Translations by George M. Young
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.
He’s standing there, beside the glowing furnace,
A small man , probably older than you’d think.
His gaze is peaceful, seems almost submissive
From the way his reddened eyelids blink.
All his workmates have knocked off -- they’re sleeping
But he’s still working, showing what he’s worth,
Devoted to his task -- casting the bullet
That soon will separate me from the earth.
He’s finished. Now his eyes get back their twinkle.
He’s 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 Dvina’s 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 you’d 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.