THE EUROPEAN LIBRARY
EDITED BY J. E. 5PINGARN
J RUSSIAN POETRY
CHOSLN AND TRANSLATED BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY
COPYRIGHT, IQ2I, BY
HARCOURT, BRACE AND COMPANY, INC.
PRINTED IN THE U. S. A. BY
THE QUINN a BODEN COMPANY
RAHWAY. N. J.
A THURSDAY IN APRIL
A few of the poems included in this volume have
appeared in The Dial, The Freeman, The Nation, and
Poetry. The excerpt from " The Twelve " was taken
from The Twelve, by Alexander Blok, translated from
the Russian by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolin-
sky (New York, Huebsch, 1920).
This volume heaps the anthological Pelion upon the
Ossa of translation. It aims to present the lyrical poetry
of Russia for the last hundred years by a selection of
poems translated by the editors. Within the fences thus
set up lay a wide foreign field to pick from: the old-
fashioned garden overrun by the rank growth of exotic
flowers, beautiful weeds outflanking the hothouse plants.
The principle of selection was, so far as might be, aesthetic.
Poems were chosen less for their representative quality
than for their immediate worth and, of course, their
ability to stand the test of translation. In view of the
pioneer character of this work, however, some conces-
sion was made to historical considerations, and, there-
fore, part of the material included may appear rather
jejune and vieux jeu. The effort was to give a brief
general glimpse of the classic poets and to treat in greater
detail the moderns and contemporaries who are, to the
translators, as to the readers, more of a living actuality.
The difficulties of selection are obvious. You may
add, you may alter the choice how you will, but the
sin of omission will cling round it still. In this case
the problem was sharpened by the rigors of translation.
These were not mere flowers for the plucking. They
had to be transplanted into strange soil, which was not
hospitable to them all. Translation has been likened to
" the wrong side of a Turkey carpet." The question was
how best to carry over, unbroken and undiminished, the
colors and contours of the right side. We are attached
to the idea that we have given as much to the originals
as we took from them. Adherence to metrical and
rhythmical structure was possible, owing to the essential
likeness between the two languages with regard to versifi-
cation. In matters of imagery and the finer aspects of
technique there was also an attempt to be as faithful as
the linguistic media allow. But juggling is a fine art,
not unworthy of the service of Notre Dame, and the
three bright balls of substance, form, and spirit were
not always easy to keep in the air at once. What we
continually sought was to produce, in the end, a poem.
The personality of each poet is brought out in a note
preceding the selection from his work, and the filiation
of poetic movements is briefly indicated in the introduc-
And finally a word pro domo nostra. While it may
be difficult to single out each collaborator's part in the
work, it is possible, and perhaps interesting, to define
the attitude of each. The one, native to Russian litera-
ture, brought to the task all the prejudices and privileges
of long intimacy. The other, a stranger, saw it with
the fresh vision and untaught caprice of a foreigner,
making a less practised and a more personal approach.
The one was aware, the other persuaded of the gold in
the Scythian earth. The two labored together to wrest it,
like the one-eyed Arimaspi, from the guardian gryphons.
New York, June 28, 1921.
ALEXANDER PUSHKIN (1799-1837) 3
A Nereid 5
"Behold a Sower" 6
Three Springs 7
The Prophet- 8
Verses Written During a Sleepless Night 10
YEVGENY BARATYNSKY (1800-1844) 13
ALEXEY KOLTZOV (1809-1842) 15
An Old Man's Song 16
MIKHAIL LERMONTOV (1814-1841) 17
The Angel 18
The Cup of Life 19
From " The Daemon," Part I, xv 21
Captive Knight 22
FYODOR TYUTCHEV (1803-1873) 23
"As Ocean's Stream" 25
Autumn Evening 27
July 14, at Night 28
" Oh, Thou, My Wizard Soul " 29
NIKOLAI NEKRASOV (1821-1877) 30
"The Capitals Are Rocked with Thunder " ... 31
"My Poems!" 32
The Salt Song 33
ALEXEY K. TOLSTOY (1817-1875) 34
" My Little Almond Tree " 35
"A Well, and the Cherry Trees Swaying" ... 36
"Oh, the Ricks" 37
APOLLON MAIKOV (1821-1897) 39
" Upon This Wild Headland " 41
Summer Rain 42
AFANASY SHENSHIN-FOETH (1820-1892) 43
" Whispers, Timid Breathing " 44.
The Aerial City 45
YAKOV POLONSKY (1819-1898) 47
The Cosmic Fabric 48
Sorrow's Madness 49
VLADIMIR SOLOVYOV (1853-1900) 50
"Below the Sultry Storm" 51
"With Wavering Feet" 52
N. MINSKY (b. 1855) 53
My Temple 55
DMITRY MEREZHKOVSKY (b. 1865) 56
A Prayer 57
The Trumpet Call 58
- The Curse of Love 60
FYODOR SOLOGUB (b. 1863) 61
The Amphora 62
The Dragon 63
" When, Heaving on the Stormy Waters " . . . 64
" Austere the Music of My Songs " 65
The Devil's Swings 66
ZINAIDA HIPPIUS (b. 1869) 68
" I Seek for Rhythmic Whisperings " .... 69
KONSTANTIN BALMONT (b. 1867) 73
" With My Fancy I Grasped " 73
Centuries of Centuries Will Pass 74
In the White Land 75
v Hymn to Fire 76
VALERY BRUSOV (b. 1873) 81
The Tryst 82
"Radiant Ranks of Seraphim" 83
The Fierce Birds 86
"Oh, Cover" 88
Saint Sebastian 89
The Coming Huns 90
IVAN BUNIN (b. 1870) 92
Russian Spring 93
A Song 94
The God of Noon 95
In an Empty House 96
v Flax 97
> VYACHESLAV IVANOV (b. 1866) 98
The Catch 99
The Seeking of Self 102
Narcissus: A Pompeiian Bronze 104
Funeral . 105
The Holy Rose 106
Nomads of Beauty 107
YURGIS BALTRUSHAITIS (b. 1873) 109
The Pendulum no
The Surf 111
MAXIMILIAN VOLOSHIN (b. 1877) 112
Cimmerian Twilight I-III 113, 114, 115
Sonnet XV (From the Sonnet-Cycle "Lunaria") . 116
MIKHAIL KUZMIN (b. 1877) 118
"Now Dry Thy Eyes" 119
" Night Was Done " 120
From Alexandrian Songs 121
GEORGY CHULKOV (b. 1879) 123
" Purple Autumn " 124
^ ALEXANDER BLOK (1880-1921) 126
" Into Crimson Dark " 127
1 The Unknown Woman 128
The Lady Unknown 129
"A Little Black Man" 131
"When Mountain-ash" 133
The Scythians 134
From "The Twelve "19 137
ANDREY BELY (b. 1880) 138
"You Sit on the Bed There" 141
VICTOR HOFMAN (1882-1911) 142
"Still Was the Evening" 143
VASILY BASHKIN (c. 1880-1909) 144
"Upon the Black Brow of a Cliff" . . . .145
SERGEY GORODETZKY (1884-1921) 146
The Birch Tree 149
ANNA AKHMATOVA 150
"Like a White Stone" . 151
"Broad Gold, the Evening" 153
IGOR SEVERYANIN 155
And It Passed by the Sea-Shore 156
A Russian Song 157
Spring Apple-Tree 158
NIKOLAI KLUYEV 159
A Northern Poem 160
An Izba Song 161
LUBOV STOLITZA 162
A Lenten One 163
SERGEI YESENIN 164
"Upon Green Hills" 165
" Hopes Painted by the Autumn Cold " . . . . 166
" In the Clear Cold " 167
Transfiguration: III 168
Z. SHISHOVA 169
" How Strange, Oh God " 170
PIOTR ORESHIN 171
Not by Hands Created 172
ANATOLY MARIENHOF 176
" Savage, Nomad Hordes " 177
Modern Russian literature took its rise in the early
nineteenth century. This was, more or less, the Rus-
sian counterpart of the Elizabethan Age. Energizing
liberal influences were in the air; men's pulses were
stirred by the Napoleonic drama; a national self-con-
sciousness came into being; the winds of a new world
were blowing from widened horizons. And there was
the same coincidence of favorable environment with the
accident of genius. Yet if the English Renaissance found
its expression in drama, it is notable that nascent Russian
literature blossomed in lyricism. England had her
Shakespeare, and Russia had her Pushkin, with a dif-
He is placed in the company of Dante, Shakespeare
and Goethe by his compatriots, yet even they admit that
he lacks the universal significance of his elder peers. He
remains, however, the national poet acknowledged as the
first and perhaps the greatest literary artist of his coun-
try, a figure upon whom more admiration and scholarship
have been lavished than upon any one else. Had he
been accessible to the outside world, its current concep-
tions of the mood and manner of Russian literature would
be different. The Byronism with which he began, early
gave place to a reconciliation with reality and to a classic
sobriety which made Merimee declare him " An Athenian
captive among the Scythians." The intensity of his pas-
sionate nature was governed by a sense of measure and
harmony. His poetry has that quality of normalcy and
health which render it educative, and to the foreigner
uninteresting. The latter may agree with Flaubert that
the Russian master is " flat," and to suspect that his is
the unexciting art whose motto is propria communia
Pushkin was surrounded by a Pleiad of lyricists, whose
work was of a minor order, but was yet distinguished by
a measure of originality. Of these the sombre Baratynsky
is now perhaps best remembered. In a sense Tyutchev
too belonged to this group. A contemporary of Pushkin,
he was under his influence. Yet he survived the master
by many years, and the more significant part of his unique
contribution to Russian poetry was written much later.
Of all the classicists, Tyutchev is most likely to find a
way to the understanding and sympathy of the outside
world. His is a deep and authentic voice. Through his
poetry blows the wind of his thought, as a breeze bellies
a sail to a certain shape. It is a pantheistic philosophy,
instinct with the profound cosmic sympathies of a Chinese
sage on his lonely mountain. His universe was the battle-
ground of light and darkness. Both were native to him.
He did not dismiss the " ancient chaos " with the facile
gesture of tender-minded idealism, but rather saw in it
the dark face of God.
The mantle of Pushkin fell, not upon Tyutchev, who
wrote for posterity, but rather upon Lermontov. He was
an ego-centric creature, with a romantic nostalgia for the
supersensuous. His lyricism is informed with a grace-
ful demonism and a proud pessimism which naturally
endear him to a youthful audience.
Lermontov revolted not against the Czar of all the
Russias, but against the God of heaven and earth. Yet
the growing civic bias made it possible to put a social
interpretation upon the disquietude which pervades his
work. Thus the forensic Nekrasov, who in the next
generation voiced the civic conscience of an epoch of re-
form, is considered to have issued from Lermontov.
Nekrasov's troubled and uneven verse dwelt with the
miseries of the peasant and the proletarian. It cele-
brated the cause of the masses, and made itself the vehicle
for the peccavi of the gentry, aware of its outstanding
debt to the people. The age was also glad to give laurels
to the folk-poets, such as Koltzov and Nikitin.
The sixties and seventies the period in which Nekrasov
flourished harnessed the literary Niagara to political
action. The age felt that life is real, life is earnest, and
that art is not its goal. The permanent abolition of serf-
dom was coincident with the temporary abolition of
aesthetics. The very existence of a socially indifferent
poetry was called into question. In this unfriendly atmos-
phere a group of poets nevertheless carried on the Pushkin
tradition of self-sufficient lyricism. Maikov, Foeth, Alexey
Tolstoy and, to a certain extent, Polonsky, all deriving
from the idealism of the forties, stand out unrelated to
the period in which they wrote. These shared with the
French Parnassians an allegiance to the dogma of art
for art's sake, and Maikov approached their plasticity and
impassivity. ^Esthetes are inimical to revolution, not
because they love justice less, but because they love
beauty more. What defined the isolation of these poets
was the fact that they belonged to the conservative camp.
Foeth developed a great lyrical activity toward the
close of his life, in the eighties. Those were years of
social stagnation and prolific, pale poetry. It was only
in the next decade, when the Yellow Book was blooming
on London bookstalls and the sunflowers on London
lapels, that the first signs of a literary, and primarily lyric
revival showed themselves in Russia. It was preceded by
proclamations, somewhat like a king who is not too sure
of his welcome. The vanguard of theorists included
Volynsky, Minsky and Merezhkovsky. Here, reversing
the natural order, poetics came before poetry. The cham-
pions of modernism revolted against the traditional sub-
servience of literature to social progress. They asserted
the autonomy and primacy of art, and offered the milk
of mysticism to the soul starved on positivist fare. Above
all they preached an individualism, whose watchword was
Fais ce que tu voldras, and which took to its heart Stir-
ner's anarchy and Nietzsche's a-moralism.
Balmont, Brusov and Sologub were the leading poets
who initiated the practice of what Minsky and Merezh-
kovsky had been preaching, and who founded a school,
in the loose sense of the term. This was the symbolist,
or as some prefer to call it, neo-romantic school. They
were clearly inspired by foreign models, and many de-
clared the whole new poetry a warmed-over French dish.
Yet the spontaneous and indigenous character of the
movement is now beyond question, its studied eccentricity
notwithstanding. It was only for a short time that it
showed the earmarks of western decadence, although its
detractors persisted in the term. Anti-social prejudice, a
toying with satanism, and concentration on sex were but
a temporary phase. The decadent aspect of Russian
modernism is best exemplified by Sologub, an exasperated
solipsist, living in a sick, fantasmal world.
The heterogeneity and complexity of the movement can
hardly be exaggerated. Each writer is a law unto him-
self. Yet all share a fevered intensity and the literary
method of symbolism. To the true symbolist the measure
of a verse echoes the song the morning stars sing together.
He posits a correspondence between sensuous and mystic
realities, using imagery as the sign of a remote and
transcendent significance. It remained for the following
generation thus to develop the religious implications of
the theory. As for Balmont, with his fluent spontaneity,
and Brusov, in his more slow and solid achievement, they
are chiefly concerned with problems of form and with the
cult of a beauty founded upon a flight from reality. This
holds good for the sinister magic of Sologub in his early
work. All three, especially Brusov, are conscious crafts-
men, with an authentic musical gift. They have greatly
enriched the medium which they employ.
While the symbolist school united the best talents,
there were of course poets who remained extra muros.
The most important of them is Bunin, a lyricist of rare
economy and sensitiveness to color. He carries on the
^'ussic tradition, remote from the violences and vagaries
f his fellows.
A curious incident in the history of Russian symbolism
is the career of Alexander Dobrolubov. One of the
earliest disciples of the French decadents, he ended as a
sectarian prophet. He lived in a coffin-shaped room,
papered in black, where he sought Baudelaire's " paradis
artifidels" by consuming opium and smoking hashish,
and whence he issued, clad in black even to his eternal
gloves, to preach suicide to his fellow-students. He be-
came in the end a holy vagabond, wearing the coarse
clothes of the Volga peasant, and leading a large mystic
sect. Dobrolubov's evolution is to a certain extent typi-
cal of the development of the symbolist movement. This,
beginning with a revolt against the tyranny of utilitarian
morality, ended with the reassertion of the ineluctable
ethos and a deepened mysticism.
Synchronously with the revolution of 1905 a group of
younger men within the fold began to transvalue the
symbolists' transvaluations, aided and abetted by the older
symbolists themselves. Chief among the newcomers were
Ivanov, Bely, Blok and Voloshin. They were impatient
of the cult of beauty and looked askance at the gambols
of the free individual. Their poetry is passionate meta-
physics, groping toward religious ultimates. Spiritually
deriving from Solovyov and Dostoyevsky, they are en-
gaged with religion and, to a large extent, with the
messianic role of the Russian people. In Ivanov and
professedly in Chulkov, mysticism is wedded to a curious
collectivism. Ivanov declares his verse to be the carven
crystal cup for the sacred wine of communal religious
consciousness. While in France symbolism contented
itself with the part of a literary method, in Russia it
tended to become a philosophy and even an ethics.
Problems of technique as such are no longer in the
foreground. Symbolism is now considered the charac-
teristic of all poetry. Substance is what these sophisti-
cated lyricists are seeking. And so we find them turning
to the imperishable gods of Hellas, wandering down
exotic vistas, exploring with Gorodetzky the native folk-
lore, embracing with Kuzmin the delights of stylization.
A doctrinaire fury rides all these poets. They are in-
veterate preface-writers, and, what is worse, do not leave
their prefaces entirely out of their art, forgetting that
philosophy, in Symons' words, is the dung which lies at
the roots of poetry.
Shortly before the war the symbolist impetus was felt
to have spent itself. There was a general dissatisfaction
with the spirit which informed it. The poets, says a
Russian critic, were tired of plumbing the ultimate depths
of the soul, and of daily ascending the Golgotha of mys-
ticism. After the ecstasies came the desire for the ice-
water of simplicity. No longer expressing mystery in
music, the poets sought the limited, precise, concrete image.
This movement manifested itself in the Acmeist secession.
