Pasternak


 

Twenty-Two Poems

 

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                    Translated by A. S. Kline © 2005 All Rights Reserved.

This work may be freely reproduced, stored, and transmitted, electronically or otherwise, for any non-commercial purpose.

 


 

Contents

 

   

‘February. Take ink and weep,’4

‘Like a brazier’s bronze cinders,’5

Winter Sky. 6

Spring. 7

Swifts. 8

‘My sister – Life’s overflowing today,’9

The Weeping Garden. 10

Crossed Oars. 11

Sparrow Hills. 12

The Steppe. 13

Storm, Momentary, Forever15

In the Wood. 16

Spasskoe. 17

For Anna Akhmatova. 18

Winter Nears.20

Hamlet22

Storm-Wind. 23

Khmel (Hops, and Intoxication)24

The Earth. 25

Winter Night27

The Wind. 29

Snow Is Falling. 35

Index by First Line. 37

 

 

 


 

‘February. Take ink and weep,’

 

February. Take ink and weep,

write February as you’re sobbing,

while black Spring burns deep

through the slush and throbbing.

 

Take a cab. For a clutch of copecks,

through bell-towers’ and wheel noise,

go where the rain-storm’s din breaks,

greater than crying or ink employs.

 

Where rooks in thousands falling,

like charred pears from the skies,

drop down into puddles, bringing

cold grief to the depths of eyes.

 

Below, the black shows through,

and the wind’s furrowed with cries:

the more freely, the more truly

then, sobbing verse is realised.

 

 


‘Like a brazier’s bronze cinders,’

 

Like a brazier’s bronze cinders,

the sleepy garden’s beetles flowing.

Level with me, and my candle,

a flowering world is hanging.

 

As if into unprecedented faith,

I cross into this night,

where the poplar’s beaten grey

veils the moon’s rim from sight.

 

Where the pond’s an open secret,

where apple-trees whisper of waves,

where the garden hanging on piles,

holds the sky before its face.

 

 


Winter Sky

 

Ice-chips plucked whole from the smoke,

the past week’s stars all frozen in flight,

Head over heels the skater’s club goes,

clinking its rink with the peal of night.

 

Step slow, slower, slow-er, skater,

pride carving its trace as you race by.

each turn’s a constellation cut there,

scratched by a skate in Norway’s sky.

 

The air is fettered in frozen iron.

Oh, skaters! There – it’s all the same,

that, like snake’s eyes set in ivory,

night’s on earth, a domino game:

 

that moon, a numb hound’s tongue

is there, frozen tight: that mouths like

the forgers of coins’ – are stung,

filled with lava of breathtaking ice.

 

 


 

Spring

 

How many sticky buds, candle ends

sprout from the branches! Steaming

April. Puberty sweats from the park,

and the forest’s blatantly gleaming.

 

A noose of feathered throats grips

the wood’s larynx, a lassoed steer,

netted, like a gladiatorial organ,

it groans steel-piped sonatas here.

 

Poetry! Be a Greek sponge with suckers,

among green stickiness drenched,

I’ll consent, by the sopping wood

of a green-stained garden bench.

 

Grow sumptuous pleats and flounces,

suck up the gullies and clouds,

Poetry, tonight, I’ll squeeze you out

to make the parched sheets flower.

 

 


Swifts

 

At twilight the swifts have no power,

to hold back that pale blue coolness.

It bursts from throats, a clamour

an outpour that can’t grow less.

 

The swifts have no way, high

up there, overhead, of restraining

their clarion cries: ‘O, triumph,

see, see, how the earth’s receding!’

 

Like steam from a boiling kettle,

the furious flow rushes by –

‘See, see – no space for the earth

between the ravine and the sky.’

 

 


 

‘My sister – Life’s overflowing today,’

 

My sister – Life’s overflowing today,

spring rain shattering itself like glass,

but people with monocles still complain,

and sting, politely, like snakes in the grass.

 

The elders have their logic of course,

certainly yours is foolish, no doubt:

that eyes and lawns glow lilac in storms,

and sweet perfume blows from the south.

 

That in May, when travelling you see

the timetable on the Kamyshin line,

the Bible’s penned no less magnificently,

while in reading it you’re mesmerised.

