Jun 222017
 

The righteous man followed God’s luminous angels
And hurried after them over the hill.
But his wife heard an anxious voice that whispered:
“It isn’t too late, not yet; you can still

Look back at the towers of the town you came from,
At the street where you sang and the room where you spun,
At the empty windows of the house you cared for
And the bed where all your children were born.”

And of course she looked back. She felt a quick pang
And then everything ended. Her eyes closed
And her body dissolved into bitter crystals.
Her small feet stopped and grew into the ground.

No one seems to have mourned this woman;
She was only a minor event in the book.
But my heart holds fast to her memory:
A woman who gave up her life for a look.

 

The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems

(New York Review Books Classics)

Translated by Paul Schmidt.

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Jun 122017
 

Something miraculous burns in music;
as you watch, its edges crystallize.
Only music speaks to me
when others turn away their eyes.

When fearful friends abandoned me
music stayed, even at my grave,
and sang like earth’s first shower of rain
or flowers suddenly everywhere alive.

 

The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems

(New York Review Books Classics)

Translated by Paul Schmidt.

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Jun 072017
 

First, plain speech in the mother tongue.
Hearing it you should be able to see,
As if in a flash of summer lightning,
Apple trees, a river, the bend of a road.

And it should contain more than images.
Singsong lured it into being,
Melody, a daydream. Defenseless,
It was bypassed by the dry, sharp world.

You often ask yourself why you feel shame
Whenever you look through a book of poems.
As if the author, for reasons unclear to you,
Addressed the worst side of your nature,
Pushing thought aside, cheating thought.

Poetry, seasoned with satire, clowning,
Jokes, still knows how to please.
Then its excellence is much admired.
But serious combat, where life is at stake,
Is fought in prose. It was not always so.

And our regret has remained unconfessed.
Novels and essays serve but will not last.
One clear stanza can take more weight
Than a whole wagon of elaborate prose.

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May 312017
 

All I want to do is
escape the madness here.
To rise into the light
where I can disappear.

Where you can be like light –
and happiness is mine! –
and learn from every star
what it means to shine.

All I want to say is,
the whispering you hear –
that’s the sound of light
I whisper in your ear.

The thing that makes us light
the thing that makes us shine
is that I whisper words
and that this voice is mine.

 

The Stray Dog Cabaret: A Book of Russian Poems

(New York Review Books Classics)

Translated by Paul Schmidt.

 

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May 282017
 

Human reason is beautiful and invincible.
No bars, no barbed wire, no pulping of books,
No sentence of banishment can prevail against it.
It establishes the universal ideas in language,
And guides our hand so we write Truth and Justice
With capital letters, lie and oppression with small.
It puts what should be above things as they are,
Is an enemy of despair and a friend of hope.
It does not know Jew from Greek or slave from master,
Giving us the estate of the world to manage.
It saves austere and transparent phrases
From the filthy discord of tortured words.
It says that everything is new under the sun,
Opens the congealed fist of the past.
Beautiful and very young are Philo-Sophia
And poetry, her ally in the service of the good.
As late as yesterday Nature celebrated their birth,
The news was brought to the mountains by a unicorn and an echo.
Their friendship will be glorious, their time has no limit.
Their enemies have delivered themselves to destruction.

Berkeley 1968

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