Grouped around a publishing firm, known as the Guild
of Poets, which has this year been revived, the Acmeists
or Adamists, led by Gumilev, Akhmatova and Gorodetzky,
attacked symbolism, to celebrate raw reality. Proclaim-
ing the primitive vision of a Gauguin, they insisted on
immediate contact with the tangible, visible, audible
world. The coterie did not write much more than its
manifesto, though its method may be discovered in the
work of the later " imazhinist " (imagist) group, of
which Yesenin and Marienhof are representative mem-
bers. These build their poetics upon the concept of the
autonomous image, regarded as the end of all poetry.
One of their number has recently declared that a poem
must be not an organized entity, but rather a succession
of such self-sufficient images, moving as in dreams.
A sensational career awaited the other post-symbolist
development, futurism. It originated with the cubo-
futurists in Moscow in 1911 and a year later the Petro-
grad ego-futurists issued their manifesto. The difference
between them was rather like that between Tweedledum
and Tweedledee, the one hitting everything it could see
when it got' really excited, the other hitting everything
within reach, whether it could see it or not. They hit
out less to epater le bourgeois than professedly to discard
all the canons of art and to destroy toothless Ratio.
Their proclaimed desire was to raze the past and build
the present on nothing. Their poetics provide for a
language consisting of elements having an audible and a
visual, but no intellectual value. This is merely an
ideal which, luckily for the rest of us, their poetry does
not always achieve.
" Let us gorge ourselves with the void," says one of
them. The poetic gift can thrive even on this futile diet.
Through their cacophony is sometimes heard the shrill
and raucous voice of a machine-made age, their distorted
language occasionally mirrors a time which is out of
joint, and their violently eccentric imagery wrests new
meanings from old commonplaces, as in Mayakovsky's
line : " A bald lantern voluptuously takes off the blue
stocking from the street." Naturally, they resist trans-
lation, except in the case of Severyanin, the early leader
of the Petrograd group, whose work is, however, not
Futurism showed no great vitality, and would prob-
ably have shared the fate of a fashion, were it not for
the revolution. Its unabashed iconoclasm, its plebeian
exuberance, may account for its recent vogue. Its man-
nerisms are noticeable in the work of men who do not
strictly adhere to the coterie, such as Oreshin and
It is worth noting that the literature of the revolution
is chiefly verse. The surviving representatives of classi-
cism and symbolism, with the possible exception of An-
drey Bely, continue their work without developing it.
In addition to them and to the irruption of the futurists,
there are the peasant poets, headed by Kluyev, and a
large body of workman poets. The revolution has ex-
tended the class principle to aesthetics and takes special
pains to promote the literary expression of the masses.
Yet proletarian verse is by no means a new phenomenon
in Russia. From 1908 to 1915 fifty volumes of such
verse found their way to publication. The crudity and
naivete of the workmen's poetry produced since the revo-
lution is redeemed by a hard-handed grasp on reality.
The return to realism is the promise of a new develop-
ment in Russian poetry. Like all living things, poetry
endures only through change.
MODERN RUSSIAN POETRY
Alexander Pushkin was born the last year of the eighteenth
century. He died at the age of Byron. Within these thirty-
seven years he crowded the activity of a great and authentic
initiator in literature.
His mother's grandfather was a Negro (or an Arab) who, the
story goes, was bought for Peter the Great at Constantinople
for a bottle of rum, and who married a German. His father
was descended from an ancient Russian family. The poet,
inheritor of these curious strains, was educated chiefly by
ineffectual French tutors and an old Russian nurse. At eighteen
he graduated from an aristocratic school at Tsarskoe Selo, an
indifferent scholar, but a writer with a reputation for light and
lewd verse. The next three years he spent at the northern
capital, where " all the vices dance upon the knees of folly."
He was nominally attached to the Foreign Office, but was
chiefly sowing his wild oats. By his liberal velleities and
merciless epigrams he stung the authorities to the Countercheck
Quarrelsome, and the enfant terrible was shipped south and
subsequently to his own estate. During his not too disagree-
able southern exile he divided his time with persistent unfaith-
fulness between the maids and the Muse. Back in Petersburg,
in 1826, he was lionized by the ladies and harassed by the
censors. At thirty-two he married a girl nearly half his age,
with the face of a madonna and the soul of a brainless coquette.
To provide for her needs, the poet worked feverishly, and that
she might be received at court, he secured a court appointment.
Financial cares and domestic worries soon saddened and aged
him. He was destroyed by the aristocratic philistines whose
good graces he half-unwillingly sought. An intrigue, involving
Pushkin's wife and her brother-in-law, Baron Dantes
(D'Anthes), resulted in a duel in which the poet was mortally
wounded, at the age of thirty-seven.
Pushkin's share of this volume is no indication of his relative
significance in the advance of Russian poetry. He is an over-
shadowing figure, and his work is an essential part of Russia's
4 Alexander Pushkin
literary endowment. Yet an anthology which is not primarily
concerned with historic values, and which is addressed to a
foreign audience, can present but a few of his facets to the
reluctant light of a sophisticated intelligence.
Among the glaucous waves that kiss gold Tauris' beaches
I saw a Nereid, as dawn flushed heaven's reaches.
I barely dared to breathe, hid in the olive trees,
While the young demigoddess rose above the seas;
Her young, her swan-white breast above the waters lifting,
From her soft hair she wrung the foam in garlands
" BEHOLD A SOWER WENT FORTH
With freedom's seed the desert sowing,
I walked before the morning star;
From pure and guiltless fingers throwing
Where slavish plows had left a scar
The fecund seed, the procreator;
Oh vain and sad disseminator,
I learned then what lost labors are. . . .
Graze if you will, you peaceful nations,
Who never rouse at honor's horn!
Should flocks heed freedom's invocations?
Their part is to be slain or shorn,
Their dower the yoke their sires have worn
Through snug and sheepish generations.
THREE SPRINGS 1
Three springs in life's unbroken joyless desert
Mysteriously issue from the sands:
The spring of youth, uneven and rebellious,
Bears swift its sparkling stream through sunny lands;
Life's exiles drink the wave of inspiration
That swells the limpid fount of Castaly;
But 'tis the deep, cold wellspring of oblivion
That slakes most sweetly thirst and ecstasy.
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
I dragged my flesh through desert gloom,
Tormented by the spirit's yearning,
And saw a six-winged Seraph loom
Upon the footpath's barren turning.
And as a dream in slumber lies
So light his finger on my eyes,
My wizard eyes grew wide and wary:
An eagle's, startled from her eyrie.
He touched my ears, and lo! a sea
Of storming voices burst on me.
I heard the whirling heavens' tremor,
The angels' flight and soaring sweep,
The sea-snakes coiling in the deep,
The sap the vine's green tendrils carry.
And to my lips the Seraph clung
And tore from me my sinful tongue,
My cunning tongue and idle-worded;
The subtle serpent's sting he set
Between my lips his hand was wet,
His bloody hand my mouth begirded.
And with a sword he cleft my breast
And took the heart with terror turning,
And in my gaping bosom pressed
A coal that throbbed there, black and burning.
Upon the wastes, a lifeless clod,
I lay, and heard the voice of God:
" Arise, oh prophet, watch and hearken,
And with my Will thy soul engird,
Through lands that dim and seas that darken,
Burn thou men's hearts with this, my Word."
IO Alexander Pushkin
VERSES WRITTEN DURING A SLEEPLESS
Sleep I cannot find, nor light:
Everywhere is dark and slumber,
Only weary tickings number
The slow hours of the night.
Parca, jabbering, woman-fashion,
Sleeping night, without compassion,
Life, who stirs like rustling mice,
Why encage me in thy vise?
Why the whispering insistence,
Art thou but the pale persistence
Of a day departed twice?
What black failures dost thou reckon?
Dost thou prophesy or beckon?
I would know whence thou art sprung,
I would study thy dark tongue . . .
Alexander Pushkin II
Here is the long-bided hour: the labor of years is accom-
Why should this sadness unplumbed secretly weigh on
Is it, my work being done, I stand like a laborer, useless,
One who has taken his pay, alien to unwonted tasks ?
Is it the work I regret, the silent companion of midnight,
Friend of the golden-haired Dawn, friend of the gods
of the hearth?
12 Alexander Pushkin
Not by old masters, rich on crowded walls,
My house I ever sought to ornament,
That gaping guests might marvel while they bent
To connoisseurs with condescending drawls.
Amidst slow labors, far from garish halls,
Before one picture I would fain have spent
Eternity: where the calm canvas thralls
As though the Virgin and our Saviour leant
From regnant clouds, the Glorious and the Wise,
The meek and hallowed, with unearthly eyes,
Beneath the palm of Zion, these alone. . . .
My wish is granted : God has shown thy face
To me; here, my Madonna, thou shalt throne:
Most pure exemplar of the purest grace.
" It is a little cup, but it is my own," thus might Baratynsky
sum up the small perfection of his art. He belonged to Pushkin's
school, but was not eclipsed by the master. His ceuvre consists
of one slender volume of lyrics. These are marked by the
originality of the discriminating eclectic, by a strong conscience
for form, and by the obtruding intellection of a born pessimist.
Like most of the Russian litterateurs of the first half of the
nineteenth century, with which he was born, Baratynsky be-
longed to the kept classes. An infringement of the eighth com-
mandment while he was at school (the Corps of Pages) reduced
this son of a senator to a mere private. The experience may
have accented his gloomy temperament. Aside from this, the
outward circumstances of his life, including his marriage, were
happy, and therefore have no history. His last years, however,
were saddened by the consciousness of estrangement from the
14 Yevgeny Baratynsky
King of Heavens! Release
My sick soul to its peace!
For the errors of earth
Send oblivion's dearth ;
To thy stern paradise
Give my heart strength to rise.
Koltzov might best be described as a tame Burns. The
adjective applies to the poetry more than to the poet, though
even here we find a soberer man. He was a cattle-dealer and
the son of a cattle-dealer: a cross between a trader and a
cow-puncher. He spent his life in the sordid surroundings of
his native town, with the exception of a few visits to the two
capitals. There he met the literati of the day, dinnered wi'
lairds, and was stared at in fashionable salons. He returned
with a swollen head, which caused him a great deal of misery
at home. The effect of his intercourse with the intellectuals was
seen to be equally lamentable in his attempts at philosophic
poetry. His last years were embittered by poverty, neglect, and
a tragic love which ended in a lurid disease.
His art maintained his umbilical connection with the people.
He carries on the tradition of the Russian folk-song, whether
the stuff of his lyrics is the works and days of the peasant, or
themes of universal emotional appeal. He uses the free rhythms
of the folk-song and, curiously enough, his favorite metre coin-
cides with that of the Sophoclean choruses. Of his one hundred
and twenty-four poems, three-fourths have been set to music
by some one hundred Russian composers, among whom are
Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakoff.
1 6 Alexey Koltzov
AN OLD MAN'S SONG
I shall saddle a horse,
A swift courser, he,
I shall fly, I shall rush,
As the hawk is keen,
Over fields, over seas,
To a distant land.
I shall overtake there
My young youth again.
I shall make myself spruce
Be a blade again,
I shall make a fine show
For the girls again.
But alas! no road leads
To the past we've left,
And the sun will not rise
For us in the west.
Whether or not the semi-legendary Thomas of Erceldoune,
who received his poetic gift from the fairies, was Lermontov's
ancestor, it is certain that the Russian poet traced his lineage
back to George Learmont of Scotland, who settled in Russia in
the seventeenth century. His grandchildren claimed that they
were descended from that Learmont who fought with Malcolm
Lermontov's immediate heredity was rather poor. His hys-
terical mother died in 1817, when he was three years old,
and he grew up as the bone of contention between his father
and his wealthy, overbearing grandmother. On her estate the
spoiled darling received his early education, of the usual im-
ported type. He was extraordinarily precocious in both love
and literature. Between 1828 and 1832 he had written 300
lyrics, 15 long narrative poems and 3 dramas. He was little
more than a boy when he graduated from a military college at
St. Petersburg, having previously spent two years at the Uni-
versity of Moscow, and plunged into " a life of poetry, drowned
in champagne." His technique as a heart-breaker was only
excelled by his power as a poet, and that, in spite of a repellent
exterior. Upon Pushkin's death Lermontov's obituary poem
brought him rapid fame and exile to the Caucasus. This
region was to the poets of Russia what Italy has been to those
of England. The romantic glamor of the enchanted land suf-
fused Lermontov's work. One of his flames called him a
Prometheus chained to the rocks of the Caucasus, but he was
more like a pendulum swinging between them and the beau
monde of St. Petersburg. He indulged inordinately in the sad-
ism of sarcasm, and was as well hated by the men as he was
loved by the women. Spared by the bullets of the mountaineers,
Lermontov was killed in a duel with an outraged colleague,
only a year older at his death than was John Keats.
Yet this brilliant bully and egotistic rake was, after his own
fashion, a knight of the Holy Grail and a poetic genius such as
rarely graces any language.
1 8 Mikhail Lermontov
Through the heavens of midnight an angel was sped
Who lifted his chant as he fled.
The moon and the clouds and the stars leaned to hear
The song rising holy and clear.
He sang of the spirits, the sinless, the blest,
Who softly in Paradise rest.
Of the gardens of God, and of God was his song,
Ringing true as a heavenly gong.
He bore a young soul to the dark gates of birth,
Toward the travailing, sorrowful earth.
And flying, he sang, and the eager soul heard
The deathless, the unuttered Word.
And the years in the world could but sadden and tire
The soul filled with wondrous desire.
And vainly the dull songs of earth would have stilled
The song wherewith heaven had thrilled.
Mikhail Lermontov 19
THE CUP OF LIFE
We drink life's cup with thirsty lips,
Our eyes shut fast to fears;
About the golden rim there drips
Our staining blood, our tears.
But when the last swift hour comes on,
The light long hid is lit,
From startled eyes the band is gone,
We suffer and submit.
It is not our part to possess
The cup that golden gleamed.
We see its shallow emptiness:
We did not drink we dreamed.
2O Mikhail Lermontov
For all, I thank Thee, I, the meek remitter:
For passion's secret torments without end,
The kiss of venom, and the tears too bitter,
The vengeful enemy, the slanderous friend,
The spirit's ardor on the desert squandered,
For every lash of life's deceiving thong;
I thank Thee for the wastes where I have wandered :
But heed Thou, that I need not thank Thee long.
Mikhail Lermontov 21
FROM "THE DAEMON" (Part I, xv)
On the sightless seas of ether,
Rudderless, without a sail,
Choirs of stars uplift their voices,
Where the mist-waves rise and fail.
Through the hemless fields of heaven
Wander wide and tracelessly
Clouds, unshepherded, unnumbered,
Pale, ephemeral and free.
Hour of parting, hour of meeting,
Neither gladden them, nor fret;
Theirs no yearning toward the future,
Theirs no haunting of regret.
On the grim day of disaster
These remember, worlds away:
Be beyond earth's reach as these are,
And indifferent as they.
22 Mikhail Lermontov
Silent I sit by the prison's high window,
Where through the bars the blue heavens are breaking.
Flecks in the azure, the free birds are playing;
Watching them fly there, my shamed heart is aching.
But on my sinful lips never a prayer,
Never a song in the praise of my charmer;
All I recall are far fights and old battles,
My heavy sword and my old iron armor.
Now in stone armor I hopelessly languish,
And a stone helmet my hot head encases,
This shield is proof against arrows and sword-play,
And without whip, without spur, my horse races.
Time is my horse, the swift-galloping charger,
And for a visor this bleak prison grating,
Walls of my prison are heavy stone armor;
Shielded by cast-iron doors, I am waiting.
Hurry, oh fast-flying Time, fly more quickly!
In my new armor I faint, I am choking.
I shall alight, with Death holding my stirrup,
Then my cold face from this visor uncloaking.
Tyutchev was rediscovered by the moderns and hailed as
the great fore-runner. They found in his mentality and sensi-
bility, as well as in his technique, elements foreign to classic
normalcy, and akin to their own anguished metaphysics and
assthetics. The two hundred short lyrics, which are all the
original poetry he has left us, exhibit the organic coherence
and ordered beauty which belong to fine lyric art. The origi-
nality of his poems consists in that both man's routine passions
and nature's passionless routine are sensed in ultimate, cosmic
Tyutchev's career could not be inferred from his poetry.
This was the by-product of a long and largely conventional
life. He was a sedate bureaucrat in the diplomatic service, a
position which kept him in Muenchen, the German Athens, dur-
ing his best years. He proved the happiness of his marriage
to a Bavarian aristocrat by marrying again shortly after her
death. When he was on the shady side of fifty his career was
seriously injured by a liaison with his daughter's teacher. Dur-
ing the last twenty years of his life he acted as censor, a posi-
tion for which his political views eminently fitted him. He be-
lieved in autocracy, and he prophesied that Orthodox Russia,
at the head of the united Slavs, would be the sacred arc riding
the waves of the western revolutionary deluge.
24 Fyodor Tyutchev
Soft the dove-hued shadows mingle,
Color fades, sound droops to sleep.
Life and motion melt to darkness
Swaying murmurs far and deep.
But the night moth's languid flitting
Stirs the air invisibly:
Oh, the hour of wordless longing;
I in all, and all in me.
