Poem without a Hero

a triptych
1940- 1962
Leningrad- Tashkent - Moscow
 
 
Di rider finirai
Pria dell' aurora
Don Giovanni
Foreword

Deus conservat omnia

motto on the coat of arms of the
House on the Fontanka
 
Some are no more, others are distant. . .
 
The poem first came to me, in the House on the Fontanka, on the night of 27 December 1940, though I had been forewarned by a brief fragment the previous autumn. I did not summon it, I did not even expect it, on that cold and dark day of my last winter in Leningrad.
That night I wrote '1913' and a dedication. Early in January I wrote, almost to my surprise, 'Obverse'; and later, in Tashkent, 'Epilogue', which was to become part three, together with some important additions to the first two parts. I continued to work on the poem after my return to Leningrad on June 1944.
I frequently hear of certain absurd interpretations of Poem without a Hero. And I have been advised to make it clearer. This I decline to do. It contains no third, seventh, or twenty-ninth thoughts. I shall neither explain nor change anything. What is written is written.
I dedicate the poem to the memory of its first audiencemy friends and fellow citizens who perished in Leningrad during the siege. Their voices I hear, and I remember them, when I read my poem aloud, and for me this secret chorus has become a permanent justification of the work.
 

Dedicatory Poems


1
in memory of Vs.K.

Having run out of paper,
I am writing on your rough draft.
And a word which is not mine
Occasionally shows through
Only to melt, trustingly, without reproach,
As snowflakes, once, on my hand.
And the dark eyelashes of Antinous
Lifted suddenlyand the green smoke
And our native breeze gently blew . . .
Isn't it the sea?
No, it's only graveyard
Pine-needles, and in a boiling of foam,
Still closer, closer . . .
Marche funebre . . .
Chopin
 
2
to O.A.G-S.
Is it you, my blundering Psyche,
Waving your black-and-white fan,
Who lean over me?
Do you wish to tell me in secret
You've already crossed the Lethe
And are breathing another spring?
You needn't tell me, I can hear it:
A warm downpour is pressing on the roof,
I hear whispering in the ivy.
Someone small has made up his mind to live,
Has turned greentomorrow, fluffed up,
Will try to strut in a new cloak.
I sleep
She alone leans over me,
She whom people call spring
I call loneliness.
I sleep I dream
Of our youth.
That cup which passed him by
I'll give you, if you wish, as a keepsake:
Like a pure flame in clay,
Like a snowdrop in a grave.
 
3
I have frozen enough with terror,
Better summon up a Bach chaconne,
And behind it will come a man
Who won't become my husband, yet together
We shall deserve such things
That the twentieth century will stand agape.
He will be late, this foggy night,
Coming to drink the new year wine
In the palace on the Fontanka.
And he will remember the epiphany,
Maple at the window, wedding candles,
A poem's deathly flight . . .
But he will bring me, not a ring,
The first lilac nor that other sweetness, prayer-
Doom is the gift he'll bring.
RAISED HIGH, THE NINETEEN-FORTIETH YEAR
IS A TOWER. I CAN SEE ALL.
I'M SAYING GOODBYE, AS IT WERE,
TO WHAT I HAVE LONG ABANDONED;
CROSSING MYSELF, AND DESCENDING
UNDER THE DARK VAULTS OF BURIAL.
 
Leningrad under siege
25 August 1941
 

PART ONE

The Year Nineteen Thirteen

1
New Year's Eve. The House on the Fontanka. Instead of her expected guest, the author is visited by shadows from the year 1913, disguised as mummers. A white hall of mirrors. Lyrical digression: 'A visitor from the future'. Masquerade. A poet. A ghost.
 
