Poetry from the European Languages

Pushkin (1799–1837)

Translated by A. S. Kline © Copyright 2000 All Rights Reserved

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Aleksander Pushkin’s father was of the nobility. His mother had Abyssinian blood, and was descended from Hannibal, the Negro servant of Peter the Great. He lived in St Petersburgh and became an official in the Ministry of Affairs but was effectively banished to the Crimea before he was twenty-one. He eventually returned, and in 1831 married Natalia Goncharova. He was subsequently killed in a duel. Russia’s greatest poet, he is, in some respects, Russia’s Byron, a great lyric poet whose Eugene Onegin nevertheless fulfils the same role of the ‘superfluous’ man as the narrator of Byron’s Don Juan.

Pushkin (1799–1837)

To ----

I remember the marvellous moment

you appeared before me,

like a transient vision,

like pure beauty’s spirit.

Lost in hopeless sadness,

lost in the loud world’s turmoil,

I heard your voice’s echo,

and often dreamed your features.

Years passed. The storm winds scattered,

with turbulent gusts, that dreaming.

I forgot your voice, its tenderness.

I forgot your lovely face.

Remote in my darkened exile,

the days dragged by so slowly,

without grace, without inspiration,

without life, without tears, without love.

Then my spirit woke

and you, you appeared again,

like a transient vision,

like pure beauty’s spirit.

And my heart beats with delight,

and ecstasy, inside me,

and grace and inspiration,

and tears, and life, and love.

The Talisman

There in the land where the waves

break, on empty shores, forever,

and where the moonlight makes

a sweet, warm twilight hour,

where the harem’s languid days

delight the Mussulman,

there an enchantress caressed me,

and gave me this Talisman.

And, caressingly, she said

‘My Talisman will not save you

from sickness or from death

in tempest or in storm,

but in it there is power,

my Beloved, mysterious virtue.

It is the gift of Love,

so take care of my Talisman.’

‘It will not bring you riches

out of the shining East.

It will not force the Prophet’s horde

to obey you in the least.

It will not transport you

from a dreary, alien land,

from south to north, to your native place,

to your friends, my Talisman.’

‘But when betraying eyes

bewitch you, suddenly,

or lips kiss without love

in the night’s uncertainty,

my Beloved, it will save you

from deceit, from oblivion,

from fresh distress to your wounded heart,

from wrong, my Talisman.’

(In the Crimea, in discreet exile, Pushkin had a love affair with the Countess Vorontsova. She was the wife of the Governor-General, Mikhail Vorontsov, who, in retaliation, ensured Pushkin’s dismissal from the Foreign Service. Leaving Odessa, Pushkin took with him a gold talismanic ring, inscribed with a Cabbalistic Hebrew inscription, that she had slipped onto his finger one day, after they had made love on a Black Sea beach. It was looted from the Pushkin Museum in Moscow in the early months of the 1917 revolution.)

‘I loved you’

I loved you: love may not have died

completely in my soul,

but don’t let it disturb you,

I don’t wish you any pain.

I loved you without hope or voice,

with diffidence, jealousy,

as tenderly, truly, as God grant

you may be loved again.

‘Bound for your distant home’

Bound for your distant home

you were leaving alien lands.

In an hour as sad as I’ve known

I wept over your hands.

My hands were numb and cold,

still trying to restrain

you, whom my hurt told

never to end this pain.

But you snatched your lips away

from our bitterest kiss.

You invoked another place

than the dismal exile of this.

You said, ‘When we meet again,

in the shadow of olive-trees,

we shall kiss, in a love without pain,

under cloudless infinities.’

But there, alas, where the sky

shines with blue radiance,

where olive-tree shadows lie

on the waters glittering dance,

your beauty, your suffering,

are lost in eternity.

But the sweet kiss of our meeting ......

I wait for it: you owe it me .......