Twilight tranquil, brooding twilight,
Course through me, serene and smooth ;
Quiet, languid, fragrant twilight,
Flood all depths, all sorrows soothe,
Every sense in dark and cooling
Grant that I may taste extinction
In the dreaming universe.
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky and Cecil Cowdrey.
Fyodor Tyutchev 2$
"AS OCEAN'S STREAM"
As ocean's stream girdles the ball of earth,
From circling seas of dream man's life emerges,
And as night moves in silence up the firth
The secret tide around our mainland surges.
The voice of urgent waters softly sounds;
The magic skiff uplifts white wings of wonder.
The tide swells swiftly and the white sail rounds,
Where the blind waves in shoreless darkness thunder.
And the wide heavens, starred and luminous,
Out of the deep in mystery aspire.
The strange abyss is burning under us;
And we sail onward, and our wake is fire.
26 Fyodor Tyutchev
Be silent, hidden, and conceal
Whate'er you dream, whate'er you feel.
Oh, let your visions rise and die
Within your heart's unfathomed sky,
Like stars that take night's darkened route.
Admire and scan them and be mute.
The heart was born dumb; who can sense
Its tremors, recondite and tense?
And who can hear its silent cry?
A thought when spoken is a lie.
Uncovered springs men will pollute,
Drink hidden waters, and be mute.
Your art shall inner living be.
The world within your fantasy
A kingdom is that waits its Saul.
The outer din shall still its call,
Day's glare its secret suns confute.
Oh, quaff its singing, and be mute.
x Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
Fyodor Tyutchev 27
The light of autumn evenings seems a screen,
Some mystery with tender glamor muffling. . . .
The trees in motley, cloaked in eerie sheen,
The scarlet leaves that languid airs are ruffling,
The still and misty azure, vaguely far,
Above the earth that waits her orphan sorrow,
And bitter winds in gusty vagrance are
Forerunners of a bleak, storm-driven morrow.
The woods are waning; withered is the sun;
Earth shows the smile of fading, meekly tender
As the high shyness of a suffering one,
In noble reticence of sad surrender.
28 Fyodor Tyutchev
JULY 14, AT NIGHT
Not yet cooled, the windless night
Of July shone strangely still.
Earth lay dim, and fitful light
In the skyey, storm-filled height
Trembled over field and hill.
So might lidded eyes unclose,
And between vast lashes burn
Glances flaming and morose,
Over earth's remote repose,
Mute as lightning, swift and stern.
Fyodor Tyutchev 29
"OH, THOU, MY WIZARD SOUL"
Oh, thou, my wizard soul, oh, heart
That whelming agony immerses,
The threshold of two universes
In cleaving these, tears thee apart.
And so two alien worlds are thine:
Thy day of morbid passionate living,
Thy sleep, vague revelations giving
Of spirits secret and divine.
Then let the tortured bosom beat
With fatal passion and vagary;
The soul is fain, even as Mary,
To cling forever to Christ's feet.
Nekrasov's literary career began with a series of prose pot-
boilers, written while he was starving in St. Petersburg. He
had come to this city as a boy of seventeen in 1838, to follow
the military profession. Against the will of his father, a brute
of an hobereau, the young man preferred the university to the
army, and was forthwith thrown on his own resources. A
penniless hack, he became before long a popular poet and the
thriving publisher of the two greatest radical monthlies in
As a child he had heard the bitter songs of the Volga barge-
towers. In the capital he had lived with filth and famine.
He introduced these elements into his work. Yet though he
suffered with the people in his poems, he enjoyed his prosperity,
in spite of ethical scruples.
His work is marked by a strong social and civic preoccupa-
tion. He declared that this interest interfered with his poetry.
As a matter of fact, his " Muse of Vengeance and Wrath " was
an uncertain creature. He threw untransmuted into his poetry
the raw stuff of satire and feuilleton, of parody and pamphlet.
At his best he can move the reader with his stinging pity
and his passionate self-scorn. He is perhaps chiefly remembered
by his epic: "Who Lives Happily in Russia?", which holds
in its vast frame the very essence of the misery and the thwarted
vigor of the Russian peasant.
Nikolai Nekrasov 31
"THE CAPITALS ARE ROCKED WITH
The capitals are rocked with thunder
Of orators in wordy feuds.
But in the depths of Russia, yonder,
An age-old awful silence broods.
Only the wind in wayside willows,
Coming and going, does not cease;
And corn-stalks touch in curving billows
The earth that cherishes and pillows,
Through endless fields of changeless peace.
32 Nikolai Nekrasov
"MY POEMS! WITNESSES OF UNAVAILING"
My poems! Witnesses of unavailing
Tears for the sad earth shed!
Born in the moment when the soul is failing,
And by the storm-winds bred ;
Against men's hearts you beat with wistful wailing
Like waves on cliffs as dead.
Nikolai Nekrasov 33
THE SALT SONG
(From " Who Can Live Happily in Russia? ")
God's will be done!
No food he'll try,
The youngest son
Look, he will die.
A crust I got,
He touched it not:
"Put salt on it!"
Of salt no shred,
No pinch I see!
" Take flour, instead,"
God whispered me.
Two bites, or one
His mouth he pouts,
The little son.
" More salt !" he shouts.
The bit appears
Again all floured,
And wet with tears
It was devoured.
The mother said
She'd saved her dear. . . .
Salt was the bread
How salt the tear!
Alexey K. Tolstoy
Alexey Tolstoy was a playmate of Alexander II and sat on
the knees of Goethe. Like Ruskin, he made a cult of beauty,
humanitarianism and Italy. In this second fatherland of his,
he began to travel early in life. This courtier-aesthete was a
mystic, with a leaning toward the occult. He regarded the
doctrine of equality as " the foolish invention of 1793," and was
wholly out of sympathy with the materialistic iconoclasts of
his time. Yet he was too much of an aristocrat not to despise
His literary activity began in his middle years. His romantic
interest in the Russian past produced a novel and a dramatic
trilogy. The past is also the playground of Tolstoy's poetry.
This frequently degenerates into pastiche. Nevertheless he was
a major poet among the minor poets, at his best achieving a
neat and graceful lyricism. His technique is unusual in Rus-
sian poetry for its prosodic freedom.
Alexey K. Tolstoy 35
MY LITTLE ALMOND TREE
My little almond tree
Is gay with gleaming bloom,
My heart unwillingly
Puts forth its buds of gloom.
The bloom will leave the tree,
The fruit, unbidden, grow.
And the green boughs will be
By bitter loads brought low.
36 Alexey K. Tolstoy
A well, and the cherry trees swaying
Where bare girlish feet trod the fruit;
Nearby the damp imprint betraying
The stamp of a heavy nailed boot.
Stilled now is the place of their meeting,
But nothing the silence avails:
In my brain passion's echo repeating
Their whispers the splash of the pails.
Alexey K. Tolstoy 37
" OH, THE RICKS "
Oh, the ricks, the ricks,
In the meadows lying,
The eye cannot count
You, for all its trying.
Oh, the ricks, the ricks,
In the green morasses,
What do you guard:
You heaped, heavy masses?
Pray, behold us, good sir:
We were once bright flowers;
But the sharp scythe falls
And the whole field cowers.
We were littered here,
All mown down and shattered,
On the meadowland
From each other scattered.
We have no defense:
Evil guests come clawing
And upon our crests
Perch the black crows, cawing.
On our heads they perch,
The starred heavens dimming.
Here the jackdaws flock,
Their foul hutches trimming.
38 Alexey K. Tolstoy
Oh, thou eagle, hail!
Our far father flying,
Oh, thou fire-eyed, come,
Our bleak foes defying.
Oh, thou eagle, hail!
Lo, our groans grow stronger.
Let the evil crows
Blacken us no longer.
Oh, avenge us swift,
From the heavens swooping;
Punish their vile pride
Till their wings fall drooping;
Till the feathers fly;
Come, a bolt of thunder,
That the steppe's wild wind
Tear them all asunder.
Born of a mother with a literary leaning and an aristocratic
father, who gave up the military career for that of a painter,
Maikov himself was a sculptor who lost his way in literature.
He studied painting in his youth, and indeed his poems show
a clear sense of line and color, but his best work is marked
by a truly sculptural quality. He received a thorough classical
education and in his early work he imitated the Greek and
Roman masters. Generally speaking, he yields all too easily
to the indirections of erudition and to the Protean pleasures of
promiscuous translation. It is in the classical genre that he
achieves a small excellence. His finest craftsmanship is shown
in enamels and cameos, and in clay medallions, but he has
neither the paganism of Gautier nor the sensitive sophistication
of Regnier. Maikov's is a baptized Pan and a feigning Bacchus.
His later work was dominated by a nationalistic bias which
opposed the chosen Russian people to " the rotten West." A
typical aesthete, Maikov found himself in the conservative camp.
For nearly half a century he served his monarch as a censor.
The antinomy of east and west, of Christianity and paganism,
viewed with a cold objectivity, superseded his interest in the
antique world. This is the pivotal idea of his greatest narra-
tive poem, the tragedy of " The Two Worlds."
40 Apollon Maikov
Idly I cut me a reed by the shore where the sea heaves
Dumb and forgotten it lay in my simple, my wind-beaten
Once an old traveler passed who remained for the night
in our dwelling,
(Foreign his dress and his tongue, an old man who was
strange to our region.)
Seeing the reed, he retrieved it, and lopping and piercing
Sweetly his lips he applied to the holes that he fashioned :
Swiftly the reed-voice awoke, till the noise of the sea
breathed within it;
Thus would wild Zephyros blow, were he suddenly
ruffling the waters,
Fingering lightly the reed-stems and flooding the banks
with the sea-sound.
Apollon Maikov 41
" UPON THIS WILD HEADLAND "
Upon this wild headland, crowned meanly with indigent
And withering bush and the pitiful green of the pine-
The aged Meniskos, a sorrowful fisherman laid
His son who had perished. His youth the sea, motherwise,
That sea whose wide lap took him back, who resistlessly
In death, and who carefully carried the young body shore-
Then mourning Meniskos went forth, and beneath the
He dug him a grave, a plain stone he set for a mark on
And hung overhead a coarse net he had woven of
A fisherman's wreath to be poverty's bitter memento.
42 A poll on Maikov
" Golden rain ! Golden rain ! out of the sky !"
Children sing out and run after the rain.
" Quiet, my children, we'll reap it again,
Only we'll gather the gold in the grain
In the full granaries fragrant with rye."
It is said that Foeth, like the nightingale, sang only at dawn
and at sunset. Between 1840 and 1856 he published three
volumes of poetry. The following two decades he devoted to
the pleasures and profits of a gentleman farmer. He waxed
fat and prosperous. His famous apple-cakes were sent to no
less a friend than Alexander III. On the road to the ripe old
age of three score and ten, the poet superseded the pomeshchik
and paid court to the Muse with four volumes of verse.
Although an admirer and translator of Schopenhauer, Foeth
enjoyed the distinction of being one of the few men who were
actually happy in Russia. He had an Horatian serenity, and
the aesthete's indifference to society's ills. These elements in
his character alone are reflected in his poetry, which is written
in major, yet has withal the ethereal, insubstantial quality of
dream experience. His lyrics are invested with a rarefied sen-
suousness, a keen feeling for life's cosmic context, and a domi-
nating interest in melody. Tchaikovsky, who set many of his
poems to music, likened Foeth to Beethoven.
44 Afanasy Shenshin-Foeth
"WHISPERS. TIMID BREATHING"
Whispers. Timid breathing. Trilling
Of a nightingale.
Heaving silver waters rilling
In the quiet vale.
Night's dim light and shadows dreaming
Through the haze of space.
Moods like faery lanterns gleaming
On the dearest face.
Smoky clouds show roses sleeping,
Amber lights and fawn.
Kisses soft, and softer weeping.
And the dawn, the dawn!
Afanasy Shenshin-Foedh 45
THE AERIAL CITY
At daybreak there spread through the heavens
Pale clouds like a turreted town:
The cupolas golden, fantastic,
White roofs and white walls shining down.
This citadel is my white city,
My city familiar and dear,
Above the dark earth as it slumbers,
Upon the pink sky builded clear.
And all that aerial city
Sails northward, sails softly, sails high;
And there on the height, some one beckons,
But proffers no pinions to fly.
46 Afanasy $henshin-Foeth
Calm Nature's idle spy, I follow
In joy her pathways; free and fond,
I watch the arrow-winged swift swallow
Who curves above the dusking pond.
It dashes forward, lightly skimming
The glassy surface, half in fear
Of alien clutching waters dimming
The lightning wings before they veer.
And once again the same quick daring,
And once again the same dark stream. . . .
Is not this flight our human faring?
Is not this urge our human dream?
Thus I, frail vessel, am forbidden
To take the foreign road, and dip
To scoop a drop ; the ways are hidden
Of alien streams I may not sip.
The routine of Polonsky's uneventful life was compounded
of teaching, editorial work and long years of service in the
censorship department. It is true that he traveled abroad and
spent some years in the Caucasus, but this did not interrupt the
even tenor of his ways.
He was a prolific fiction writer, yet it is as a poet that he
lives in the memory of his compatriots. His poetry itself has
been charged with being " lukewarm and neither cold nor hot."
It lacks, it has been said, that cosmic nostalgia and civic con-
sciousness which belong to Russian poetry. Indeed Polonsky's
poetic effigy is rather unheroic and indistinct in outline. Yet
he has the virtues of his defects. His work is distinguished by
its homeliness. It keeps to the lighted circle of our familiar
and familial life, and foregoes power and passion for intimacy
.8 Yakov Polonsky
THE COSMIC FABRIC *
This vast web, of Nature's weaving,
Is God's garment, so 'tis said.
In that fabric I a living,
I a still unbroken thread.
And the threads run swiftly, never
Halting, yet if once they sever,
Seer or sage shall not suffice
Then the parted strands to splice.
For the Weaver so will veil them
That (let him who may bewail them)
None the ends shall ever find,
Nor one broken thread rebind.
Ceaselessly the threads are breaking,
Short, ah short will be my span!
Meanwhile, at His fabric's making
Toils the cosmic Artisan,
Curious patterns still designing,
Wave and crested hill defining,
Steppe and pasture, cloud and sky,
Wood and field of golden rye.
Though with care the wise may scan it,
Flawless since that Hand began it,
Smooth and fine with fair accord
Shines the garment of the Lord!
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky and Cecil Cowdrey.
Yakov Polonsky 49
When, clinging to your lidded coffin,
I saw you, love, on your last journey go,
No sobs my maddened heart could soften,
And I seemed dead, like you, below.
Yours was the grave men see so often:
Your small frame fitted snugly, so ;
With leaden stupor blinded, I beheld it
Vanish, I heard the clods' soft blow.
My coffin was not thus but spacious,
And gay with leaves and a blue pall in state.
And fastened to it glared the sun of mid-day:
A gilded, gawdy coffin-plate.
Your coffin disappeared beneath wet earth and gravel,
But mine alas! still glittered mockingly. . . .
An orphaned soul and widowed, I let my sad eyes travel
About me, my heart's heart, and I could see
How, buried deep in my resplendent coffin,
And bearing death within me, I would sue
For happiness now lost forever;
I knew my nothingness, my thirst for you.
I longed to break the spell of numbness
Lay waste my living tomb, wrench back its bars,
To tear aside the graveclothes of the heavens,
To stamp upon the sun and scatter wide the stars,
And dash across this endless graveyard
Where dead worlds fill the graves,
To find your dwelling where no memories languish,
To Death's void galley chained like sullen slaves.
. Vladimir Solovyov
Coming from a family of scholars and churchmen, Solovyov
was himself a mystic and visionary: an alien seed in an exor-
cised age. He was a cross between a Bohemian and a lay
monk, whose asceticism only emphasized his powerfully erotic
nature. A spirit dedicated to the creation of the greatest philo-
sophical system which Russia has given to the world was fain
to express itself also in poetry. His one slender volume of
lyrics has the quality of soaring spirituality, and is generally
engaged with a supersensuous reality, occasionally broken by
irruptions of spasmodic comedy. It is largely centered about
the concept of the Eternal Feminine, which also plays an im-
portant part in his grandiose religious system. He conceives
it not as Aphrodite, but rather as Sophia: Divine Wisdom.
This feminine principle materialized itself for the mystic
in a Dantesque experience. In a reminiscential poem written
eight years before his death, he relates how, as a boy of nine,
he first glimpsed his Eternal Mate. This was in Moscow; he
next sees her in the reading-room of the British Museum thir-
teen years later, as he bends over volumes of abstruse mystical
literature. She bids him follow her to Egypt. It is a bio-
graphic fact that the young Dozent traveled across the con-
tinent to Cairo, and went afoot into the desert, where he beheld
his beatific vision for the last time.
" BELOW THE SULTRY STORM "
Below the sultry storm that seemed to lower,
An alien force, again I heard the call
Of my mysterious mate: the prisoned power
Of old dreams flared and flickered in its fall.
And with a cry of horror and of dolor
As of an eagle in an iron vise
My spirit shook its cage in quivering choler,
And tore the net, and issued to the skies.
And up behind the clouds, unswerving, bearing,-
Before the miracles a flaming sea
Within the shining sanctum briefly flaring,
It vanished into white infinity.
