldly fly through my fingers.
Choking on muteness
and the last man to get in line,
I would die for any one of you,
because each of you is my homeland.
I am dying from love
and I howl with pain like a wolf.
If I despise you-
I despise myself even more.
I could fail without you.
Help me to be my real self,
not to stoop to pride,
not to fall into heaven.
I am a shopping bag stuffed
with all the world’s shoppers.
I am everybody’s photographer,
a paparazzo of the infamous.
I am your common portrait,
where so much remains to be painted.
Your faces are my Louvre,
my private Prado.
I am like a video player,
whose cassettes are loaded with you.
I am an attempt at diaries by others
and an attempt at a worldwide newspaper.
You have written yourself
with my tooth-marked pen.
I don’t want to teach you.
I want to learn from you.

Poem – Girl Beatnik

This girl comes from New York
but she does not belong.
Along the neon lights, this girl
runs away from herself.

To this girl the world seems odious-
a moralist who’s been howled down.
It holds no more truths for her.
Now the ‘twist’ alone is true.

With hair mussed and wild,
in spectacles and a coarse sweater,
on spiked heels she dances
the thinnest of negations.

Everything strikes her as false,
everything-from the Bible to the press.
The Montagues exist, and the Capulets,
but there are no Romeos and Juliets.

The trees stoop broodingly,
and rather drunkenly the moon
staggers like a beatnik sulking
along the milky avenue.

Wanders, as if from bar to bar,
wrapped in thought, unsocial,
and the city spreads underneath
in all its hard-hearted beauty.

All things look hard-the roofs and walls,
and it’s no accident that, over the city,
the television antennae rise
like crucifixions without Christ.