 

That sunset has only to show a village,

girls crowding the track as we flee,

and I find that it’s not my stop today,

the sun offering its sympathy.

 

With three splashes the bell swims by,

 ‘Sorry, not here’: its apology’s far.

Burning night seeps under the blind,

the steppe plunges, from step to star.

 

Winking, blinking, sweetly somewhere,

my love, a fata-morgana, sleeps yet,

while, like my heart, splashed on platforms there,

the carriage throws window-light over the steppe.

 

 


The Weeping Garden

 

It’s terrible! – all drip and listening.

Whether, as ever, it’s loneliness,

splashing a branch, like lace, on the window,

or whether perhaps there’s a witness.

 

Choked there beneath its swollen

burden – earth’s nostrils, and audibly,

like August, far off in the distance,

midnight, ripening slow with the fields.

 

No sound. No one’s in hiding.

Confirming its pure desolation,

it returns to its game – slipping

from roof, to gutter, slides on.

 

I’ll moisten my lips, listening:

whether, as ever, I’m loneliness,

and ready maybe for weeping,

or whether perhaps there’s a witness.

 

But, silence. No leaves trembling.

Nothing to see: sobs, and cries

being swallowed, slippers splashing,

between them, tears and sighs. 

 

 


Crossed Oars

 

My boat throbbed in the drowsy depths,

willows bowed, kissing collarbones,

elbows and rowlocks – oh wait, yes,

all of this might happen to anyone!

 

Isn’t it all just trivial…a singing.

Isn’t its meaning – the lilac petals on

water, camomile’s sensuous sinking

lip on lip, into starry extinction!

 

Isn’t its meaning – clasping the sky,

arms embracing mighty Hercules,

isn’t its meaning – for endless lives,

squandering on nightingales your glory!

 

 

 


Sparrow Hills

 

Breasts beneath kisses, as though under a tap!

Summer’s stream won’t run for ever.

We can’t pump out the accordion’s roar

night after night, in a dusty fever.

 

I’ve heard of age. Terrible prophecies!

No wave will lift its hands to the stars.

They say – who believes? No face in the leaves,

no gods in the air, in the ponds: no hearts.

 

Rouse your soul! Make the day, foaming.

It’s noon in the world. Where are your eyes?

See there, thoughts in the whiteness seething,

fir-cones, woodpeckers, cloud, heat, pines.

 

Here, the city’s trolley-lines end.

Beyond there’s no rails, it’s the trees.

Beyond – it’s Sunday, breaking branches,

the glade running off, sliding on leaves.

 

Scattering noons: Whitsuntide: walking,

‘The world’s always like this’, says the wood.

So the copse planned it, the clearing was told,

So it pours, from the clouds, towards us.

 

 


 

The Steppe

 

How lovely those journeys into quiet!

Boundless the steppe, like a seascape,

ants rustle, and the feather-grass sighs,

mosquitoes go whining through space.

 

The hayricks line up with the clouds,

volcano after volcano, they fade.

Grown silent, damp, the boundless steppe,

you drift, you’re buffeted, you sway.

 

The mist overtakes us, washes, a sea,

and burrs are clinging to stockings, today

it’s lovely to tramp the steppe’s shore,

you drift, you’re buffeted, you sway.

 

Is that a rick in the mist? Who knows?

Is that one ours? Yes, it’s found.

There! Yes, that’s it all right, though.

The rick, and the mist, and the steppe all round.

 

And the Milky Way slants towards Kerch,

like a path that cattle have stamped on.

Go past the houses, you’ll lose your breath,

on every side, broad, broad horizons.

 

Shadowy midnight stands by the way,

strewn with stars, that touch every verst,

and you can’t cross it, beyond the fence,

without trampling the universe.


 

When did the stars sweep down so low,

midnight sink so deep in tall grass,

and drenched muslin, afraid, aglow,

long for a dénouement at last?

 

Let the steppe judge, and night decide.

When, if not in the Beginning,

did Mosquitoes whine, Ants ride,

and Burrs go clinging to stockings?

 

Close them, my darling! Or go blind!

The whole steppe’s as before the Fall:

All, drowned in peace, like a parachute,

like a heaving vision, All.

 

 


Storm, Momentary, Forever

 

Then summer said goodbye

to the station. Lifting its cap,

the thunder took souvenirs,

hundreds of shots on the fly.