52 Vladimir Solovyov
"WITH WAVERING FEET"
With wavering feet I walked where dawn-lit mists were
To find the shores of wonder and of mystery.
Dawn struggled with the final stars, frail dreams were
While unto unknown gods my morning lips were crying
The prayers that my dream-imprisoned soul had whispered
The noon is cold and candid, the road winds on severely,
And through an unknown land once more my journey lies.
The mist has lifted now, and the stark eye sees clearly
How hard the mountain-road that rises upward sheerly,
How distant looms the dream the prescient heart de-
Yet onward with unfaltering feet I shall be going
Toward midnight, onward toward the shore of my desires,
Where on a mountain-height, new stars its glory showing,
My promised temple waits, with plinth and pillar glow-
Beaten about with flame of white, triumphal fires.
(Pseudonym of Nikolai Vilenkin; born 1855)
The son of poor Jewish villagers, Minsky was, among other
things, tutor, lawyer, and bank employee, before he emigrated
to Paris in 1905, at the age of fifty, where he has lived as
newspaper correspondent and litterateur ever since. He had
previously lived abroad, and was abreast of European literary
His ideological and poetic career has been no less kaleido-
scopic. Beginning as a poet insistent upon civic virtues and art
as criticism of life, within some ten years Minsky became the
prophet of a-moralism, decadence, symbolism, and the champion
of Bacchic beauty. Early in the twentieth century he joined
with sophisticated Orthodox priests and lay God-seekers in
founding a society for the promotion of a new religious con-
sciousness, himself preaching a nebulously negative, mystic
doctrine of " meonism," affectionately envisaging a new
The revolution of 1905 inspired his Muse briefly to Marxian
hymns, and helped him to his Parisian exile. Here, in addition
to his other work, he wrote a dramatic trilogy. Minsky had a
weakness for manifestos, of which his poetry was not always
a successful illustration. It is only his later work, with its in-
creased technical skill, that achieves the bodying forth of his
54 N. Minsky
She lies, opening her teats, strong, swollen, wide,
And at her breasts, their equal gift bestowing,
Mad Nero and meek Buddha clutch, unknowing,
As clinging twins who suckle side by side.
She holds two vessels, whence, forever flowing,
The streams of Life and Death serenely glide.
She breathes and wreaths of stars are lit, and bide,
She breathes anew: they fly like sere leaves blowing.
She looks ahead with cold unseeing eyes;
She cares not though she bear or cause to perish;
The children whom she nurtures she will cherish,
But when she weans them, every claim denies.
Evil and Good gather them in thereafter
And play the cosmic game with idle laughter.
Who rears a temple, rears two monuments:
His own and the destroyer's. They who build
Accept Herostratos' arbitraments:
And to the torch the chisel's work is willed.
Both will stand firm before posterity,
And equal glory Fame to each will lend.
But thou, my air-domed temple, shalt not be
Mocked by the vengeance of the general end.
On an abyss of ruin is thy lease,
Thou'rt in the furnace of negation fired;
n thee the hymns of solace shall not cease:
With sorrow winged, by calm despair inspired.
Thee, ^gioned sufferings guard, in iron mail,
And in their vanguard Death, who shall prevail.
Merezhkovsky had every opportunity of study and travel
afforded the son of a comfortably circumstanced, bureaucratic
family. He made his pilgrimage to the seats of the antique
Mediterranean culture, and the Parthenon brought him, like
Renan, to his knees. Yet this devout and learned Hellenist is
much of a lay theologian. He has constructed a professedly
mystical, but actually rationalistic religion, which dominates all
his work. The synthesis of paganism and Christianity, of flesh
and spirit, which is his religion of "the Third Testament," is
the Procrustean bed of both his brilliant criticism and his vast
historical novels. In the latter his method is chiefly that of an
historical mosaicist. His trilogy is accessible to the English
reader, as well as some of his critical work, notably a part of
his remarkable study on Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.
His prose forms the bulk of his writings. As a poet, Merezh-
kovsky was one of the initiators of the modernist movement,
but he counts mainly as the champion of their poetics. His own
lyrical work is largely ineffectual and imitative of men as curi-
ously alien to him as Baudelaire, Poe, and Nietzsche. Against
a background of melancholy pieces, expressing metaphysical
ennui and cold intellection, one finds some poems informed with
spiritual beauty and religious intensity.
\Dmitry Merezhkovsky 57
Cast prostrate, in mourning,
Grief in a gust
Flings us, dust upon dust.
We desire not, we dare not,
We believe not, we care not,
No wisdom has worth.
God, do thou dower us,
Kindle, empower us,
Give of thy mirth.
From the languor that clings
Give us wings ! Give us wings !
Wings of thy Spirit.
58 Dmitry Merezhkovsky
THE TRUMPET CALL
Over earth awakes a whirring,
And a rustling, and a stirring,
Trumpet-voices fill the skies:
" Lo, they call us. Brothers, rise!"
" No. The darkness holds unshaken.
I will sleep, and not awaken.
Do not rouse me. Do not call.
Do not strike the coffin-wall."
" Now you dare not sleep. Resounding
Sternly, the last trump is sounding.
They are rising from the tomb.
As from the maternal womb
Of the opened earth forth-flinging,
From their graves the dead are springing."
" No, I cannot. All unuttered
My words died. My eyes are shuttered.
I shall not believe their lies.
I shall not, I cannot rise!
Brother, I am ashamed and shrinking,
Dust, corruption, rotting, stinking!"
" Brother, God has seen our prison.
All shall wake, and all be risen.
All shall yet be judged by Him.
Cherubim and seraphim
Dmitry Merezhkovsky 59
High the holy Throne are bearing!
Here our heavenly King is faring.
Brother, he must live who dies.
Glad or grieving, thou shalt rise."
60 Dmitry Merezhkovsky
THE CURSE OF LOVE
With heavy anguish, hopeless straining,
The bonds of love I would remove.
Oh, to be loosed from their enchaining!
Oh, freedom, only not to love!
The soul that shame and fear are scourging
Crawls through a mist of dust and blood.
From dust, great God, my spirit purging,
Oh, spare me from love's bitter flood!
Is pity's wall alone unshaken?
I pray to God, I cry in vain,
More weary, by all hope forsaken;
Resistless love grows great again.
There is no freedom, unforgiven,
We live as slaves, by life consumed ;
We perish, tortured, bound and driven,
Promised to death, and to love doomed.
(Pseudonym of Fyodor Teternikov; born 1863)
In Sologub the sick fantast thumbed his nose at the respectable
schoolmaster. One would expect neither in the son of a tailor
and a peasant woman, who had grown up in the house where
his widowed mother was a servant. For ten years after his
graduation from Normal School the young man taught in the
provinces, learning to know the Main Streets of Russia, which
were to furnish the stuff of his prose. At the age of twenty-
nine he transplanted himself to St. Petersburg, where his un-
canny verse and short stories gave him the entree to the mod-
ernists' circle. In 1907 he retired from pedagogy, and devoted
himself entirely to literature. A few years later his com-
plete works were published in twenty volumes, five of which
were poetry, the remainder fiction and drama. He is a stay-
at-home, and has remained one, the revolution notwithstanding.
If Sologub did not exist, it would be necessary to invent
him. The decadent gesture, which was a pose or a purpose in
others, is bis natural attitude. He sees the universe as a
ghastly menagerie in which the beasts have become wonted to
their own stench. From this he escapes to a world of impos-
sible imaginings, and fills his isolation with liturgies to his own
ego, hymns to the devil, hosannahs to death. His unearthly
world is fevered with fleshly lusts. In his lucid moments, how-
ever, he achieves the charm of a Blake-like innocence, and his
hemlock is mixed with the honey of an enchanting music. His
poetry is the core of his work. His prose is fantastic and Poe-
esque, yet in one work at least, notably " The Little Demon,"
he follows the Russian realistic tradition of revealing human
nature's repugnant depths.
62 Fyodor Sologub
In a gay jar upon his shoulder
The slave morosely carries wine.
His road is rough with bog and boulder,
And in the sky no starlights shine.
Into the dark with stabbing glances
He peers, his careful steps are slow,
Lest on his breast as he advances
The staining wine should overflow.
I bear my amphora of sorrow,
Long brimming with the wine it hides;
There poison for each waiting morrow
Ferments within the painted sides.
I follow secret ways and hidden
To guard the evil vessel, lest
A careless hand should pour unbidden
Its bitterness upon my breast.
Fyodor Sologub 63
Evil dragon in the zenith fiercely glowing,
Filaments of flame across the heavens throwing,
Singeing all the valley with a heat that scorches,
From the deep, dark quiver I will pluck an arrow
Tipped with subtle poison that shall find thy marrow:
All too early flourish thy triumphal torches.
I shall draw my bow in valiant retribution,
I, executor of ruthless execution,
And thy groaning answer my glad ears shall cherish
As I speed the sudden doom long overhanging,
And the arrow whizzes with a brazen twanging.
Thou shalt fade, thou evil dragon, thou shalt perish.
64 Fyodor Sologub
"WHEN, HEAVING ON THE STORMY
When, heaving on the stormy waters,
I felt my ship begin to sink,
I prayed, " Oh, Father Satan, save me,
Forgive me at death's utter brink!
" If you will save my soul embittered
From perishing before its hour,
The days to come, the nights that follow
I vow to vice, I pledge to power."
The Devil forthwith snatched and flung me
Into a boat; the sides were frail,
But on the bench the oars were lying
And in the bow an old gray sail.
And landward once again I carried
My outcast soul, bereft of kin,
Upon its sickly vicious sojourn
My body and its gift of sin.
And I am faithful, Father Satan,
Unto my evil hour's vow,
When from my drowning ship you saved me
And when I prayed you guide the prow.
To you descend my praises, Father,
No day from bitter blame exempt.
O'er worlds my blasphemy shall tower;
And I shall tempt and I shall tempt.
Fyodor Sologub 65
"AUSTERE THE MUSIC OF MY SONGS"
Austere the music of my songs:
The echo of sad utterance fills them,
A bitter breath, far-wafted, chills them ;
And is my back not bent to thongs?
The mists of day on darkness fall;
The vainly promised land I follow
Upon a road the shadows swallow ;
The world rears round me like a wall.
At times from that far land the vain
Faint voice will sound like distant thunder.
Can long abeyance of a wonder
Obliterate the long bleak pain?
66 Fyodor Sologub
THE DEVIL'S SWINGS
Below a pine's rough shadow,
Where loud the river sings,
The hairy-handed devil
Pushes his devilish swings.
He swings, and gives a crow,
To and fro
To and fro
The boards creak, bending low,
The taut rope rubbing slow
Against the heavy boughs.
The board sways back, and bracing,
With a long creak swings wide,
The devil, still grimacing,
Guffaws and holds his side.
I tremble to let go;
To and fro
To and fro
I sway and cling, but no,
My languid glances grow
Fast where the devil tows.
Above the looming pine
The blue fiend's sniggers sting:
" You found the swings so fine,
Well, devil take you, swing! "
Fyodor Sologub 67
Below the shaggy pine
They squeak and whirl and sling:
" You found the swings so fine?
Well, devil take you, swing ! "
The fiend will not release
The board that hangs too steep
Till I am thrust toward peace
By the dark hand's dread sweep.
Until the hemp turns round
Too long, and is worn free,
Until the broad black ground
Comes flying up to me.
Above the pine I'll fling
And bore into the mire.
Then swing, devil, swing
Higher, higher, higher!
(Mme. Dmitry Merezhkovsky; born 1869)
Poetry is not woman's work in Russia. Zinaida Hippius, the
wife of Dmitry Merezhkovsky, is one of the few who carry it
on. She has written a great deal of bad fiction, some partisan
criticism, rather indifferent dramas, and her poetry is not un-
exceptionable. Soon after her literary marriage she joined the
Petersburg symbolists, and with her husband was one of the
founders of the Religious Philosophical Society. A weakness
for religious discussion and a theosophic bias have done much
damage to both her prose and her verse. Her later poetry,
however, is interesting as the expression of her difficult and
distinctive personality. She has the quality of burning ice,
hiding under contemptuous ennui her passion for the impos-
sible. In any event, she is a virtuoso of verse, whose mastery
of tone-color and metric pattern is wholly admirable.
She is at present engaged, together with her husband, in writ-
ing hymns of hate against the Bolsheviki, from the bitter secu-
rity of the Diaspora.
Zinaida Hip plus 69
I SEEK FOR RHYTHMIC WHISPERINGS "
I seek for rhythmic whisperings
Where noises bandy
For life I listen wistfully
In footless banter.
I cast wide nets and tentative
In lakes of sorrow.
I go toward final tenderness
By pathways sordid.
I look for dewdrops glistering
In falsehood's gardens.
I save truth's globules glistening,
From dust-heaps garnered.
I fain would fathom fortitude
Through years of wormwood
And pierce the mortal fortalice,
Yet live, a worldling.
My cup, through ways impassable,
To bear, untainted;
By tenebrous bleak passages
To joy attaining.
70 Zinaida Hip plus
A shameless thing, of every vileness capable,
It is as drab as dust, as earthly dust.
I perish of a nearness inescapable ;
Its fatal coils about my limbs are thrust.
A shaggy poulp, embracing me, and pricking me,
And as a serpent cold against my heart,
Its branching scales are poisoned arrows sticking me ;
Worse than their bite : repulsion's horrid smart.
Oh, were its sting a veritable knife in me!
But it is flaccid, clumsy, still and numb.
Thus sluggishly sucking the very life in me,
A torpid dragon, dreadful, deaf, and dumb.
With stubborn rings it winds in mute obscurity
And clings caressingly, its purpose whole.
And this dead thing, this loathsome black impurity,
This horror that I shrink from is my soul.
Zinaida Hip plus 71
Thou queen of all serenity,
Soul of my soul, most chaste,
I summon thee, divinity,
I summon thee, make haste!
But to the tryst thy offering
Shall not be brought alone.
My guilt will come, my suffering,
My sin will lift its moan.
Before thy heart insulted so,
In shame my head will sink;
And I, who once exulted so,
My humble tears shall drink.
Forgive me that diurnity
Is all my love could dower ;
That not for all eternity,
I made thee for an hour.
Alone my will hath kindled here
Thy being from the void.
And thou shalt soon have dwindled here,
By my sole will destroyed.
As I, thou shalt grow tremulous,
Till all my strength is gone,
To fall, of silence emulous,
Balmont revived the tradition of the wandering minstrel. He
traveled more widely than the old-fashioned troubadour and
also more comfortably. His journeys carried him to Mexico
and Egypt, to India and the South Seas, and winds from these
exotic lands blow through his songs. His stay abroad was
somewhat of an exile, as certain political poems written in 1906
barred him from Russia. This was a recrudescence of youth-
ful political ardor, which, in his student years, sent him to
prison for a short time, but which burned itself out early. He
returned home in 1913, where he remained through the war and
the revolution, till in 1920 he shook the dust of communism from
Of late years, his reputation, which was enormous about a
decade ago, has been on the wane. Yet his place as a great
poet and as the leader of Russian modernism is assured to him
in the opinion of his compatriots. He brought to Russian liter-
ature a spontaneous lyricism and a didacticism of joy which,
while emancipating poetry from its gloom and social bias, failed
of intensity, imagery, and intellection. What impressed his
public was his vociferous aestheticism and a prolific versatility
in subject-matter. He has certainly contributed to the language
by his rhythmic inventions. His range includes poems about
the colors, children's verse, abstruse mythology, adaptations of
Russian folk-songs and spells, hymns to the elements, and, above
all, pure lyrics. He is a veritable Narcissus of the ink-pot, to
use a bon-mot of Tyutchev's. The " Hymn to Fire " is given
here, not for its quality, but solely as a typical example of Bal-
mont's manner. He has done a rare service to Russian letters
by translating the poetry of many languages, including the
Scandinavian. He has practically made an anthology of Eng-
lish verse, and also gave to Russia a partial Whitman and a
complete Shelley. Like Ezra Pound, he takes pleasure in
flaunting an obscure linguistic erudition. His fecundity, one
fears, has survived most of his other faculties.
Konstantin Balmont 73
" WITH MY FANCY I GRASPED " l
With my fancy I grasped at the vague shadows straying,
At the vague shadows straying where the daylight had
I ascended a tower, and the stairway was swaying,
And the stairway was swaying underneath my light tread,
And the higher I climbed, ever clearer were rounded,
Ever clearer were rounded dreaming hilltops aglow ;
And from Heaven to Earth twilight voices resounded,
Twilight voices resounded from above and below.
And the higher I rose, strange horizons defining,
Strange horizons defining, did the summits appear;
And my eyes as I looked were caressed by their shining,
Were caressed by their shining, their farewell, sad and
Now the night had appeared; Earth in darkness lay
Earth in darkness lay dreaming, like a slumbering star,
While the smoldering sun, his dim embers still gleaming,
His dim embers still gleaming, shone for me from afar.
I had learned to ensnare the vague shadows far straying,
The vague shadows far straying, where the daylight had
Ever higher I rose, and the stairway was swaying,
And the stairway was swaying underneath my light tread.