I have lit my sacred candles,
One by one, and with your absent
Companionship I hallow
The coming forty-first year.
But ...
God grant us his power!
In crystal the flame is drowning,
'And the wine, like poison, burns.'
Malicious conversations, The resurrection of ravings,
Though the hour has not yet struck ...
No measure in my terror,
I'm a shadow on the threshold
Defending my last peace.
I listen to the insistent
Doorbell, cold mist on
My skin. I'm stone. Ice. Fire . . .
I half-turn, as if stricken
By memory, as if my distant
Voice is saying, 'You're wrong:
This isn't the Doge's Palace.
It's next door. But your masks and
Cloaks, your scepters and your crowns,
Leave them in the hall. Welcome!
Animate the New Year revel:
It's you I celebrate.'
Here's Faustand here's Don Juan,
John the Baptist, Dapertutto,
Dorian Gray; and here's the frugal
Most northerly of the satyrs,
Glahn. They whisper their Dianas
With phrases learnt by rote.
Here's somebody trailing Pana
Faun with the legs of a goat.
And for them the walls have widened,
Lights cascading, sirens whining,
A cupola is bursting the roof.
Publish the whole scandal!
What to me are Hamlet's garters!
The whirlwind of Salome's dancing,
The tread of the Iron Masker!
I am more iron than they . . .
Whose turn is it now to blench with
Fear, back away, surrender,
Ask mercy for an ancient sin? ...
Clearly it's
it's me they seekcrazy!
I've denied them, and my table
Is set for someone else,
A tail under a dress-suit . . .
How lame yet elegant ...
However . . .
The Prince of Darkness: whoever
Would dare to bring him here?
Mask, or skull, or face, his
Expression of malice and ache I
Doubt even Goya could paint.
The suavest and the sickest,
Compared with whom what sinner
Is not incarnate grace?
Enough! Join in the dancing!
But by what necromancy
Am I living and they dead?
In the morning I shall waken,
Nobody here to blame me,
Straight into my face the
Blue will laugh through the pane.
But now I'm frightened. I have
Got to present myself, smile at
Them all and fall silent,
Hugging my lace shawl.
She who was I, in her black agate
Necklacetill the valley of God's anger
Bring us together, I'd rather
She kept out of my way . . .
Are the last days close upon us?
Your lessons I have forgotten,
Sloganwriters, false prophets,
You haven't forgotten me.
As in the past the future is maturing,
So the past is rotting in the future
A terrible carnival of dead leaves.
 
A sound of steps of those not here
Over the gleaming parquet. Blue
Cigar-smoke. All the mirrors show one who
Would not gain entry if he should appear.
No better, no worse, than othersbut frigid
Lethe's not touched him, and his hand is warm.
Guest from the future, will he really come,
Taking the left turn across the bridge?
 
From childhood I have feared mummers.
It always seemed to me that someone,
A kind of extra shade
'Without face or name', has slipped in
Among them . . .
Shall we begin by
Calling the roll on this
Triumphal New Year's Day! But
Don't expect my midnight Tale of
Hoffmann to be laid bare . . .
Wait! You!
Your name's not here, I don't see it
Among the Magi, Cagliostros, Messalinas,
You come in the motley stripes
Of a milepost, that brilliant mask the
Snow wears. You . . . old as the Mamre
Oak, interlocutor of the moon.
Your feigned groans, they cannot
Fool us. You write iron commandments;
Solon, Lycurgus, Hammurabi,
Should sit down at your feet.
His extraordinary nature
Doesn't wait for gout and fame to
Arrive in a heat and raise him
To a pompous jubilee chair.
But over the flowering heather
And over wildernesses
He bears his triumph. And
He's not even guilty of bending
Any law . . .
Besides, in general,
Poets are blind to sin,
They must dance before the Ark of
The Covenant, or perish! . . .
But that's apparent
In their verses, I'll hold my peace.
We only dream it's cock-crow. The
Neva is billowing with smoke. Night
Is fathomless. The sabbat goes on
And on in Petersburg . . .
In narrow windows the stars are
Muffled in shrouds of disaster
But the liquid tongues of the maskers
Run lightly through their shames.
A shout :
'The hero's on stage!' Ah
Yes, here he comes, displacing
The tall one without fail and
Of holy vengeance he sings.
But why have you all fled, as
Though to a communal wedding,
Leaving me in the gloom
Face to face with a frame's blackness
Out of which stares that hour
Which became most bitter drama
Never sufficiently wept.
 