 

The lilac went black. And that

instant, gathering whole armfuls

of lightning, the far clearing lit

the white station-master’s shack.

 

And when the whole roof ran

with a fierce torrent of malice,

and, like charcoal onto a sketch,

the rain crashed down on the fence,

 

consciousness started to flash,

here, it seems, flooding in play

even the corners of mind

where it’s always bright as day.

 

 


In the Wood

 

Blurred by a lilac heat, the meadows:

in the wood, cathedral shadows swirled.

What on earth was left for them to kiss? So

like wax, soft in the fingers, theirs, the world.

 

There’s a dream – you do not sleep, you only

dream you long for sleep: someone’s dozing,

two black suns are beating under eyelids,

burning eyelashes, while he’s slumbering.

 

Sunbeams play. Iridescent beetles flow by,

dragon-flies’ glass skims over his cheek.

With tiny scintillations, the wood’s alive,

like those the clockmakers’ tweezers seek.

 

It seems he slept to the tick of figures,

while in acid, amber ether, over his head,

the hands of a carefully tested clock quiver,

regulated precisely by tremors of heat.

 

They calibrate, they shake the pines,

scatter the shadow, exhaust and pierce

the darkness of timber raised up high,

in the day’s fatigue, on the blue clock-face.

 

It seems a primal happiness was setting,

it seems the wood was sunk in sunlit dream.

Happy folk don’t spend time clock-watching,

but this pair were only sleeping, it seems.

 

 

 


Spasskoe

 

In Spasskoe, unforgettable September sheds its leaves.

Isn’t it time to close up the summer-house?

Echo traps the thudding of axe-blows in the trees,

and, past the fence, barters a herd-boy’s shout.

 

Last night the marsh by the park shivered, too.

The moment the sun rises it vanishes.

The bluebell can’t drink the rheumatic dew,

and a dirty lilac stain soils the birches.

 

The wood’s downcast. It wants to sleep, as well,

under the snow, in the deep quiet of the bear’s den.

The park, gaping, framed by tree-trunks stands still,

in neat obituary-columns, its edges blackened.

 

Has the birch copse stopped fading, staining,

its shade more watery still, and growing thin?

And again, you’re, fifteen – it’s still complaining –

again – ‘oh child, oh, what shall we do with them?’

 

They’re already so many it’s time to stop playing.

They’re – birds in the bushes, mushrooms in the trees.

Already we’ve veiled our horizon with them, shrouding

each other’s landscape with fog-bound mysteries.

 

The comic, on the night of his death, typhus-stricken,

hears a peal: it’s Homeric laughter from the box.

Today in Spasskoe, the same grief, in hallucination,

stares, from the road, at a house of weathered logs.

 

 


For Anna Akhmatova

 

I think I can call on words

that will last: you are there.

But if I can’t, no matter –

I’ll persist, I won’t care.

 

I hear the muttering of wet roofs,

pale eclogues from stones and kerb.

From the opening lines, that city,

is alive in each sound, each word.

 

You can’t leave town though it’s spring,

and your customers won’t wait.

Dawn glows, by lamplight sewing

with unbowed back, eyes wet.

 

Breathing the calm of far-off Ladoga,

stumbling towards the water.

There’s no relief from such trips.

The shallows smell mustier, darker.

 

The wind dances, it’s a walnut shell,

a glitter, the warm wind blows

branches and stars, lights, and views,

as the seamstress watches the flow.

 

Eyesight can be sharp, differently,

form be precise in varying ways,

but a solvent of acid power’s

out there under the white night’s blaze.


 

That’s how I see your face and look.

Not that pillar of salt, in mind,

in which five years ago you fixed

our fears of looking behind.

 

From your first verses where grains

of clear speech hardened, to the last,

your eye, the spark that shakes the wire,

makes all things quiver with the past.

 

 

 


 

Winter Nears.

 

Winter nears. Once more

the bear’s secret retreat

will vanish under mud’s floor,

to a child’s fretful grief.

 

Huts will wake in the water,

reflecting paths of smoke,

circled by autumn’s tremor

lovers meet by the fire to talk.

 

Denizens of the harsh North

whose roof is the clear air,

‘In this sign conquer’, set forth,

marks each unreachable lair.