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky and Cecil Cowdrey.
74 Konstantin Balmont
CENTURIES OF CENTURIES WILL PASS
Long centuries of centuries will pass, unsighted
Millenniums as locusts in deathy clouds descend,
And in the muttering of centuries affrighted
The same enduring firmament will watch the end.
The dumb, dead firmament that God will not
Who breathes Eternity behind the farther skies,
Beyond the fading of the last star's last slow ember,
Beyond the utter threshold words may scrutinize.
Forever cold, that starry desert, clouds out-topping,
Is flung forth, alien to the end, on space,
When tearing comet-fires will crumble with it, dropping
As dumbly burning tears from a despairing face.
IN THE WHITE LAND
The candid psalm of Silence rises whitely burning,
The icy wastes are lit with sunset's radiant yearning.
The drowsy elements in yawning vistas freeze,
And voiceless are the argent Polar liturgies.
Above the sea of whiteness, crimson curtains falling;
No fields or forests here, clear crystal shines appalling.
White altars stretch beneath the changeless icy skies,
A prayer, not suppliant, a psalm, not voiced, arise.
76 Konstantin Balmont
HYMN TO FIRE
Oh, fire who purgeth us
In fate-kindled strife,
Thy beauty ruleth us,
Shining with life !
Still and meek in the glow of a taper in church,
But in riot tumultuous-tongued,
Unmoved by wild prayers, multi-faced,
Shot with color in walls overthrown,
Mad with passion, and nimble and gay,
So triumphantly beautiful
That my eyes are alight with thy joy
Though thou feed on my own,
O fair Fire, all my dreams are devoted to thee!
Thou art Protean-faced.
Thou art smokily crimson
In the bonfires' roar.
Thou art as a flower of terror with petals of flame,
A bright mane of radiant hair.
In the tremulous flame of a taper thou burn'st
First in blue, then in shuddering gold.
In the silence of midsummer lightnings thou wak'st,
Burning coldly in storm-burdened clouds,
Eerily livid and dark.
Konstantin Balmont 77
In the thunder that crashes, the chanting of rain,
Thou art writ in the lightning's brief hieroglyphs,
In a quick broken flash
Or a long mighty shaft,
Now a ball with a nimbus of air all aglow
Where the swift-running gold
Is with scarlet besprent.
Thou art in the crystal of stars, in the comets' strong urge.
Sun-sent, thou dost enter the chambers of plants
With the gift of a quickening warmth.
Thou workest, thou wakest the secret of sap :
Flaming up in a scarlet carnation,
Pale gold in the whispering corn,
Or carelessly flung in a lithe drunken vine.
Thou art lying in wait :
As a spark in the night
So thou leapest elate.
Thou art still in thy flight.
Soon thy glow shall abate,
But alive thou art great,
Than thy beauty is nothing more strange or more bright.
I shall chant thy high praises forever!
O sudden, O subtle, O terrible Fire!
Thy work is the melting of metals ;
By thy aid are they fashioned and forged:
The ponderous horse-shoes;
The resounding and bright-bladed scythes:
That mow and that reap,
That mow and that reap;
78 Konstantin Balmont
Many circlets for lily-white fingers,
For ring-bounded lives,
For ring-fettered years,
As with lips growing cold the word ' love '
Thou Greatest the tools and machines
That shake mountains and shatter and smite,
The tools that find deep-buried gold, the keenness of
weapons that kill.
Unto thee, omnipresent and sovereign, my dreaming I
I am even as thou.
Thou dost light, thou dost burn, thou dost strive,
Thou art 'live, thou art 'live !
Of old a winged dragon thou wert, to the altar didst
Thence to ravish the bride.
And a fiery guest, a consoler who warmed to the bone
The young wife left alone.
O brilliant, O burning, O biting, O fierce,
In thy flame all the colors arise.
Thou art crimson and yellow, thy gleaming doth pierce
With the glow of chameleon gold and the scarlet that
lights autumn skies.
Thou art as a diamond with facets that shine,
As the feline caress of soft eyes that are heady as wine,
As the wave in its ecstasy breaking, an emerald line.
Like the leaf's iridescence agleam with reiterant Springs
In the dewdrop that trembles and swings.
Konstantin Balmont 79
Like the green dream of fireflies kindled at night,
Like the will-o'-the-wisp in the haze,
Like the dark, scalloped clouds the grave evening has
gilded with light,
That have spread forth their mourning upon the dim face
of the smoldering days.
I remember, O Fire,
How thy flames once enkindled my flesh,
Among writhing witches caught close in thy flame-woven
How, tortured for having beheld what is secret,
We were flung to the fire for the joy of our sabbath.
But to those who had seen what we saw
Yea, Fire was naught.
Ah, well I remember
The buildings ablaze where we burned
In the fires we lit, and smiled to behold the flames wind
About us, the faithful, among all the faithless and blind.
To the chanting of prayers, the frenzy of flame,
We sang thy hosannahs, oh strength-giving Fire:
I pledged love to thee from the pyre !
Oh, Fire, I know
That thy light with an ultimate splendor our being shall
It shall flare up before eyes that Death fain would finally
With swift knowledge it burns, and with joy heaven-high
At the vastness of vistas unfolding afar.
80 Konstantln Balmont
Who has summoned those visions to being? And why?
Who has rayed them in colors befitting a star?
Beyond life is the answer.
Oh thou heavenward heart of the element ever in flight,
On my twilight horizon, let Death, necromancer,
Shed perpetvr.l light!
Brusov's biography coincides with his bibliography. He has
filled his life with the labors of a curious-minded poet and
a sensitive erudite. In 1913, at the age of forty, he began
publishing the complete edition of his works in twenty-five
volumes. In addition to poetry, original and translated, it in-
cludes two novels, tales, dramas, and critical work. His tales
and dramas have a timeless, abstract quality, a curious com-
bination of the Wellsian and the Poe-esque. His two large
novels are marvelous studies in the archzeology of the soul,
restoring as they do the psyche of the Roman decadence and
of Germany's dying Middle Ages.
Before he came of age he fell under the spell of the French
symbolists and his argosy began by sailing under their colors.
His European years sharpened these sympathies. He tried to
transplant the French vers libre into Russian soil, and among
other things, an anthology of French lyrics of the nineteenth
century bears witness to his Gallic apprenticeship. Indeed, he
achieved a leading place among the Russian symbolists, becom-
ing an editor of their Moscow organ (Vesy: The Balance).
Yet although he adopted all the manners and mannerisms of
the neo-romantic reaction, such as aversion to reality, violent
eroticism and extreme individualism, by temperament Brusov is
more of a Parnassian. His later work shows a gravitation to-
ward a soberer and more objective conception of art. His
craftsmanship is careful and conscious, whether he wanders
down the ages, dedicating a line to every god. or traces the
pattern of his own moods, or, like his master Verhaeren, finds
a rhythm for the voices of the city. According to Gautier's
precept, he works "dans le bloc resistant,'' He has an eye for
imagery and an ear trained to complex orchestration.
The revolution has not exiled Brusov, and he is laboring to
preserve the continuity of Russia's culture. In a literary capac-
ity he holds an important Government post
$2 Valery Brusov
THE TRYST 1
In the land of Ra the flaming, by the shores of Nile's slow
waters, where the roofs of Thebes were seen,
In the days of yore you loved me, as dark Isis loved
Osiris, sister, friend and worshiped queen!
And the pyramid its shadow on our evening trysts would
Oh, the mystery remember of our meeting in the temple,
in the aisle of granite, dim and straight,
And the hour when, lights extinguished, and the sacred
dances broken, each to each was sudden mate;
Our caresses, burning whispers, ardors that we could not
In the splendor of the ball-room, clinging to me, white
and tender, through Time's curtain rift in twain,
Did your ear not catch the anthems, mingling with the
crash of cymbals, and the people's answering refrain?
Did you not repeat in rapture that our love awoke again ?
Once before, we knew existence, this our bliss is a remem-
brance, and our love a memory;
Casting off its ancient ashes, flames again our hungry
passion, flames and kindles you and me,
As of old, by Nile's slow waters, in the land beyond the
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
Valery Brusov 83
" RADIANT RANKS OF SERAPHIM "
Radiant ranks of seraphim
Stir the air about our bed.
With their windy wings and dim
Our hot cheeks are comforted.
Low the circling seraphs bend,
And we tremble and rejoice
At hosannas that ascend,
Winged with their unearthly voice.
Cloudy luminous faces hover,
And the wing-swept candles wane.
And our fiery breasts they cover
As with hidden holy rain.
Que tes mains soient benies, car elles sont impures.
The shining of your golden eyes I bless !
That broke my dark delirium with light.
The smile that wavers on your lips I bless!
It kindled me like wine, it rent my night.
The poison in your kisses hid, I bless!
All thoughts, all dreams are poisoned by your kiss.
The scythe that sings in your embrace I bless!
All my past years you have mown down with this.
The fire of your awful love I bless!
I wrapped its flame about me joyfully.
The darkness of your spirit, lo, I bless !
For that its wings were outstretched over me.
Blessed all you gave, blessed what your soul denies:
I bless you for the grief, the dread, the pain ;
That after you I strove toward Paradise;
That here without its gates, I stand in vain.
Valery Brusov 85
If you kept faith, or not, does it avail?
If I was faithful or unfaithful to you?
Our eyes that would look elsewhere flinch and fail,
Yet not my will has power to undo you.
Once more I tremble, so once more you pale,
As the forebodings of old pain break through you.
The moments pour with noise of torrents streaming:
Above us passion's lifted blade is gleaming.
Whoever made us, lips and lit eyes drinking
Of lips and eyes, be it or God or Fate,
Is it not one ? Within the circle shrinking
We stand to hear the spell reverberate!
We bend with happiness and fear, and sinking,
We fall : two anchors on the sea-floor grate.
Fancy, nor chance, nor passion overpowers
Us, whom the ineluctable devours.
86 Valery Brusov
THE FIERCE BIRDS
Kindling the air, fierce birds with feathers of fire,
Through the white portals of Paradise flamed like desire.
Virgin vistas reared, lit with quivering red,
And beyond seas were the trackless wanderers fled.
But on the pillars of marble, on the threshold were thrown
Crimson shadows incredible, sunk in the stone.
And, under the arch, in eternity's radiance hidden,
Angels exulted in fruits that are secret and sweet and
Valery Brusov 87
The posters shout, their gorgeous motley blares,
The signboards' groaning fills the street,
And from the shops a shrill light sharply flares,
As cries of triumph mock defeat.
Behind the glimmering panes soft fabrics sleep,
And diamonds pour their poison daze,
Above massed coins the lottery numbers leap
Like northern lights ablaze.
The burning streets like long canals of light
Flow on the city is alive.
It swarms to celebrate the dawn of night
Like some unloosed and monstrous hive.
The sky and all its sentient stars are hid
By scattered arc-lamps beaming blue.
And harlots jostle sages where they thrid
The dancers in a rippling queue.
Between the gay quadrilles that form and break,
Among the waltzers, clanking slide
The tramways, with blue lightnings in their wake;
Like sheaves of fire, the motors glide.
Shame, like a leader his bright baton wielding
To the rank music of the wheels,
Has fused the thousand-throated throng, that yielding
As one, a holy chorus peals:
" Dust, we enthrone thee ; brief and radiant Dust,
Dancing the round, we glorify,
About electric altars where they thrust
Their spears into the empty sky."
Oh, cover thy pale feet!
Valery Brusov 89
SAINT SEBASTIAN l
On slow and smoky fire thou burn'st and art consumed,
Oh, thou, my soul.
On slow and smoky fire thou burn'st and art consumed,
With hidden dole.
Thou droopest like Sebastian, pierced with pointed arrows,
Harassed and spent,
Thou droopest like Sebastian, pierced with pointed arrows,
Thy flesh all rent.
Thy foes encircle thee and watch with gleeful laughter
And bended bow,
Thy foes encircle thee and watch with gleeful laughter
Thy torments slow.
The embers burn, and gentle is the arrow's stinging,
'Neath the evening sky,
The embers burn, and gentle is the arrow's stinging,
When the end draws nigh.
Why hastens not thy dream unto thy lips, now pallid
With deadly drouth?
Why hastens not thy dream unto thy lips, now pallid
To kiss thy mouth?
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
90 Valery Erusov
THE COMING HUNS
"Trample their Paradise, Attila! "
Where do you stray, heavy Huns,
Who weigh on the world like a cloud?
Far, under Asian suns,
Your cast-iron tread is loud.
Swoop down in a drunken horde
From your dark encampments, rise
In a tide of crimson poured
Over this land that dies.
O slaves of freedom, pitch
Your tent by the palace gate.
Plow deep, dig wide the ditch
Where the throne shone on your hate.
Heap books to build a fire!
Dance in their ruddy light.
Foul altar steps with mire:
You are children in our sight.
And we, the poets, the wise,
From the onslaught that darkens and raves,
Defending the torch you despise,
Shall hold it in deserts and caves.
Valery Brusov 91
Under the scattering storm,
The tempests that raven and tear,
What will the hazards of harm
From our long labor spare ?
All that we only knew
Shall perish and sink and grow dim.
But you who shall slay me, you
I salute with hosanna and hymn.
When Bunin came to Petersburg at the age of twenty-five
he brought with him memories of shabby manorial grandeur,
of hack work in the provinces, and of a Tolstoyan influence
that at one time persuaded him to become a cooper. The young
man, meeting the modernists for the first time, dubbed them
" sick boys with complete chaos in their heads." Bunin is him-
self a traditionalist in an age of iconoclasm, a realist in a neo-
romantic generation, a sober lyricist solitary among his ecstatic
fellows. His minor music has the simplicity and sincerity of a
sorrowful Mozart. He celebrates the melancholy charm of
vanishing things, never foreswearing his classic clarity. Yet
there is a growing exotic strain in this poet of the Northern
Russian landscape. He is a less vivid Leconte de Lisle, revivi-
fying forgotten deities and filling his verse with Oriental color,
fragrance and warmth. His nostalgia for the distant seems to
grow by the travel upon which it feeds. Perhaps this intimacy
with what is foreign gives his translations from Longfellow,
Byron and Tennyson their remarkably rich quality.
When in 1909 Bunin was elected to the Academy of Sciences,
this rare distinction was conferred upon him for his prose as
much as for his poetry. Indeed the former is the part of his
work which bulks largest. His prose ceuvre consists of his
black and bitter sketches of the Russian peasantry, naked studies
in psychology, and tales in the manner of a diminutive Joseph
Conrad. " The Gentleman from San Francisco," one of his
most recent and impressive stories, is the only one available
Bunin was one of the first to flee Soviet rule, eventually
settling in Paris.
Ivan Bunin 93
In the valley the birches are bored.
On the meadows, fog billows and weighs.
Sodden, with horse-dung floored,
The highroad blackens in haze.
Rich on the steppe's sleepy air,
The odor of freshly-baked bread.
Bent to their packs, slowly fare
Two beggars to look for a bed.
Round puddles gleam in the streets.
The fumes of the ovens stun.
Thawing, the bleak earthen seats
Smolder and steam in the sun.
By the corn-bin, dragging his chain,
The sheep-dog yawns on the sill.
Walls smoke with the charcoal stain.
The steppe is foggy and still.
The carefree cock will perform
Day-long for the sap-stirred earth.
In the fields it is drowsy and warm,
In the heart indolent mirth.
94 Ivan Bunin
I'm a plain girl, whose hands are stained with earth.
He is a fisherman he's gay and keen.
The far white sail is drowning in the firth.
Many the seas and rivers he has seen.
The women of the Bosphorus, they say,
Are good-looking . . . and I I'm lean and black.
The white sail drowns far out beyond the bay.
It may be that he never will come back.
I shall wait on in good and evil weather.
If vainly, take my wage, go to the sea
And cast the ring and hope away together.
And my black braid will serve to strangle me.
Ivan Bunin 95
THE GOD OF NOON
Black goats I herded with my sister; they
Grazed by red rocks; the grass rose stiff and stinging.
Warming their backs, stones to the foot-hills clinging
Slept dumbly on. And sheer blue shone the bay.
By the gnarled silver of an olive flinging
My drowsy limbs, in its dry shade I lay,
He came like a hot cobweb net, asway,
Or like a cloud of flies about me singing.
He bared my knees. Kindled my quiet feet.
The silver on my shirt his white fire burned.
His hot embrace is heavy, ah, and sweet.
He laid me on my back. The whole sky turned.
He tanned my naked bosom to the teat.
From him the cammomile's kind use I learned.
g6 Ivan Bunin
IN AN EMPTY HOUSE
From the walls the paper's blue is vanished,
The daguerreotypes, the ikons banished.
Only there the deepened blue appears
Where these hid it, hanging through the years.
From the heart the memory is perished,
Perished all that long ago it cherished!
Those remain, of whom death hides the face,
Leaving their yet unforgotten trace.
Ivan Bunin 97
She sits on tumulus Savoor, and stares,
Old woman Death, upon the crowded road.
Like a blue flame the small flax-flower flares
Thick through the meadows sowed.
And says old woman Death: " Hey, traveler!