It floods me not all at once
But like a musical phrase.
I hear a whisper: 'Goodbye!
I shall leave you behind,
But you will be my widow,
You, my dove, my sun, my sister!'
On the landing, two locked shadows . . .
Then, down the broad stairs,
A scream: 'Don't do it!' Far off
A pure voice:
'I am ready for death.'
 
The torches go out, the ceiling lowers. The white hall of mirrors becomes the author's room. Words from the darkness:
Clearly, there's no death. Saying
What's clear to all is banal.
I'd like it explained to me.
That knock!
I thought they were all within.
Is This the guest from behind the mirror,
The shape that flitted past the pane?
Is the new moon playing a joke, or
Between the cupboard and the stoveis
Somebody standing again?
Pale forehead, open lids, this
Means that gravestones are brittle,
That granite is softer than wax . . .
Crazy, crazy, crazy! From such crazes
I shall soon be turning grey or change to
Something else. Why
Are you beckoning me near?
For one moment of peace here
I would give up the grave's peace.
 

Across the Landing

(Intermezzo)

'Surely you've heard, it's all over . . .
You're a baby, Signer Casanova . . .'
'See you at Isaac's at six . . .'
'We'll find you somehow in the fog,
We've promised to call at the Dog . . .'
'How about you?'
'God knows!'
Don Quixotes, Sancho Panzas,
Alas, Sodom's celebrants are
Stumbling, death's wine flows.
Foam-borne Aphrodites risen,
Helens shivering in the mirror,
And the age of dementia moves
Nearer. From Fontanka's grotto,
Weary of his burning-glass, love
Cools and through a horn-gate passes,
And someone ginger and shaggy
Leads out the goat-footed nymph.
Brightest star of the scene, though
Her mask prevents her from seeing,
Hearing, praying, cursing, breathing,
Is the head of Madame de Lamballe.
But you, our beauty, our joker,
Spinning to the whim of the goatking,
Your lisp is tender and soulful:
'Que me veut mon Prince Carnaval?'
 
Simultaneously in the depths of the hall, stage, hellor the summit of Goethe's Brockenshe appears (or perhaps it is her shadow) :
 
Horns in her pale curls, shoes are
Beating a rhythm of hoofbeats,
Drunk with the oceanic dance
As if from a figured vase she
Goes whirling towards the azure
Wave, in naked elegance
And earrings ringing like sleighbells.
And you, in helmet and greatcoat,
Behind, who bare-faced came here,
You, Ivanushka of the fable,
What wearies you today?
So much bitterness in each word,
Over your love so black a cloud,
And why does that streak of blood
Rip the petal of your cheek?
 
2
The heroine's bedroom. A wax candle is burning. Over the bed are three portraits of the mistress of the house in various roles. On the right, the goatlegged nymph; in the centre, the blunderer; on the left a portrait in shadows. Some might think it Columbine; others, Donna Anna from 'The Steps of the Commendatore'. Outside the mansard window piccaninnies are playing snowballs. A blizzard rages. New Year's Night. The blunderer comes alive, glides from the portrait, and she hears a voice reading aloud:
 