 

I love you, provincial haunts,

off the map, the road, past the farms,

the more tired and faded the book,

the greater for me its charms.

 

Slow files of carts lumbering by

you spell out an alphabet flowing

from meadow to meadow. And I

found you always my favourite reading.

 

And it’s suddenly written again,

here in first snow is the spider’s

cursive script, runners of sleighs,

where ice on the page embroiders.

 

A silvered hazel October.

Pewter glow since frost began.

Autumn twilight, of Chekhov,

Tchaikovsky, and Levitan.

 


 

Hamlet

 

The noise dies. I walk on stage.

Leaning on the door’s frame,

from the far echo I try to gauge

what they’ll put against my name.

 

Night’s shadow is focused on me,

through a thousand opera-glasses.

Abba, Father, if it may be,

see that this cup passes.

 

I love your stubborn plan,

I’m content to play the scene.

But another play’s on hand:

for this once, let me be.

 

Yet the sequence of acts is set,

and the end of the road foreseen.

I’m alone: the Pharisees are met.

To live’s – not to cross a field.

 

 

 


Storm-Wind

 

I am finished, but you live on.

And the wind, crying and moaning,

rocks the house and the clearing,

not each pine alone,

but all the trees together,

with the vast distance, whole,

like the hulls of vessels,

moored in a bay, storm-blown.

And it shakes them not from mischief,

and not with an aimless tone,

but to find, for you, from its grief,

the words of a cradle-song.

 

 


Khmel (Hops, and Intoxication)

 

Under the willow, wound with ivy,

we shelter from the storm.

A greatcoat covers our shoulders,

my arms, to keep you warm.

 

I’m wrong. The trees in this wood

are circled with hops not ivy.

Better to spread the coat

on the ground, here, beneath me.

 

 


 

The Earth

 

Spring bursts violently

into Moscow houses.

Moths flutter about

crawl on summer hats,

and furs hide secretly.

 

Pots of wallflowers and stock

stand, in the window, just,

of wooden second storeys,

the rooms breathe liberty,

the smell of attics is dust.

 

The street is friends

with the bleary glass,

and white night and sunset

at one, by the river, pass.

 

In the passage you’ll know

what’s going on below

and April’s casual flow

of words with drops of thaw.

It’s a thousand stories veiled

in a human sadness,

and twilight along the fence

grows chill with the tale.

 

Outside, or snug at home

the same fire and hesitation:

everywhere air’s unsure.

The same cut willow twigs,

the same white swell of buds,

at crossroads, windows above,

in streets, and workshop-doors.

 

Then why does the far horizon weep

in mist, and the soil smell bitter?

After all, it’s my calling, surely,

to see no distance is lonely,

and past the town boundary,

to see that earth doesn’t suffer.

 

That’s why in early spring

we meet, my friends and I,

and our evenings are – farewell documents,

our gatherings are – testaments,

so the secret stream of suffering

may warm the cold of life.

 

 


Winter Night
 

Snow, snow the whole world over,

Sweeping it, end to end.

The candle burned on the table,

the candle burned.

 

Like a crowd of summer midges

flying to the flame,

droves of snowflakes swarmed

against the window pane.

 

Snow-blasts moulded circles,

arrows on the glass.

The candle burned on the table,

the candle burned.

 

Against the ceiling’s brightness

dark shadows falling,

crossed ankles, crossed wrists,

destinies crossing.

 

And two shoes dropped

with a thud to the floor,

and waxen tears dropped

from candle to dress.

 

And in the grey-white, snowy

darkness, all was lost.

The candle burned on the table,

the candle burned.


 

A draught from the corner

blew: temptation’s heat 

raised, like an angel,

a crucifix of wings.

 

Snow all through February,

and time and again

the candle burned on the table,

the candle burned.

 

 


The Wind

(Four fragments concerning Blok)

 

                          1

 

Who’ll be honoured and praised,

who’ll be dead, and abused,

that’s only known these days

to power’s sycophantic crew.

 

To honour Pushkin or not:

perhaps no one would know,

were it not for their dissertations

that shed light on our darkness so.

 

But Blok, happily, isn’t like that,

his case is a different one.

He didn’t come down from Sinai

or adopt us as his sons.