Does any one want linen, linen fit
For funeral wear ? A shroud, madam or sir,
I'll take cheap coin for it! "
And says serene Savoor: " Don't crow so loud!
Even the winding-sheet is dust, and cracks
And crumbles into earth, that from the shroud
May spring the sky-blue flax."
Ivanov's life was not one to " hurry to a sphere, and show,
and end." Rather, its fruit slower grew, and later hung. He
began to write at the age of thirty-seven, after having spent
half as many years abroad as a student, and joined the ranks
of the symbolists. He learned antiquity from " Mommsen,
Athens and Rome," and modernity from Nietzsche and Dostoyev-
sky. A curious feature of Ivanov's thinking is a synthesis of
Dionysos and Christ, which is characteristic of the Greek re-
vival in Russia, and which is attested to in his profound treatise
on " The Hellenic Religion of the Suffering God." His exqui-
site art feeds on the Dionysian grape, but this has a sacramental
flavor, and strangely through the features of his Dionyscs shows
the effigy of a tragic Christ. To him religion is the very stuff
of culture, and art a myth-making, and eren a theurgic power.
Unlike his older fellow-symbolists, he builds not upon individ-
ualism, but upon the principle of sobornost, or communal reli-
gious expression suggestive of Vachel Lindsay's creed. He has
the mentality and the manner of a mystagogue and a pontiff.
Ivanov's poetry is caviar to the general. His Pegasus is
caparisoned with abstruse erudition and weighed down with
intricate thought. Yet a limpid, golden beauty triumphs over
the shadows in many lyrics. These are cast in the pure Grecian
mold, these burn with " JE " 's spiritual flame, and these are the
ordered ecstasies of a Francis Thompson. His latest poems
are a cycle of Winter Sonnets written in blockaded Petrograd
in 1920 filled with the sadness of resignation to loss and
Vyacheslav Ivanov 99
Now the golden leafage is beggared.
Shining through the porches of autumn,
Shows the cool blue stillness of heaven.
Lo, the thin-trunked grove is transcended :
Carved in stone, a columned cathedral.
Smoke-scrolls wind about the frail friezes;
Flung above the doors is a curtain
Open-work: like nets of God's fishers
That the catch has slipped through and broken,
Like thy tatters, sacred and lovely,
At the entrance of a white temple,
Oh thou golden mendicant music!
ioo Vyacheslav Ivanov
The air is sad and still. A bright transparency !
Enskied a woman veiled in light invisibly
Upholds a balance high above the clear sun's pouring,
The instant's equipoise, serene and frail, adoring.
But each sere leaf that from the trees falls, separate,
And lays upon the golden scales its trembling weight
May force the balance Summer's plenty freighted
Down to the wintry regions soon to darkness fated.
Vyacheslav Ivanov 101
Clear the fountain waters glowing,
Living streams, the well-springs flowing,
Cold, in darkling woods, a spring.
In the shed, cool stillness streaming,
O'er the well, a candle gleaming
On Christ's crown its gilding flings.
In the Eden field a bower,
And a fountain, and a flower.
Christ, star-voiced, the spirit stills:
" Come, before the well-spring stooping,
Of my quiet waters scooping,
For the stintless bucket fills."
IO2 Vyacheslav Ivanov
THE SEEKING OF SELF
Dying, the seed will discover the self it finds in the losing.
That is, oh, Nature, thy law! That is thy lesson, oh,
Hearing dark music, the poet knoweth no rest; he
Purer and purer the sound, clearer the fore-uttered word.
Vyacheslav Ivanov 103
Your soul, born deaf and blind, inhabits
Jungles of sunless reverie,
Where with the crash of trampled saplings
Wild droves of dark desires roam free.
A torch I kindled in the darkness
To lead you to my starry gate,
With seeds of light in shining handfuls
The furrows of your night to sate.
I stand amid the trackless stretches
And hail you in the wilderness;
But lost in dark and dreary caverns
My cry sinks silent, answerless.
104 Vyacheslav Ivanov
NARCISSUS: A POMPEIIAN BRONZE
Beautiful boy, like a faun here in loneliness roaming,
who art thou?
Surely no child of the woods : thine is too pridef ul a face.
Music that moves in thy gait, the wrought grace of thy
Tell thou art son to the gods, or the high offspring of kings.
Poised, with thy listening limbs, thou hast followed the
lips of the forest,
Harkening, bending thy head, fingering softly the sound.
Was it the piping of Pan or the amorous sighing of Echo ?
Whisper of dryads, or words fluent-limbed naiads repeat?
Pressing thy thigh with thy arm, now the light shoulder-
fleece like a garland
Thou hast entwined on thy wrist, thou, like Liaeus at rest.
Wonderful, art thou in truth the gay Bacchus, Nysaean
Hunter, whom goddesses loved, naked and idle and
Or art thou haughty Narcissus, whom secret sweet har-
Wandering, languid with sleep, drunken, alone with his
Go, seek the summoning nymph, oh thou blind, not yet
knowing thy image,
Go thou, but dare not to bend over the slumbering wave.
Oh, if thou art not Narcissus, yet seeing thy face in the
Stranger, I tremble, anew, thou a Narcissus shalt be.
Vyacheslav Ivanov 105
Of funerals, the saddest
Is love's that dies unanswered.
The soul has two to bury :
The soul of the beloved
And its own other selfhood.
And a third enters, living,
The funeral flame that wraps them;
His wings a yoke has weighted:
Him the wise lips of lovers
Call in their kisses, Eros,
And gods: the Resurrector.
106 Vyacheslav Ivanov
THE HOLY ROSE
The h'oly Rose her leaves will soon unfold.
The tender bud of dawn already lies
Reddening on the wide, transparent skies.
Love's star is a white sail the still seas hold.
Here, in the light-soaked space above the wold,
Through the descending dew the arches rise
Of the unseen cathedral, filled with cries
From the winged weavers threading it with gold.
Here on the hill, the cypress, in accord
With me, stands praying : a cowled eremite.
And on the roses' cheeks the tears fall light.
Upon my cell the patterned rays are poured.
And in the East, the purple vines bleed bright,
And seething, overflow. . . . Hosannah, Lord!
Vyacheslav Ivanov 107
NOMADS OF BEAUTY
" You are artists, Nomads of Beauty."
For you ancestral acres,
And, choked, the graveyard waits.
For us, the free forsakers,
The camp that Beauty fates.
For us the daily treason,
The tents we daily flee,
Mocked by each dawning season
Of our captivity.
Believe the dimmer distance,
All curtains: magic veils,
All Springtides' green persistence,
Whole heaven's vasty gales !
Oh, vagrant artists, shepherd
Your droves of dreams unbound ;
And sow, although you jeopard
The soon-abandoned ground.
And from your open spaces
Rush down, a whirling horde,
Where slaves tamed to the traces
Adore their overlord.
io8 Vyacheslav Ivanov
Trample their Edens, plow them,
Oh, Attila, with scars.
And grow to Beauty vow them-
Your steppe flowers like stars.
Born into a peasant family of Lithuanian Catholics, this
member of the symbolists' younger generation began by herding
cows in his native village. He tutored his way through high
school, and reached the University of Moscow, where he soon
veered from science to letters. He became both a linguist and
a traveler, going west as far as Chicago.
Although Baltrushaitis may be claimed by the Lithuanian as
well as the Russian literature, this reticent poet does not often
avail himself of either tongue. He carries on the philosophical
tradition of Russian poetry. His disciplined and concentrated
art moves on a plane of abstractions. His is a mystical auster-
ity and a Buddhistic aloofness from things personal.
IIO Yurgis Baltrushaiiis
When tne dumb darkness most heavily clings,
Rhythmic and ruthless my pendulum swings.
Rustily creaking or whining dismay,
Urging each tarrying moment away.
Longing, it seems, for the days that are fled,
Down ancient stairways resounds someone's tread.
Heavy the footfall on flagstones unlit,
Lower and lower and down to the pit.
Praying, it seems, for a long-vanished shore,
Dumbly the Helmsman with slow stubborn oar
Brokenly rows me, morosely alone,
Into my harbor, afar and unknown.
Evil the Ferryman, darkly he pounds;
Farther and farther, more muffled resounds,
Hostile and hopeless, the long downward climb:
Cold, ineluctable footsteps of Time.
Yurgis Baltrushaitis III
The day's wild ocean sings and thunders,
And beats against the fatal shore,
This breaker with dumb sorrow sunders,
And these like laughing victors roar,
Their sheen the joy of vernal wonders,
Their sheen vast winter's shining hoar.
In wrath triumphant forward-swinging,
The lifted billow calls, and fails,
A joyous giant, shouting, singing,
Its voice the voice of sounding gales,
Its glory in the sunlight flinging
Whose noonday glow it holds and hails.
Across the sea, now lightly foaming,
Another rears, that stirs the deep,
And floods the shore with silence, gloaming;
Morose and slow it seems to creep
Like one who drops, worn out with roaming,
From his bent back a fatal heap.
Each moment new, with changing power,
The surf is thundering, alone.
Now idle, now it seems to lower,
Hymning a Silence all unknown,
Like a dark heart asleep, for hour
On hour in restless monotone.
Of the three confessed elements of Voloshin's life: places,
books, and men, places came first. Born in Kief, his early
impressions were associated with the Crimea, the Hellenic
promontory of the Scythian plain. At twenty-three he glimpsed
the desert of central Asia. But in his own words he found
"the fatherland of his spirit" on the Mediterranean littoral.
And Paris was the peak on which the climbing poet came to
rest, finding there the lifting consciousness of rhythm and form.
Books came second: Russian, of course, and later foreign
books: the sophistry of France and the wisdom of immemorial
India. Men, Voloshin admits, came last. And so his acid
bites into the plate most frequently to etch still life, or a
landscape where the presence of God or man is a thing
By his own acknowledgment, he learnt the art of verse from
Ivanov, Balmont and Heredia. Whatever he may have de-
rived from the Russian poets, it is clear that he shares Heredia's
precision and plastic perfection, his sonority and color. Volo-
shin's is a richly visual poetry. Indeed, he has earned his
bread as a painter. Like Heredia, he is a sonneteer of con-
summate skill. The sonnet from " Lunaria ", given here, con-
cludes a cycle of fifteen, which are so written that the last line
of each forms the first line of the next, the final sonnet being
composed of the first lines of the preceding fourteen. And
finally, it may be said of him, as it was of Heredia, that this
Parnassian is a modernist. Yet he has ever stood aloof from
coteries, an aristocratic and solitary figure.
Although seemingly depayse and above the battle, Voloshin
has quite recently written several poems of exasperated and
retrograde patriotism, which, irrespective of their politics, are
Maximilian Voloshin 113
CIMMERIAN TWILIGHT I
The evening light has soaked with ancient gold
And gall the yellow hills. Like tawny fur
Grass rises shaggy in a ruddy blur;
Past fiery bushes metal waves unfold ;
And enigmatic cliffs and boulders hold
Worn troughs that are the sea's chronologer.
In the winged twilight figures seem to stir:
A heavy paw, a jowl grins stark and bold,
Like swelling ribs the dubious hillocks show;
On what bent back, like wool, does savory grow?
What brute, what titan, to this region cleaves?
The dark is strange . . . and yonder, space is clean.
And there the tired ocean, panting, heaves,
And rotting grasses breathe of iodine.
114 Maximilian Voloshin
CIMMERIAN TWILIGHT II
Here stood a sacred forest. Here the messenger
Wing-footed went, his touch upon the dumb glades leav-
Upon the site of cities, nor stones, nor ruins heaving:
Now on burnt slopes but sheep in scattered patches stir.
The mountain peaks: cut crowns! Across each bitten
The clear green twilight flows, mysteriously grieving.
By whose dim longing stung, what is my soul retrieving?
Who knows the road of gods ? The dawns and dusks that
In its sonorous caves the rubble, churned, is sounding;
Lifting its weighty crests, the troubled sea is pounding
Upon the sandy dunes, upon the ringing shore.
The heavy nights pass on in tears through starry
spaces . . .
The outcast gods command, whom men invoke no more,
And ineluctably they show dark, alien faces.
Maximilian Voloshin 115
CIMMERIAN TWILIGHT III
Above dark, rippled waters rises in retreat
Earth's heavy mass: the spines and rocky crests defying
The tortured steep in torrents of red rubble lying
A lifeless land, its mourning reaches at my feet.
Sad dreams and solemn dreams flow by me, bitter-sweet:
Earth ancient and obscure, whose echoing bays are sigh-
Where in late twilight with a sadder beauty dying
The waves in waste hexameters billow and beat.
And where no roadways run upon the dark's still rivers,
Breathing an ancient mystery, the dim sail swells and
With winds of tossed desire and seas that lift and fall.
An alien tremor takes my ship upon its going
Where destined roads of daring and retribution call.
And lamp-like in the sky the Seven Stars are glowing.
Ii6 Maximilian Voloshin
(From the Sonnet-cycle "Lunaria")
Pure pearl of silence brooding on the sky,
Presider o'er conception, lamp of dreams,
Altar of nightly spells, of crystal gleams,
Queen of the waters where thou lov'st to lie,
With what desire, where the long waves sigh,
Through my dark crucifixions, toward thy beams,
Toward Dian, toward fierce Hecate, there streams
The vision yet unlived that shall not die.
How strange thy diamond delirium shines
In thy fair hollows, in thy joyless lines,
And in the flashing mica of thy seas.
In listless ether thou art horror's face,
Thou, longing's cry, whom icy gaolers freeze,
Thou, dead world's avid corpse, cast out on space.
Maximilian Voloshin 117
Whose the flying hands, about me shedding
Fire, and leading me on passionate ways?
No sonorous stones my feet are treading,
But where vatic waters fill the days.
Piercing through the spirit, sharp pilasters
Rise, and candle sting the dark like bees.
Oh, the hearts that bloom like crimson asters,
Petalled with gold-bladed ecstasies.
Now the evening on the temple flinging
Patterned, carven crimson, shines and mourns.
Oh, the pale brow to the altar clinging,
Stung anew with stinging scarlet thorns !
The whole soul, high vaults and portals glowing,
Fear like incense swathes with dim blue bands:
Ah, I know you, sacred corals, growing
On the pierced palms of these outstretched hands.
This sensitive and precious decadent, who flaunts his descent
from French emigres and Russian noblemen, delights in literary
masquerading. He is in turn an eighteenth century dandy, a
Byzantine romancer, a contemporary of Boccaccio, or a fin de
siecle Alexandrian. His Alexandrian Songs imprison all the
exquisite fatigues and refined perversions of a culture cynical
about its own passing. The texture of his poetry shows the care
and competence lavished by a belle upon her complexion. His
lyrics have the perfumed fragility and piquant charm of Somov's
Mikhail Kuzmin 119
" NOW DRY THY EYES "
Now dry thy eyes, and shed no tears.
In heaven's straw-pale meadows veers
Aquarius, and earthward peers,
His emptied vessel overturning.
No storming snows, no clouds that creep
Across the sheer pure emerald steep,
Whence, thinly-drawn, a ray darts deep
As a keen lance with edges burning.
I2O Mikhail Kuzmin
" NIGHT WAS DONE "
Night was done. We rose and after
Washing, dressing, kissed with laughter,
After all the sweet night knows.
Lilac breakfast cups were clinking
While we sat like brothers drinking
Tea, and kept our dominoes.
And our dominoes smiled greeting,
And our eyes avoided meeting
With our dumb lips' secrecy.
" Faust " we sang, we played, denying
Night's strange memories, strangely dying,
As though night's twain were not we.
Mikhail Kuzmin 1 21
FROM "ALEXANDRIAN SONGS"
Dying is sweet
On the battle-field
In the hissing of arrows and spears,
When the trumpet sounds
And the sun of noon
Dying for country's glory
And hearing around you:
Dying is sweet
For an old, venerable man
In the house
On the bed
Where your forebears were born, where they died,
Surrounded by children
And hearing around you:
Having spent the last penny,
Having sold the last mill
For a woman
Who the next day is forgotten,
From a gay promenade
To the sold, dismantled mansion
122 Mikhail Kuzmin
And to read the tale of Apuleius:
The hundred and first reading,
In the warm, fragrant bath,
Hearing no farewell,
To open your veins;
And through the long skylight
Must come the scent of stock-gilliflower ;
Dawn must be glowing,
And flutes be heard from afar.
Chulkov has versified in the strained mode current ten years
ago, and has written novels that are diluted Dostoyevsky. He
shared the latter's Siberian experiences, in fact, being exiled
for participation in student disturbances. He early began to
theorize about the necessity for a return to a more sober and
realistic art enriched by the modernistic adventures.
124 Georgy Chulkov
" PURPLE AUTUMN "
Purple Autumn unloosened her tresses and flung them
On the heavens and over the dew-heavy fields.
She came as a guest to the old, silent house,
Singeing the grasses with red;
Through the garden she moved,
Up the balcony; scarcely she touched
The fragile old rails.
She pushed the door-panel softly,
Softly she entered the room,
Sprinkling the rugs with her sun-yellow dust,
Dropped a red leaf upon the piano . . .
Ever after that hour, we heard her unceasing, her tireless
Rustle and stir and soft whisper.