My dove, throw wide your satin
Cloak! And don't be angry
That I have touched this chalice:
I condemn myself, not you.
It is time to settle old scores
Look, in the grainy storm
Meyerhold's blackamoors
Are romping about again.
And round us is Peter's creation
That flayed the hide of the nation
(As the nation expressed it then).
In manes, harnesses, meal-carts,
In the variegated tea-rose,
And under raven-wing clouds.
With the image of a smile, our
Mariinsky prima, our dying
Ineffable swan is flying,
And the late snob enters loud.
Orchestral sounds from that other
World, something's shadow flashed somewhere
Has the dawn already fluttered
A premonition along the rows?
And again our glory and wonder,
The voice like an echo of thunder,
Chaliapin, throws
All the heart's electric,
Riding over the land that bred him,
All its unridable ways.
Branches in the blue-white snow . . .
Who walks the twelve colleges' corridor now
Will dream that he is walking through
An echo of all that's happened, so
Endless it is, hollow and straight.
Absurdly close, the finale:
From behind screens, the mask of
Petrushka, coachmen round fires dance, the
Palace flies a yellow-black flag.
Everything's here that we need. The
Fifth and final act breathes from
The Summer Garden . . . Tsushima's
Hell is here. A drunken sailor sings.
Fly, shadows! your sleigh-runners
A-jingle, the she-goat's sleigh-rug a-
Trail! He's here alone.
Sharp shadow on the wall, face of
Mephistophilis or Gabriel
My lady, your paladin?
Demon with the smile of Tamara,
What are the secrets of charm in
That terrible smoky face?
Flesh dragged towards spirit as a rock
Quarried for the sculptor's block
All mystery, all outer space.
He, was it, through the packed hall,
Sent you (or was it a dream?) a champagne-
Glass containing a black rose?
With dead heart, dead expression,
He met the commendatore, stepping
Heavily into the cursed house.
He, was it, who first mentioned
How you were both in a dimension
Outside the laws of space and time
There, in what polar crystals,
And in what amber glister,
At the Lethe'sat the Neva'smouth.
Out of the portrait you ran,
And until the rising sun
The frame will wait on the wall.
So dance nowdance, unescorted.
If you crave a fatal chorus
I consent to the role.
 
Scarlet spots on your cheeks;
You'd better return to the canvas.
But tonight is the kind of night
When accounts must be settled . . .
Yet this intoxicating drowsiness
Is harder to fight than death.
 
From nowhere you came to Russia,
my blond-haired wonder,
Our second decade's columbine:
Why do you gaze so sharply and sadly,
Petersburg doll and actress,
You, my double, my twin.
Yes, write that title below your
Others. Companion of poets,
I inherited one of your crowns.
In the divinely musical metre
Of Leningrad's keen wind,
In the shade of a protected cedar,
I see a dance of courtly bones.
The wedding candles gutter,
Veiled shoulders are kissed, a thunder
Of church commands: 'Dove, alight!'
A meeting in a Maltese chapel,
Parma violets heaped in April
Like a curse within your heart.
Vision of the golden age, or
A black crime in the chaos
Of our dreadful former years?
Tell me this at least:
did you
Really, at some moment, live, your
Tiny feet gliding on air
While others trod the paved squares?
Your house like a carnival wagon,
Peeling cupids standing
At the alter of Venus on guard,
Your singing birds free as larks, you
Furnished your bedroom like an arbour,
Who'd recognise this rustic maid?
Hidden in the walls are spiral
Staircases; saints on the sky-blue
Walls . . . Stolen goods . . . but all in bloom
Like the Spring of Botticelli,
You received your friends in
Bed, and your languishing dragoon
Pierrot who wore the smile of
An evening sacrifice, that
Most religious of your admirers
You were a magnet to his steel.
He's white, the tears are flowing,
He sees you showered with roses,
And his rival's revered by all.
I cannot see your husband.
The fortress clock has struck. I
Am pressed against the glassfrost.
I don't chalk crosses on houses,
Step bravely to this encounter
Long ago your horoscope was cast.
 
3
In Petersburg will gather again,
Around the grave where we buried the sun.
Mandelstam
Petersburg , 1913. Lyrical interlude: last recollection in Tsarskoye Selo. A wind, reminiscent or prophetic, mutters :
 
