5558

 

Russian Poets

 

Translations by George M. Young

 

 

CONSTANTINE BALMONT

1867-1942

 

 

UNDERWATER PLANTS

 

 

On the ocean bottom, stretching underwater,

The plants wiggle their pale tendrils and leaves,

They reach out, growing like the silent phantoms

That sick minds in profound dark conceive.

 

Their quiet solitude bears down, oppressive.

They reach for higher worlds, beyond the known,

They long for sunrays, blissful agitation

They dream of flowers, of fragrances breeze-blown.

 

No paths lead landward, up toward light and striving,

Just water overhead, dark, cool, and high.

Intermittently, a shark glides by.

 

There is no sound, no flash of light, no greeting,

And from above, down through the sea-churn, float

Human limbs and odd parts of a boat.

 

Balmont was one of the first in Russia to call himself a Symbolist. Others thought of him more as a decadent. He lived in France after the Revolution.

 

NIKOLAI GUMILEV

1886-1921

 

THE WORKER

 

Hes standing there, beside the glowing furnace,

A small man , probably older than youd think.

His gaze is peaceful, seems almost submissive

From the way his reddened eyelids blink.

 

All his workmates have knocked off -- theyre sleeping

But hes still working, showing what hes worth,

Devoted to his task -- casting the bullet

That soon will separate me from the earth.

 

Hes finished. Now his eyes get back their twinkle.

Hes going home. A bright moon shines ahead.

A house is waiting for him, warm and toasty

A sleepy wife, blankets and a big bed.

 

And the bullet he has cast now whistles

Over the Dvinas gray rippling spray

Homeward toward the heart it has been seeking,

And the bullet he has cast has found its way.

 

And I am falling, dazed by my own dying,

Watching a lifetime of moments pass,

And my blood, as from a fountain, now starts spurting

On the dusty, dry, flat trodden grass.

 

And the good Lord will repay me in full measure

For a life too brief to toast, too bitter to drink.

And he was wearing a gray shirt when he made it-

That small man, probably older than youd think.

 

Gumilev was an ardent monarchist who was married for a while to the poet Anna Akhmatova, fought on the losing side in the Civil War and was executed by a Bolshevik firing squad.

© 2005 George M. Young

George M. Young taught Russian at Grinnell and Dartmouth through the 1960s and 70s, directed a fine arts auction business through the 1980s and 90s, and currently serves as Adjunct in English at the University of New England. He is the author of a book of poems, a book and many articles on the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov, and a book on the American academic artist Charles H. Woodbury. He and his wife have two grown children and live in southern Maine.

gyoung02@maine.rr.com