And our hands suddenly met
With no new words, new and forever false.
As though we had hung a wreath of red roses
On a black, wrought-iron door
Leading into a vault
Where lay the rotting body
Of a beloved dream.
Autumnal days were upon us,
Days of inscrutable longing;
We were treading the stairs
Of autumnal passion.
In my heart a wound,
Like the lamp of an ikon,
Burned and would not be quenched.
Georgy Chulkov 125
The cup of autumnal poison
We pressed to our lips.
By the serpentine garden path Autumn had led us
To crepuscular lilies
Upon the pale, sand-humbled pond.
And over the lilied waters and in the roses of evening,
We loved, more superstitiously.
And through the dark night,
On the languorous bed,
At the feet of my love,
I loved death anew.
The minutes rang tinkling like crystals
At the brink of an autumn grave :
Autumn and Death drunkenly clinked their glasses.
I pressed my thirsty lips
To the feet the ikon-lamp burnished,
I drank the cup of love.
Burned by the fires of sins,
Stretched on the cross of lusts,
Shamed, being needlessly faithless,
I drank the cup of love.
In the hour of ineffable dalliance
I sensed the whisper
Of autumn pain, of autumn passion.
And kisses like keen needles
Burned and pierced,
Weaving a wreath of thorns.
Alexander Blok was educated at the University of St. Peters-
burg, of which his grandfather was the rector. He belongs to
the second generation of symbolists, and his first volume, which
appeared in 1905, savors strongly of Solovyov's spirituality.
The upheaval which was shaking his country is ignored in this
book, instinct with vague eschatological expectations and de-
voted to the Eternal Feminine. Yet here she wears the medieval
aspect of the Lady Beautiful, and spirit in her is married to
flesh. These songs, employing an easy symbolic cryptogram,
mingle the prayers of the postulant with a rarefied sensuousness.
This asserts itelf in the succeeding volumes. The \vhite melody
is muffled by the voices of earth. Blok flees monastic walls for
the confusion of the thoroughfares. The skirts of the Lady
Beautiful are defiled, and the poet is stretched upon the cross of
passion, with the bitter conviction that he is " fated to love her
in Heaven only to betray her on earth." Christ and Russia are
the other hypostases of Blok's trinity, their Golgotha strangely
at one with his own. Whether he is a maker of masques for
monastic harlequins, or another CEdipus before the Russian
sphinx, whether he writes children's verse, lyrical dramas of an
elusive symbolism, or poems reminiscent of the earlier Yeats,
he reveals a keen emotional intensity and an unfailing sensi-
tiveness of technique.
It was given to this delicate and remote lyricist to produce
the most significant poem of the proletarian revolution. This
is his striking epic, called " The Twelve," which is known far
beyond the confines of Russia, and is accessible in half a dozen
Alexander Blok 127
"INTO CRIMSON DARK"
Into crimson dark thou goest,
Thy vast orbits mock the eye.
Small the echo that thou throwest,
Far, I hear thy footfalls die.
Art thou near? too far for greeting?
Lost in topless altitudes?
Shall I wait a sudden meeting
Where sonorous stillness broods?
In the solitude resounding
Distant footsteps echo free.
Is it thou who flamest, bounding
Circles of infinity?
128 Alexander Blok
THE UNKNOWN WOMAN
I have foreknown Thee! Oh, I have foreknown Thee.
The years have shown me Thy premonitory face.
Intolerably clear, the farthest sky is glowing.
I wait in silence Thy withheld and worshiped grace.
The farthest sky is glowing: white for Thy appearing.
Yet terror clings to me. Thy image will be strange.
And insolent suspicion will rouse upon Thy nearing.
The features long foreknown, beheld at last, will change.
How shall I then be fallen! low, with no defender:
Dead dreams will conquer me; the glory, glimpsed, will
The farthest sky is glowing ! Nearer looms the splendor !
Yet terror clings to me. Thy image will be strange.
Alexander Blok 129
THE LADY UNKNOWN
Of evenings hangs above the restaurant
A humid, wild and heavy air.
The Springtide spirit, brooding, pestilent,
Commands the drunken outcries there.
Far off, above the alley's mustiness,
Where bored gray summerhouses lie,
The baker's sign swings gold through dustiness,
And loud and shrill the children cry.
Beyond the city stroll the exquisites,
At every dusk and all the same:
Their derbies tilted back, the pretty wits
Are playing at the ancient game.
Upon the lake but feebly furious
Soft screams and creaking oar-locks sound.
And in the sky, blase, incurious,
The moon beholds the earthly round.
And every evening, dazed and serious,
I watch the same procession pass;
In liquor, raw and yet mysterious,
One friend is mirrored in my glass.
Beside the scattered tables, somnolent
And dreary waiters stick around.
"In vino veritasf" shout violent
And red-eyed fools in liquor drowned.
130 Alexander Blok
And every evening, strange, immutable,
(Is it a dream no waking proves?)
As to a rendezvous inscrutable
A silken lady darkly moves.
She slowly passes by the drunken ones
And lonely by the window sits;
And from her robes, above the sunken ones,
A misty fainting perfume flits.
Her silks' resilience, and the tapering
Of her ringed fingers, and her plumes,
Stir vaguely like dim incense vaporing,
Deep ancient faiths their mystery illumes.
I try, held in this strange captivity,
To pierce the veil that darkling falls
I see enchanted shores' declivity,
And an enchanted distance calls.
I guard dark secrets' tortuosities.
A sun is given me to hold.
An acrid wine finds out the sinuosities
That in my soul were locked of old.
And in my brain the soft slow flittering
Of ostrich feathers waves once more;
And fathomless the azure glittering
Where two eyes blossom on the shore.
My soul holds fast its treasure renitent,
The key is safe and solely mine.
Ah, you are right, drunken impenitent!
I also know: truth lies in wine.
Alexander Blok 131
" A LITTLE BLACK MAN "
A little black man ran through the city.
He extinguished the lanterns, climbing the stairs.
Slow and white, dawn was approaching,
With the strange little man climbing the stairs.
Where quiet, soft shadows brooded over the town,
Where the yellow strips of the lanterns were sleeping,
Morning twilight upon the steps lay down,
Into the curtains, into the door-shadows creeping.
Oh, how poor is the city with dawn at her windows
Crouching outside, the little black man is crying.
To sin, unshamed, to lose, unthinking,
The count of careless nights and days,
And then, while the head aches with drinking,
Steal to God's house, with eyes that glaze ;
Thrice to bow down to earth, and seven
Times cross oneself beside the door,
With the hot brow, in hope of heaven,
Touching the spittle-covered floor;
With a brass farthing's gift dismissing
The offering, the holy Name
To mutter with loose lips, in kissing
The ancient, kiss-worn icon-frame;
And coming home, then, to be tricking
Some wretch out of the same small coin,
And with an angry hiccup, kicking
A lean cur in his trembling groin;
And where the icon's flame is quaking
Drink tea, and reckon loss and gain,
From the fat chest of drawers taking
The coupons wet with spittle-stain;
And sunk in feather-beds to smother
In slumber, such as bears may know,
Dearer to me than every other
Are you, my Russia, even so.
Alexander Blok 133
" WHEN MOUNTAIN ASH "
When mountain-ash in clusters reddens,
Its leafage wet and stained with rust,
When through my palm the nail that deadens
By bony hands is shrewdly thrust,
WTien leaden-rippling rivers freeze me,
As on the wet gray height I toss,
While my austere-faced country sees me
Where I am swinging on the cross,
Then through my bloody agonizing
My staring eyes, with tears grown stiff,
Shall see on the broad river rising
Christ moving toward me in a skiff.
And in his eyes the same hopes biding,
And the same rags from him will trail,
His garment piteously hiding
The palm pierced with the final nail.
Christ ! Saddened are the native reaches.
The cross tugs at my failing might.
Thy skiff will it achieve these beaches,
And land here at my cruciate height?
134 Alexander Blok
" Pan-Mongolism though the word is strange,
My ear acclaims its gongs."
You are the millions, we are multitude
And multitude and multitude.
Come, fight! Yea, we are Scythians,
Yea, Asians, a squint-eyed, greedy brood.
For you : the centuries ; for us : one hour.
Like slaves, obeying and abhorred,
We were the shield between the breeds
Of Europe and the raging Mongol horde.
For centuries your ancient hammers forged
And drowned the thunder of far hates.
You heard like wild fantastic tales
Old Lisbon's and Messina's sudden fates.
Yea, so to love as our hot blood can love
Long since you ceased to love; the taste
You have forgotten, of a love
That burns like fire and like the fire lays waste.
All things we love: clear numbers' burning chill,
The ecstasies that secret bloom.
All things we know : the Gallic light
And the parturient Germanic gloom.
Alexander Bfok 135
And we remember all: Parisian hells,
The breath of Venice's lagoons,
Far fragrance of green lemon groves,
And dim Cologne's cathedral-splintered moons.
And flesh we love, its color and its taste,
Its deathy odor, heavy, raw.
And is it our guilt if your bones
May crack beneath our powerful supple paw?
It is our wont to seize wild colts at play :
They rear and impotently shake
Wild manes we crush their mighty croups.
And shrewish women slaves we tame or break.
Come unto us, from the black ways of war,
Come to our peaceful arms and rest.
Comrades, while it is not too late,
Sheathe the old sword. May brotherhood be blest.
If not, we have not anything to lose.
We also know old perfidies.
By sick descendants you will be
Accursed for centuries and centuries.
To welcome pretty Europe, we shall spread
And scatter in the tangled space
Of our wide thickets. We shall turn
To you our alien Asiatic face.
For centuries your eyes were toward the East.
Our pearls you hoarded in your chests,
And mockingly you bode the day
When you could aim your cannon at our breasts.
136 Alexander Blok
The time has come! Disaster beats its wings.
With every day the insults grow.
The, hour will strike, and without ruth
Your proud and powerless Paestums be laid low.
Oh pause, old world, while life still beats in you.
Oh weary one, oh worn, oh wise!
Halt here, as once did CEdipus
Before the Sphinx's enigmatic eyes.
Yea, Russia is a Sphinx. Exulting, grieving,
And sweating blood, she cannot sate
Her eyes that gaze and gaze and gaze
At you with stone-lipped love for you, and hate.
Go, all of you, to Ural fastnesses,
We clear the battle-ground for war;
Cold Number shaping guns of steel
Where the fierce Mongol hordes in frenzy pour.
But we, we shall no longer be your shield.
But, careless of the battle-cries,
Shall watch the deadly duel seethe,
Aloof, with indurate and narrow eyes.
We shall not move when the ferocious Hun
Despoils the corpse and leaves it bare,
Burns towns, herds cattle in the church,
And smell of white flesh roasting fills the air.
For the last time, old world, we bid you come,
Feast brotherly within our walls.
To share our peace and glowing toil
Once only the barbarian lyre calls.
Alexander Blok 137
FROM " THE TWELVE "
The city's roar is far away,
Black silence broods on Neva's brink.
No more police! We can be gay,
Comrades, without a drop to drink.
A boorzhooy, a lonely mourner,
His nose tucked in his ragged fur,
Stands lost and idle on the corner,
Tagged by a cringing, mangy cur.
The boorzhooy like a hungry mongrel:
A silent question stands and begs;
The old world like a kinless mongrel
Stands there, its tail between its legs.
(Pseudonym of Boris Bugayev; born 1880)
Reared in a professorial atmosphere, in which science was
the major element, Boris Bugayev, better known under his
pseudonym of Andrey Bely, has lived a double life of artist and
analyst. The artist was engrossed in problems of form. He
created an interesting, experimental genre which he called
" symphony," with cadenced prose, verbal instrumentation and
musical development of themes. The analyst, on his part, used
mathernatic formulae on the poet's fine frenzy, inaugurating a
science of rhythmics, at least for the Russians. Yet Bely is no
aesthete, but a mystic, who gropes toward the light of Christ,
" the timeless taper," and who lives by the uncertain hope of
the ineffable coming. The metaphysical conflict is constantly
invading the field of his poetic endeavor, until his lyrics be-
come the battle-cries of his spiritual tourneys. He is respon-
sible for more theorizing about symbolism than any one else,
but characteristically enough, he erects this nebula into a
Weltanschauung and almost into an ethics.
His poetry is rarefied and difficult. Its delicate imagery is
but an overtone of a resonant spiritual note. His poems have
an esoteric quality which is also evidenced in his two famous
novels, "The Silver Dove" and "Petersburg." Through both
moves a curious counterpoint of the apocalyptic and the homely,
muffled by theosophic speculation.
The proletarian revolution elicited from Bely a cycle of
poems, suggestively entitled "Christ Is Risen!" Herein he
envisions Russia, of which he once despaired, as the new
Nazareth. Quite recently he completed the first part of a
monumental epic planned for ten volumes.
An drey Bely 139
In fields hopeless and dumb
Droops the pale-bladed grain;
It is dozing and numb
Amid dreams that are vain. . . ,
With a high sudden hum
The field tosses its mane:
" Unto us Christ is come ! "
The wild news shakes the plain.
Like a wind-beaten drum
Shouts the quivering grain.
The bells ring soft and slow,
There is clamor and pain
In the church, and a low
Voice is lifted again
Thar reiterates : "Woe!"
To the poor folk and plain
Are brought candles aglow:
" Christ is coming again ! "
But with voices of woe
They file doorward, in pain.
140 Audrey Bely
The shining and ponderous goblet
I empty: the earth drops below me,
All things sink away, I am treading
Cold space the vast void the dim ether.
But distant, in ancient space looming,
My glimmering goblet: the Sun.
I look far below me are lying
The rivers, the forests, the valleys,
Estranged in the vanishing distance.
A cloud, blowing fog on my eyelids,
Trails gossamer gold in its going.
The flickering landscape is burning
Its last: mid-day stars newly-kindled
Look into my soul, sparkling : " Welcome,"
With radiance silently streaming:
" The end of long wanderings, brother,
Lies here, in your motherland, welcome ! "
Slow hour upon hour in procession,
Slow centuries, smiling, pass onward.
In ancient space proudly I lift it,
My glimmering goblet : the Sun.
Audrey Bely 141
" YOU SIT ON THE BED THERE "
(Opening poem of the "Funeral Mass" cycle)
" You sit on the bed there
In the sunset's full crimson,
Looking distracted, what
Troubles you? "
" Oh, swept by
The fir-tree tops
Loom athwart the sky's blue."
" Orphaned, alone, I shall
Twilights and Winter nights.
There are new flights, but
Try them I dare not.
Oh, do not die!"
" Oh, above the pines
I float off into aether seas.
Who, there, what, there,
Swathes the sky with whitenesses,
As with vestments of silver ? "
Hofman has to his credit some short stories and two books of
lyrics, the second of which appeared two years before his
suicide in Paris.
Victor H of man 143
"STILL WAS THE EVENING"
Still was the evening of the ball,
The summer ball, with dancers wending
Where ancient linden shadows fall
Upon the river steeply bending;
Where in the trees the breezes breathe
And willows droop like drowsy dreamers;
Where it seemed beautiful to wreathe
The lanterns and the colored streamers.
A languorous waltz of slow retreatings,
A waltz that singing hardly sounded;
And many faces, many meetings,
Soft clouds like women's shoulders rounded.
The river looked a sculptured stream,
Serenely the whole heaven holding,
A fluent and enchanted dream
Of joyous miracles unfolding.
A crimson mantle, golden-bright,
Upon the clouds the sun was flinging;
The dream-swept waltz was drowned in light,
And calling through the dusk and singing.
A languorous waltz beside the river,
And many meetings, many faces,
And near cheeks' warmth, and lovely quiver
Where eyelash with curved eyelash laces.
In his pro'se Bashkin chronicled the career of Russia's radical
intellectuals, and as a poet he acted the part of a tame Tirtaeus
in the camp of the revolution. He was cut off by tuberculosis
early in life.
Vastly Bashkin 145
" UPON THE BLACK BROW OF A CLIFF "
Upon the black brow of a cliff where no life ever stirred
Alighted strong, hoary-winged eagles, grave bird upon
They whetted their claws on the stones, sitting massive
And loudly they called on their lately-fledged comrades
Slow-measured and heavy the beat of their wings on the
Assuageless the rage that tempestuous burned in their eyes.
And each newly-come they acclaimed with the pride of the
" Hail, comrade ! Delay not ! The days we have longed
for are near."
This rather uneven and sometimes slovenly poet worshiped
at many shrines. He was a lyric myth-maker with Ivanov,
a symbolist with Blok, an advocate of several fashionable
doctrines, including mystical anarchy and mystical realism.
At the head of the " Guild of Poets " which was formed shortly
before the war, Gorodetzky attacked symbolism with Johnsonian
zeal in the name of the " Acmeist " faith in realities. The
poet became a jingo patriot when Russia entered the war, and
later was as vociferously allied to the Bolsheviks as he had
been to his Czar. His best work is informed with spirited spon-
taneity. The poetic restoration of the obscure Russian pagan-
ism, and a few lyrics carrying the dancing lilt of the folk-
song, form his chief contribution.