Bonfires cooked the geese of Christmas,
Carriages toppled from bridges,
The whole funereal city swam
On a blind assignation
Down the Neva or against it
Only away, away from its graves.
All its arches were throbbing black molars,
The Summer Garden's vane was crowing
Thinly, a bright moon turned a colder
Silver over the silver age.
Since, along all roads and
Towards all thresholds, slowly
A shadow advanced, the wind
Was ripping posters off the
Walls, smoke whirled in cossack
Dances on the roofs,
Lilac breathed a graveyard smell, and
The city, demented and dostoyevsky,
Wrapped itself in its fog.
Peter, old genius, old assassin,
Stared again out of blankness,
Beat an execution drum . . .
And always, something not thunder
Under the profligate frost, a rumble
Of war before it began.
But then it was heard so faintly
It scarcely touched the ear, as flakes to
The Neva's drifts it drowned.
As though, in night's terrible mirror
Man, raving, denied his image
And tried to disappear,
While along the embankment of history,
Not the calendarthe existing
Twentieth century drew near.
 
And now to go home, swiftly,
Through the Cameron gallery,
To the icy mysterious park,
Where the waterfalls are silent,
Where I must make all nine glad
As once I was dear to you.
Beyond the park, beyond the island,
Can it be that our eyes won't
Meet with their clear former gaze?
Won't you really ever whisper
To me again that word which
kills
death
And is my life's one clue?
 
4
 
The corner of Mars Field. A house built early in the nineteenth century by the brothers Adamini. In the bombing of 1942 it will suffer a direct hit. A bonfire flames high. The sound of bells pealing from the Church of the Saviour on the Blood. In the square through a snowstorm, the apparition of a court ball. Silence itself speaks, in the lulls between these sounds:
 
Who stands stiff at the dimmed windows, on his
Heart that 'blonde curl',
Total darkness before his eyes?
'Help me! It's not too late! I
Have never seen you, night, so strange, so
Frosty!' The wind, deranged,
Laden with cargoes of salt . . . It's
Not the Champs de Mars but the Baltic.
Invisible hooves ring . . .
His agitation cannot be sounded
Whose whole life is running aground and
Whose only prayer's for a boundless
Forgetting and forgotten sleep.
He, roaming beyond midnight under
Those corner windows; dully
A street light points at him.
His wait is rewarded . . . An elegant masker
On the road back from Damascus
Is coming home . . . she's not alone.
Someone with her without face or
Name . . . Unappeasable separation
He saw through the oblique
Bonfire flames. Then houses fell and
Produced a sobbing echo:
'I shall leave you behind,
my dove, my sun, my sister,
But you will be my widow,
And now . . . Goodbye. It's time.'
The landing's drugged with perfume,
And a cadet dragoon with verses
And senseless death in his breast
Will ring, if his courage suffices,
That he may waste one final
Moment glorifying you.
Behold:
Not on the cursed marshes of Mazur,
Not on Carpathia's azure
Peaks in your own house!
Blocking the door! . . .
 
Et te conserve! Deus.
 
So many ways for a poet to die,
Stupid child, to choose this one,
Couldn't endure the first hurt,
Ignorant on what threshold
He stood, the opening view
Of what road.
 
And it was I, your ancient
Conscience, found the burnt pages
Of a story, in his home,
Placed on the edge of a sill
The dead boy's will
And on tiptoe left the room.
 
ALL IS IN ORDER: THE POEM LIES
AND, AS IS NATURAL TO IT, RESTS.
BUT WHAT IF, SUDDENLY, THE THEME ESCAPES
AND HAMMERS ON THE WINDOW WITH ITS
FISTS,-
ANSWERED BY DISTANT, DREADFUL
SOUNDS
A CLICKING IN THE THROAT, A RATTLE,
AND A VISION OF CROSSED HANDS . . .
 
 

PART TWO

Obverse

My future is in my past
I drink the water of Lethe,
My doctor won't allow me depression
Pushkin
 
The House on the Fontanka, 5 January 1941. Through the window the ghost of a snow-covered maple. The devilish harlequinade has just rushed by, disturbing the silence of the soundless age, and leaving behind the disorder common to all festive or funeral processions torch-smoke, scattered flowers on the floor, holy relics forever lost ... A wind howls in the chimney, and in this howl may be divined snatches of Requiem, deeply and cunningly hidden. Of what appears in the mirrors, it is better not to think.
 