 

Eternal, owned by no programme,

beyond systems and schools,

he’s not been manufactured

or thrust down our throats by fools.


 

                         2

 

As the wind: like the wind. Like the wind

that shrieked on the estate in those days,

when Fil’ka, the postilion still galloped

at the head of a team of six bays.

 

And grandfather was still alive

crystal-pure Jacobin, radical soul,

his gusty grandson close behind

by a fingerbreadth, and as bold.

 

That wind, that penetrated

under his ribs, into his spirit,

entered his verse, and was praised,

in good times and in evil.

 

That wind’s everywhere. The house,

trees, country, and rain,

in his third book of poetry,

in The Twelve, in death – the same.

 

 


 

                         3

 

Wide, wide, wide,

river and field stretch away.

It’s haymaking time

it’s communal work today.

And the mowers at the bend

have no time to stand and gaze.

The mowing made Blok wild,

the young squire grasped a scythe,

missed a hedgehog at a swipe,

then two adders were sliced.

 

But his lessons weren’t complete.

‘You idler, you slacker’, they cried.

Ah, childhood! Ah, school, so dry!

Oh, the songs of the makers of hay!


 

At twilight, clouds from the east,

north and south are overcast.

Wind, unseasonable and fierce,

suddenly blows in, and hacks

at mower’s scythes, at the reeds,

hacks at the prickly copse,

where the river bends, runs deep.

 

Ah, childhood! Ah, school, so dry!

Oh, the songs of the makers of hay!

Wide, wide, wide,

river and field stretch away.

 

 


 

                          4

 

The horizon’s sinister, sudden,

and dawn is streaked with blood,

like unhealed lacerations

on a reaper’s legs, dark blood.

 

No counting the gaps in the sky,

tempests and storms, the omen,

and the air of the marsh is high

with water that’s rust and iron.

 

Over woods, gullies, and roads

over villages and farms,

the lightning in the clouds

prophesies earth’s harm.

 

When the rim of the city sky

is purple like that, and rusty

the State’s shaken, by and by,

a hurricane strikes our country.


 

Blok read the writing above.

To him the heavens were set,

on foul weather, presages of

whirlwind, cyclone, tempest.

 

Blok foresaw that storm and stress.

It etched, with its fiery features,

fear and longing for that excess,

on his life, and his verses.

 

 


Snow Is Falling

 

Snow is falling: snow is falling.

Geranium flowers reach

for the blizzard’s small white stars

past the window’s edge.

 

Snow is falling, all is lost,

the whole world’s streaming past:

the flight of steps on the back stairs,

the corner where roads cross.

 

Snow is falling: snow is falling,

not snowflakes stealing down,

Sky parachutes to earth instead,

in his worn dressing gown.

 

As if he’s playing hide-and-seek,

across the upper landings,

a mad thing, slowly sneaks,

Sky creeps down from the attic.

 

It’s all because life won’t wait,

before you know, it’s Christmas here.

And look, in a minute,

suddenly it’s New Year.

 

Snow is falling, deeper – deeper.

Maybe, with that same stride

in that same tempo,

with that same languor,

Time’s going by?


 

Year after year, perhaps,

passing, as snow’s falling,

like words in a poem?

Snow’s falling: snow’s falling.

Snow is falling, all is lost –

the whitened passers-by,

leaves’ startled showing,

the corners where roads cross.

 

 


Index by First Line

 

February. Take ink and weep,4

Like a brazier’s bronze cinders,5

Ice-chips plucked whole from the smoke,6

How many sticky buds, candle ends. 7

At twilight the swifts have no power,8

My sister – Life’s overflowing today,9

It’s terrible! – all drip and listening.10

My boat throbbed in the drowsy depths,11

Breasts beneath kisses, as though under a tap!12

How lovely those journeys into quiet!13

Then summer said goodbye. 15

Blurred by a lilac heat, the meadows:16

In Spasskoe, unforgettable September sheds its leaves.17

I think I can call on words. 18

Winter nears. Once more. 20

The noise dies. I walk on stage.22

I am finished, but you live on.23

Under the willow, wound with ivy,24

Spring bursts violently. 25

Snow, snow the whole world over,27

Who’ll be honoured and praised,29

Snow is falling: snow is falling.35