No. 4 & 5


Boris Pasternak  

Translated from the Russian by J. Kates  



I was quivering, by turns blazing and extinct.
I was trembling. Just now I had proposed, —
Too late — I had waffled — and now I was refused.
A pity she wept! I — more blessed than a saint. 

I went into the square. You could say I’d gone
Through a second birth. Every little detail
Alive in its own fashion, regardless of me,
Leaped out with its own way of saying farewell.

The sidewalks glowed, and the brow of the street
Turned dark, and cobblestones looked up at the sky
Beetle-browed, and the wind like a ferryman rowed
Through the lindens. Everything everywhere was a sign. 

But I paid no attention, I tried my best to avoid
Their stare. I didn’t acknowledge their wave,
Wanted to know nothing about their goods.
To keep from howling out loud I tore myself away.

That little old lickspittle inborn intelligence
Was more than I could endure. It crept by my side 
And thought: “How unfortunate, the dear infant
Needs to be carefully watched with open eyes.”

“Take it one step at a time,” Instinct repeated,
And led me sagely, like a philosopher,
Past virginal, impassible thickets of reed,
Of heated trees, of lilac and suffering.

“Take it step by step, before trying to run,”
It said once more, as once again the natives
Of this planet learn (while a new sun
Watched from its zenith) their route to a new fate.

This completely blinded some. As for others,
It seemed in the dark that their eyes had been put out.
Little chicks were pecking among the dahlias,
Crickets and dragonflies, like little timepieces, ticked.

A tile floated along, while the noon surveyed,
Without blinking, the rooftops. And in Marburg
Someone whistling loudly fashioned a crossbow,
And someone planned silently for Trinity Fair.

Sand, devouring clouds, turned itself yellow.
An impending storm played with the shrubbery.
And the sky coagulated where it fell
Against a spray of astringent arnica.

And all day I carried you, from the comb in your hair
To your feet, having learned you by heart
As a second-rate tragic actor knows his Shakespeare,
And staggered through the city rehearsing my part.

When I kneeled before you, finally having seized
This fog, this ice, this absolute perfection
(How fine you are!) — this suffocating whirlwind . . .
What about you? Hold on!  It’s over. Gone.

Here Martin Luther lived. There, Brothers Grimm.
Roofs with claws. Greenery. And gravestones.
Everything here remembers, keeps up with them.
Everything’s vital. And also — all are signs.

No, I won’t see her tomorrow. I’m refused —
A farewell more than final. It’s clear. We‘re both free.
The crowd at the station has nothing to do with us.
You ancient flagstones, what will become of me?

The all-encompassing fog will unpack its bags
And hang up its things in both windows with the moon.
Anguish will come browsing along the bookshelf
And cozy up with a book on the small divan.

Why am I such a coward? I know insomnia
As well as my alphabet. Wir sind du und du.
Why do I fear, like the approach of a sleepwalker,
The appearance of thoughts I’m long accustomed to?

The nights sit down to play a game of chess
On the moon-illuminated parquet floor,
A scent of acacia through the fragrant windows,
And passion grows gray as a witness in the corner.

Poplar is king of the chessboard. I’m playing
Against insomnia. The queen is a nightingale.
She draws me in. Night wins. The pieces away,
I will greet white morning as a familiar face.


A boat slaps against my dreamy breast,
Willows hung down, they kiss the collarbone
the elbow, the oarlock — oh, wait a second —
this sort of thing could happen to anyone.

It's the same old entertaining song.
It comes to this — lilac ashes, the luxury 
of crumbled camomile in the dew,
lips and lips in exchange for the stars.

It comes to this — embrace the firmament,
entwine arms around mighty Hercules.
It comes to this — century after century
trifle away nights in the trill of warblers.


Then summer bade farewell
to the way-station. Doffing its cap,
in the night the storm took
a hundred blinding snapshots.

Clusters of lilac dimmed. Just then,
it came crashing in from the fields
with sheaves of lightning
to light up all the buildings.

And when a wave of ill will
poured along the rooflines
and like charcoal on drawing-paper
rainfall crashed on every fence

the collapse of consciousness 
began to glint, it seemed, lighting 
even those corners of the intellect
already bright as noonday.


When it was Desdemona’s time to sing —
With the little life she had left—
Not about love, not about destiny
She sang, but for weeping willows wept.

When it was Desdemona’s time to sing
And she put her strength into her voice,
Her blackest demon prepared a psalm
About a black hour of weeping rivers.

When it was Ophelia’s time to sing  —
With the little life she had left—
The drought in her soul wafted away
Like stalks in a storm out of the loft.

When it was Ophelia’s time to sing,
Bored by the bitterness of daydreams,
What trophies did she take down with her?
An armful of willow and celandine.

Their passions fell from their backs like rags,
They stepped, with a failing spirit,
Into the pool of the universe, to drench
And deafen their loving body with worlds.



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