I

My editor showed displeasure,
Pleaded sickness, pleaded a deadline,
Then, restricting his phone,
Grumbled: 'It's got to be simpler!
You read, and when you've finished
You still don't know who's in love
 
II
With whom, who met and why, who
Lived and who died, who's
Author and who's hero. And
Ideologically it's outmoded,
This carrying-on about a poet
And a swarm of ghosts.'
 
III
I answered: 'There were three
A milepost was the chief,
Another like the devil was dressed.
Behind them their poems labour
To help them achieve the ages.
The third, at twenty, was dead,
 
IV
And I pity him.' And again
Word fell out over word,
The music box droned on.
And the clever poison flamed
Over that bottle-hard
Angry and corkscrew tongue.
 
V
I dreamt that I was held to
Creating a libretto
For music that flowed evermore.
And a dreamis something substantial,
The Blue Bird, the soft embalmer,
The ramparts of Elsinore.
 
VI
And I myself was not glad
To receive that harlequinade,
To hear that distant scream.
I kept hoping that like puffs of
Smoke pine-needles would be gusted
Past the white hall, through the gloom.
 
VII
With such an elegant Satan
So colourfulthis motley ancient
Cagliostro, you can't resist.
It goes against his belief
To mourn the dead, for grief
And conscience do not exist.
 
VIII
Well ... it doesn't smell of a Roman
Carnival. Over the closed domes a
Melody of cherubim
Trembles. No-one is hammering on my
Door, only the stillness watches
Over stillness, mirror of mirror dreams.
 
IX
And with me is my 'Seventh',
Mute, half-dead, a
Puckered grimace its mouth,
That could be the mouth of a tragic
Mask, but for the black daub,
The stuffed-in dry earth.
 
 
X

..
..
And the decades pass: tortures,
Exile, executionsyou're not
Surprised that I can't sing.
 
XI
And especially when our dreams imagine
All that must still be enacted:
Death everywhereour city burnt through . . .
And Tashkent in flower for a wedding . . .
Very soon the asiatic wind will tell me
What is eternal and true.
 
XII
 
 
 
 
XIII
Shall I be melted to a state hymn?
I don't want, don't want, a diadem
From a dead poet's brow.
The time will come for my lyre,
But Sophocles we need, not Shakespeare.
Fate is the night-visitor now.
 
 
XIV
And the theme that came
Was a crushed chrysanthemum
On the floor when the coffin has passed.
Between memory and call-to-mind is
The distance of Luga's ice-fields
From the land of the satin half-mask.
 
XV
The devil made me rummage . . .
Yet how is it, I wonder,
I am so steeped in guilt?
I of the quiet, simple manner,
I the 'White Flock' and the 'Plantain' . . .
How, my friends, excuse my fault?
 
XVI
If it is so confused it's
Because I don't hide my confusion.
As you know, I'm a plagiarist . . .
Anyway, I am indifferent
To failure . . . box with a triple
Bottom . . . Time I confessed
 
XVII
At least to one crime: I write
In invisible ink, and light
Breaks only when it's reflected
In a glass. Since I am bereft
All others, from this one road left
I shall not quickly be deflected.
 
XVIII
If an angel had stooped in its flight
Home to El Greco's heaven
To explain to me wordlessly
But with a summer smile
That more than all the seven
Deadly sins he was forbidden me.
 
XIX
Then, if the unknown human
Stepping out of the future
Will impudently flash
His eyes and give to the flying
Shade an armful of wet lilac
In the hour when this storm has passed.
 
XX
But the century-old enchantress
Suddenly woke up, felt like dancing,
Making merry. I'm at a loss.
Drops her lace handkerchief, languid
Eyes look up from her stanzas,
She gestures me across.
 
XXI
I've drunk of her, every drop,
Didn't know how to stop
The black thirst possessing me,
Binding me to her ravings:
I threatened the Star Chamber,
And drove her to her natal den
 
XXII
To the darkness under Manfred's fir,
And where Shelley, dead on the shore,
Looked straight up into the sky,
While Byron held the brand, and
All the world's skylarks shattered
The dome beneath eternity.
 