Sergey Gorodetzky 147
First to sharpen the ax-flint they bent,
On the green they had gathered, unpent,
They had gathered beneath the green tent.
There where whitens a pale tree-trunk, naked,
There where whitens a pale linden trunk.
By the linden tree, by the young linden,
By the linden tree, by the young linden,
The linden trunk
White and naked.
At the fore, shaggy, lean, hoar of head,
Moves the wizard, as old as his runes;
He has lived over two thousand moons.
And the ax he inhumed.
From the far lakes he loomed
It is his: at the trunk
The first blow.
And two priestesses in their tenth Spring
To the old one they bring.
In their eyes
Like the trunk their young bodies are bright,
Their wan white
Hath she only, the tender young linden.
1 The Russian Dionysos.
! Sergey Gorodetzky
One he took, one he led,
To the trunk roughly wed,
A white bride.
And the ax rose and hissed
And a voice was upraised
And then died.
Thus the first blow was dealt to the trunk.
Others followed him, others upraised
That age-old bloody ax,
That keen flint-bladed ax:
The flesh once,
The tree twice
And the trunk reddened fast
And it took on a face.
Lo, this notch is a nose,
This an eye, for the nonce.
The flesh once,
The trunk twice
Till all reddened the rise
And the grass crimsoned deep.
On the sod
In the red stains there lies
A new god.
Sergey Gorodetzky 149
THE BIRCH TREE
Upon an amber day I loved you first,
When, summoned by the radiant azure,
From every grateful twig there burst
Sweet indolence in dripping measure.
Your whitely shining body gleamed as white
As heady foam on lakes unfolding,
Gay laughing Lei 1 drew out the bright
Black hair, its beauty lightly holding.
Himself, the god Yarila 2 crowned your hair
With garlands green in gorgeous pleasure,
And flung it, plaited, to the air:
Green glory tossed upon the azure.
1 The Russian Pan.
2 The Russian Dionysos.
Anna Akhmatova was at one time identified with the
Acmeist group, which represented a reaction against sym-
bolism. The work of this talented lyricist is notable for its
classic tendency and an insistence on purely personal themes.
Her tenuous verse delights in a sophisticated simplicity. The
first of her four slender volumes appeared in 1912.
" LIKE A WHITE STONE "
Like a white stone deep in a draw-well lying,
As hard and clear, a memory lies in me.
I cannot strive nor have I heart for striving:
It is such pain and yet such ecstasy.
It seems to me that someone looking closely
Into my eyes would see it, patent, pale.
And, seeing, would grow sadder and more thoughtful
Than one who listens to a bitter tale.
The ancient gods changed men to things, but left them
A consciousness that smoldered endlessly,
That splendid sorrows might endure forever.
And you are changed into a memory.
From my poor sins I am set free.
In lilac dusk the taper smolders;
The dark stole's rigid drapery
Conceals a massive head and shoulders.
"Talithakumi": Is it He
Once more? How fast the heart is beating
A touch: a hand moves absently
The customary cross repeating.
Anna Akhmatova 153
"BROAD GOLD, THE EVENING"
Broad gold, the evening colors glow,
The April air is cool and tender.
You should have come ten years ago,
And yet in welcome I surrender.
Come here, sit closer in our nook,
And turn gay eyes at what my nurses
Might never glimpse: the blue-bound book
That holds my awkward childish verses.
Forgive me that I did not look
Sunward with joy, but dwelt with sorrow,
Forgive me all whom I mistook
For you, oblivious of the morrow.
154 Anna Akhmatova
Give me comfortless seasons of sickness,
Visitations of wrath and of wrong
On my house ; Lord, take child and companion,
And destroy the sweet power of song.
Thus I pray at each matins, each vespers,
After these many wearying days,
That the storm-cloud which broods over Russia
May be changed to a nimbus ablaze.
(Pseud, of Igor Lotarev)
The story goes that at the beginning of his poetic career
Severyanin took his constitutional on the Nevsky Prospekt wear-
ing a yellow shirtwaist, with green roses painted on his cheeks.
He enjoys the distinction of having founded the ego-futurist
group in Petrograd, which opposed the cubo-futurist group
in Moscow. He later betrayed the coterie, but remained
faithful to its canons of sound against sense. His insistence
on neologisms and words created ex nihilo has produced a
style which is becoming a poetic idiom. Yet a genuine musical
quality saves some of his intolerably clownish and vacuous
verse. His first book, " The Thunder-Seething Cup," was pub-
lished in 1913 and ran into seven editions in two years, and he
has now some ten volumes to his credit. His poetry recitals
have diverted both Czarist and Bolshevist Russia.
156 Igor Severyanin
AND IT PASSED BY THE SEA-SHORE
And it passed by the sea-shore, where the foam-laces
Where the city barouches only rarely are seen. . . .
There the queen played her Chopin in the high palace
And there, listening to Chopin, the young page loved the
And what passed there was simple, and what passed there
The fair page cut the pomegranate as red as her dreams,
Then the queen gave him half thereof, with graces dis-
She outwearied and loved him in sonata-sweet themes.
Then she gave herself stormily, till night shut her lashes.
Till the sunset the queen lay, there she slept as a
slave. . . .
And it passed by the sea-shore where the turquoise wave
Where sonatas are singing and where foam frets the wave.
Igor Severyanin 157
A RUSSIAN SONG
Lace and roses in the forest morning shine,
Shrewdly the small spider climbs his cobweb line.
Dews are diamonding and blooming faery-bright.
What a golden air ! What beauty ! Oh, what light !
It is good to wander through the dawn-shot rye,
Good to see a bird, a toad, a dragon-fly;
Hear the sleepy crowing of the noisy cock,
And to laugh at echo, and to hear her mock.
Ah, I love in vain my morning voice to hurl,
Ah, off in the birches, but to glimpse a girl,
Glimpse, and leaning on the tangled fence, to chase
Dawn's unwilling shadows from her morning face.
Ah, to wake her from her half-surrendered sleep,
Tell her of my new-sprung dreams, that lift and leap,
Hug her trembling breasts that press against my heart,
Stir the morning in her, hear its pulses start.
158 Igor S every anin
SPRING APPLE TREE
An apple-tree in Spring shakes me, to see it grow,
Its branches whitely weighted with unmelting snow.
So might a hunch-backed girl stand, beautiful and dumb,
As trembling, the tree stands, and strikes my genius
numb. . . .
It looks into the wide, pale shallows, mirror-clear,
Seeking to shed the dews that stain it like a tear ;
And stilled with horror, groans like a rude, rusty cart,
Seeing the dismal hunch mocked by the pool's bright art.
When steely sleep alights upon the silent lake
For the bent apple-tree, as for a sick girl's sake,
I come to offer tenderness the boughs would miss,
I press upon the petal-perfumed tree a kiss.
Then trustingly, with tears, the tree confides her care
To me, and brushes with a touch my back-blown hair.
Her boughs encircle me, her little twigs enlace,
And I lift up my lips to kiss her flowering face.
This sophisticated folk-poet, a peasant by birth, began to
write just before the outbreak of the war, when he brought
out three volumes of verse within two years. His mastery
of his medium has developed steadily. His imagery, vivid and
concrete, derives from two sources: the routine of rural life
and Christian symbolism. Kluyev hailed the social revolution,
and Russia as its messiah. His most recent work, " The Izba
Songs ", has a quality of deep and original homeliness.
160 Nikolai Kluyev
A NORTHERN POEM *
Sunset dreams on fir-tree cones,
Green the hedge, and brown the field ;
Mossy rifts in weathered stones
Meekly vernal waters yield.
Oh, look up the wooded steep
God has touched it with his palm;
Piously wild berries weep,
listening to the grassy psalm.
And I feel no fleshly tie;
And my heart's a springing mead.
Come, ye pilgrims white and shy,
Peck the early wheaten seed.
Tender evening twilight searches
Cottage windows, gabled byres,
And the leaves of slender birches
Glimmer soft as wedding fires.
1 Tr. by Avrahm Yarmolinsky.
Nikolai Kluyev 161
AN IZBA SONG
The stove is orphaned now; the old housewife has died,
The trivet tells the pot with tears; their talk is harried.
Behind the pane two trustful magpies, side by side,
Chirp: " May is near, today the finches will be married,
Smith Woodpecker with busy knocking has stripped his
The mole the sullen miner creeps sunward, meekly
His tunneled, dark estate to bugs without a groat.
The cranes are homing now, the sparrow, pert and
Has heard the jackdaw blurt the secret of her egg."
The tangled mop awaits the bucket, limp and tired.
She thinks the unwashed porch for spuming suds must beg.
How gay would be the splash of water, how desired
A windowful of sunray tow, an endless fairy-tale. . . .
Behind the stove the house-sprite gabbles, quick and
Of the new tenant's stillness within the churchyard's pale,
Of crosses listening to things nameless forever,
Of how the dark church-entrance lulls the linger dream.
The house-sprite gabbles on above the bleak hour's stark-
The peasant-hut is scowling ; pewter eye agleam,
The lonely window stares out at the thaw and darkness.
This young woman poet exhibits a charm which is insistently
and delightfully feminine.
Lubov Stolitza 163
A LENTEN ONE
Noon in golden thaw is garbed with glory,
Midnight's wrap of silver snows is hoary.
Pink the buds among the aspen's ashes
Where the diamond hoar-frost softly flashes.
My kind cat has furtively departed,
But the swallow has returned, high-hearted.
Winter grief no more our dumb lips locking,
But upon the heart Spring grief is knocking.
And at noon we weep, our bosoms crossing,
Midnight sees us in hot slumber tossing:
Quiet lips, knees pressed as though in prayer,
But our shadowed eyes are our betrayer.
One of the latest comers, Yesenin is also one of the most
gifted of the younger Russian poets. His first book was pub-
lished in 1916. He is a member of a group which has come
into being during the revolution and which calls itself
" imazhinisty " (imagists). Like Kluyev, he came from the
masses, and, like him, operates with the intimate details of the
peasant's life and faith. Whatever his political and literary
associations, he is a poet del gratia.
Sergei Yesenin 165
"UPON GREEN HILLS"
Upon green hills wild droves of horses blow
The golden bloom off of the days that go.
From the high hillocks to the blue-ing bay
Falls the sheer pitch of heavy manes that sway.
They toss their heads above the still lagoon
Caught with a silver bridle by the moon.
Snorting in fear of their own shadow, they,
To screen it with their manes, await the day.
f l66 Sergei Yesenin
" HOPES PAINTED BY THE AUTUMN COLD "
Hopes, painted by the autumn cold, are shining,
My steady horse plods on, like quiet fate,
His moist dun lip is catching at the lining
When the coat, flapping, flutters and falls straight.
On a far road the unseen traces, leading
Neither to rest nor battle, lure and fade;
The golden heel of day will flash, receding,
And labors in the chest of years be laid.
Sergei Yesenin 167
" IN THE CLEAR COLD "
In the clear cold the dales grow blue and tremble ;
The iron hoofs beat sharply, knock on knock.
The faded grasses in wide skirts assemble
Flung copper where the wind-blown branches rock.
From empty straths, a slender arch ascending:
Fog curls upon the air and, moss-wise, grows,
And evening, low above the wan streams bending,
In their white waters washes his blue toes.
1 68 Sergei Yesenin
Fowlers of the universe.
You who trailed heaven with the net of dawn,
Lift your trumpets !
Beneath the plow of storm
The dumb earth roars.
Golden-tusked, the colter breaks
A new sower
Roams the fields.
He casts into the furrows.
A guest of light drives toward us
In a coach.
Across the clouds
A mare races.
The breech-band on the mare:
The bells on the breech-band:
This is one of the more gifted of the woman poets in the
170 Z. Shishova
" HOW STRANGE, OH, GOD "
How strange, oh, God, as in sleep's euthanasia,
Thy earth today.
Behind the window, each like an acacia,
The poplars sway.
From my small muff my hand withdrawing slightly,
I find it dry.
And from my furs, as though May touched them lightly,
Faint perfumes fly.
And through the night dark troubled dreams are rearing:
They choke and cling.
How shall I then forbear a* last from fearing,
Oh, God, thy Spring?
Oreshin belongs to the poetic progeny of the Revolution.
172 Plotr Oreshin
NOT BY HANDS CREATED
Fall on your face,
Mug-forward into the swamps.
With your old were-wolf's eye,
What a blade I am !
And the darkness of forests,
And the sheaves behind the village,-
Tufted with red hair,
Like asses' ears
Through the heavens!
Oceans resting in me,
Piotr Oreshin 173
On my cheek-bones.
My stone mouth
Is stretched with song
From east to west.
On my hairy paw
Like a bull,
I have squatted, rock-fast,
In a long shirt
And I sit now
On the fat hill of the universe.
174 Piotr Oreshin
On my hairy belly,
And in the stony fir-trees
In cope and coif,
Having lit a taper,
Not by hands created,
I roll my eyes heavily
As roll the mill-stones
Of the blue
I chew the cud of gray clouds,
Of perishing brothers
With my wise
Piotr Oreshin 175
Through closed lids
Between my legs new rivers
Listening to the earth,
With out-thrust, lower lip,
Pour with the sound of spears
Pierce the earth.
Not by hands created,
With the spirit of Life-giving Spring
The tilled field,
On the naked knees of the universe
The blue waters
Of My Eternal Triumph.
Hosannah in the highest!
This young poet belongs to the Imagist coterie. His verse
is interesting for its sophisticated technique and its angular
ruggedness. The title of the second poem given here refers
to the month when the Soviets assumed power.
Anatoly Marienhof 177
"SAVAGE, NOMAD HORDES"
Savage, nomad hordes
Poured fire out of the vats!
Razin's execution is avenged,
And Pugachov's pain
Whose beard was torn away.
The scruff of the earth,
Cold with centuries,
And the supernal sky, like a stocking
With a hole in its heel
Has been taken out of the laundry-trough
178 Anatoly Marienhof
We trample filial obedience,
We have gone and sat down saucily,
Keeping our hats on,
Our feet on the table.
You don't like us, since we guffaw with blood,
Since we don't wash rags washed millions of times,
Since we suddenly dared,
Ear-splittingly, to bark: Wow!
Yes, sir, the spine
Is as straight as a telephone pole,
Not my spine only, but the spines of all Russians,
For centuries hunched.
Who makes a louder noise on earth now than we ?
You say: Bedlam
No milestones no stakes
Straight to the devil . On the church porch our red
cancan is glorious.
What, you don't believe? Here are hordes,
Droves of clouds at men's beck and call,
And the sky like a woman's cloak,
And no eyelash of sun.
Jesus is on the cross again, and Barabbas
We escort, mealy-mouthed, down the Tverskoi Pros-
pekt. . . .
Who will interrupt, who? The gallop of Scythian horses?
Violins bowing the Marseillaise ?
Anatoly Marienhof 179
Has it ever before been heard of, that the forger
Of steel bracelets for the globe
Should smoke his rotten tobacco as importantly
As the officer used to clink his stirrups?
You ask And then?
And then dancing centuries.
We shall knock at all doors
And no one will say: Goddamyou, get out!
We! We! We are everywhere:
Before the footlights, in the center of the stage,
Not softy lyricists,
But flaming buffoons.
Pile rubbish, all the rubbish in a heap,
And like Savonarola, to the sound of hymns,
Into the fire with it. ... Whom should we fear?
When the mundiculi of puny souls have become worlds.
Every day of ours is a new chapter in the Bible.
Every page will be great to thousands of generations.
We are those about whom they will say:
The lucky ones lived in 1917.
And you are still shouting: They perish!
You are still whimpering lavishly.
Isn't yesterday crushed, like a dove
By a motor
Emerging madly from the garage ?
Index of Authors
Akhmatova, Anna, 150-154
Balmont, Konstantin, 72-80
Baltrushaitis, Yurgis, 109-111
Baratynsky, Yevgeny, 13, 14
Bashkin, Vasily, 144, 145
Bely, Andrey, 138-141
Blok, Alexander, 126-137
Brusov, Valery, 81-91
Bunin, Ivan, 92-97
Chulkov, Georgy, 123-125
Foeth, see Shenshin-Foeth
Gorodetzky, Sergey, 146-149
Hippius, Zinaida, 68-71
Hofman, Victor, 142, 143
Ivanov, Vyacheslav, 98-108
Kluyev, Nikolai, 159-161
Koltzov, Alexey, 15, 1 6
Kuzmin, Mikhail, 118-128
Lermontov, Mikhail, 17-22
Maikov, Apollon, 39-42
Marienhof, Anatoly, 176-179
Merezhkovsky, Dmitry, 56-60
Minsky, N., 53-55
Nekrasov, Nikolai, 30-33
Oreshin, Piotr, 171-175
Polonsky, Yakov, 47-49
Pushkin, Alexander, 3-12
Severyanin, Igor, 155-158
Shenshin-Foeth, Afanasy, 43-46
Shishova, Z., 169, 170
Sologub, Fyodor, 61-67
Solovyov, Vladimir, 50-52
Stolitza, Lubov, 162, 163
Tolstoy, Alexey K., 34-38
Tyutchev, Fyodor, 23-29
Voloshin, Maximilian, 112-117
Yesenin, Sergei, 164-168
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