XXIII
But she said in her most clear
Voice: 'I am not that English muse,
Not La Belle Dame Sans Merci;
July it was who brought me here,
Except for the solar, the fabulous,
I have no ancestry.
 
XXIV
But for all your equivocal glory
Twenty years in the ditch, I
Shall still not serve you thus,
But will compensate with a royal
Kiss your wicked midnight.
Sit, and feast with us.'
 
 

PART THREE

Epilogue

I love you, creation of Peter!
Pushkin: The Bronze Horseman
 
White night of 24 June 1942. The city in ruins. From the harbour to Smolny it is spread out to the gaze. Here and there old fires are burning themselves out. In the Sheremetyev Garden, limes are in flower and a nightingale is singing. A window on the third storey has been blown out, and behind it a black emptiness gapes. From the direction of Kronstadt heavy guns are audible. But generally it is quiet. Seven thousand kilometers away, the author's voice:
 
To my city
Inside the House on the Fontanka
Where with a bunch of keys, a lantern,
The evening lassitude
Begins, with an out-of-place laugh I
Hallooed to a distant echo, shattered
The unbroken sleep of things;
Where, witness of all in the world,
At dawn or twilight, an old
Maple looks into the room
And, foreseeing my absence,
Stretches out his dried and blackened
Arm as if to help.
Earth hummed beneath my feet and
The red planet was streaking
Through my still unbroken roof.
It listened for its own passwordthat
Sound that is all around us ...
And in Tobruk ... it is everywhere.
You, not the first nor the last dark
Auditor of bright madness,
What vengeance do you prepare for me?
You will only sip, not drain to
Its depths this bitter taste of
Our separation. Understand
There is no need to set your
Hand upon my head. Put an end to
Time, let it forever remain
Here like a bookmark in a book at
The silence of the cuckoo
In the arson of our woods . . .
 
And behind barbed wire
In the dense taiga's heart
I don't know in what year
Transformed to a pile of camp-dust, an
Anecdote from the terrible fact
My double goes to interrogation,
With two thugs sent by the Noseless Slut,
And I hear from where I stand
Isn't that a miracle!
The sound of my own voice:
I have paid for you in cash,
For ten years I've looked
Neither right nor left,
Your ill fame at my back ...
 
You, the grave I sprang from,
Dearest, infernal, granite,
Have paled, have died, lie still.
It's only imagined, our separation,
Nothing can split us, efface my
Shadow that's on your walls,
My reflection in your waters,
Steps in the Hermitage halls, where
My friend and I once strolled;
And in ancient Volkovo Field,
Where there's no end to weeping
The still fraternal graves.
All that the First Part said of
Love, betrayal and passion,
Free poetry brushes from its wings,
And my city is shrouded but standing . . .
Heavy are the slabs that
Press on your sleepless eyes,
Yet I dreamed in flight I heard you
Chase me, you who stayed to perish
In an iceblink of waters, a glitter of spires.
You did not wait for the beloved
Deliverers: a round-dance above you
Of brief white nights.
But the joyful wordhome
It is a word unknown to
All now, all look through foreign panes.
In New York, in Tashkent, the
Bitter air of exile
Is like a poisoned wine.
How admiringly you'd have watched me
As in the gut of the dolphin
I saved myself from the shark,
And over forests infested
Rushed like a witch's spectre
To the Brocken in the night.
And already the frozen Kama
Could be seen, and someone stammered
'Quo Vadis?' and before lips moved,
Another panorama,
With bridges and tunnelsthe hammer
Of the Urals pounded below.
And under my eyes unraveled
That road so many had traveled,
By which they led away my son.
And that road was longlonglong, amidst the
Solemn and crystal
Stillness
Of Siberia's earth.
From all that to ash is rendered,
Filled with mortal dread yet
Knowing the calendar
Of vengeance, having wrung her
Hands, her dry eyes lowered, Russia
Walked before me towards the east.
 
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