Triumphing over death from the start
Stilling time’s unyielding wheel with love’s art,
Eternal Beloved, your name is held in my heart.
Please hear my timorous song!
Free from the world’s deceptive mind,
Beneath rough matter’s rind,
I saw eternal violet, rich royal purple;
I discovered divine light…
Three times you gave yourself to my living sight —
No phantom, no mere mind’s flight —
As omen, aid, and as award,
Your image answered my muffled call.
The first time — O, how long ago that was! —
Thirty-six years have come and gone
Since my then childish soul unexpectedly felt
That melancholy love, those dark dreams.
I was nine years old and she… nine too.
“It was a May day in Moscow,” as Fet said.
I professed my love. Silence. O God!
A rival! He’ll answer to me!
Duel, duel! Ascension Sunday,
My soul boiled in a stream of passion and torment.
Every day… let us lay aside… earthly cares —
Hovering, that hymn held, stood, stuck.
The sanctuary was open… But where is priest or deacon?
And where the crowd of praying people?
Then, all of a sudden — the stream of passion runs dry.
Azure envelops me, azure in my soul.
Flooded with golden azure,
And Your hand holding a strange flower from a strange land.
You were there, smiling, a radiant smile.
You inclined Your head, then faded into mist.
From then my childish love turned to another,
My soul fell blind to mundane things…
Fretting for me, my German nurse kept saying:
“Volodinka — Ah! What a little fool!”
Years passed. Now a lecturer, a master,
I rush abroad for the first time.
Berlin, Hanover, Cologne — flying by,
Cities flash suddenly, and vanish before the eye.
Not to Paris, the shining center, nor to the Spanish edge,
Nor the kaleidoscopic Orient —
My dream took me to the British Museum,
And my dream was no misdirection.
Shall I ever forget that blessed half-year?
Not phantoms of perfect beauty,
Neither lives, nor passions, nor nature —
But You! You owned my whole soul.
Despite the crowd’s bustle back and forth,
And the roar of fire-breathing factories,
Despite the hard city blocks, the soulless buildings —
In sacred silence I sit, here, alone.
Well, certainly cum grano salis:
I was lonely, but no misanthrope;
In social solitude.
Which of my friends shall I now name?
A shame, that in this short space I cannot manage
Their names nor their foreign chatter…
I’ll just list: Two, three British wizards
And, yes, two or three masters from Moscow.
So few so much the better, leaving me alone in the library;
And believe it or not (God is my witness),
Mysterious forces chose my
Every book; and I read only of Her.
When sinful whims whispered,
“Look in a book ‘from another opera’” —
Such operatic dramas erupted,
That in confusion I fled back to my flat.
And it was here — it was autumn —
When I told Her: “Divine Flower,
I feel Your touch! But why have you hidden Yourself
From my sight since I was a boy?”
At the very moment these thoughts moved through my mind —
Instantly, golden azure filled the room,
And she shone before me once again —
But just Her face — Her face.
At that instant lasting bliss was born in me!
Once more my soul went blind to mundane matters.
If I gave a sober hearing to Her, I know not what I heard;
Her words were incomprehensible, talk fit for a fool.
I said to Her: “I see your face,
But I yearn for all of you.
What You have not held back from the boy,
That — the young man also wants!”
“To Egypt go!” — a voice within proclaimed.
First to Paris! — Steampower carried me further south.
Feeling did not fight with mind at all:
Mind was silent, like a fool.
To Lyons, Turin, Piacenza and Ancona,
To Fermo, Bari, Brindisi — and Lo!
Across the glimmering dark blue bosom
I was borne by a British steamer.
Crib and credit were given me in Cairo
By the Hotel “Abbot” — no longer there, alas!
Cozy, modest, the best hotel in the world…
And there were Russians, even from Moscow.
All were entertained by the general — the ten of us —
As he recalled olden days in the Caucasus…
No harm to name him now — he’s long dead,
And I’ve no wish to diminish his honor.
Rostislav Faddeev, he was well-known,
A retired soldier, talented with both sword and pen.
The name of every courtesan and cathedral
Were hidden treasures in him.
Twice a day we met at the table.
The grand sir wove his yarns,
Not forgetting the saucy tale
With a generous garnish of philosophy.
I waited, meanwhile, for the cherished meeting,
And then in the silent hour of the night,
Came a breath cool as a breeze.
“In the desert I am — Seek me there.”
I went on foot (from London to the Sahara
Is not free passage for young men —
My empty pocket might have granted free passage to a marble —
I’d lived on others’ indulgence for days).
Only God can say where, without coin, without carriage,
I was off to that fine day —
As Uncle Vas has written Nekrasov.
(Well, I’ve found a rhyme, anyway.)
You must have laughed truly, as I walked into the desert
In coat and top hat.
My strange attire gave those strong Bedouins
Such a start, and for that
I was nearly killed — as a riotous Arabic
Council of two sheikhs and two tribes
Decided my fate, while their spokesman
Tied my hands without a wasted word.
They led me far away, and loosed
my hands from their cords — and left me there.
I can join your laughter now: Gods and men alike
Can laugh at troubles once passed.
By then the wordless night had dropped
Down to the ground, simply said.
All about only silence I heard
And, yes, only darkness I saw between the blazing stars.
Lying down on the ground, I watched and listened…
I was startled by the jackal’s howl;
It was dreaming, surely, of its next meal,
And I hadn’t even a stick.
Out there, the jackal’s hot cry; and here, frigid cold…
Zero degrees, I’d guess — yet the afternoon had been hot…
The stars sparkled, ruthless and sharp;
Both light and cold cut through my dreams.
And long I lay in troubled sleep,
Then a whisper: “Sleep, poor friend, sleep.”
And I slept; and later gently roused —
Earth and sky, the whole world smelled of roses!
Agown in heavenly purple glow you stood,
Eyes full of azure fire,
Your gaze was the first blaze
Of world-filling, life-giving day.
What is, what was, what shall forever be —
All, all was held here in one steady gaze…
The seas and rivers blue beneath me,
Distant woods, snow-capped peaks.
I saw all, and all was one —
A single image of womanly beauty…
Pregnant with vastnesses!
Before me, in me — only You.
Radiant One! You can’t fool me:
I saw all of you there in the desert.
In my soul those roses won’t wither,
Whichever way the day may whirl.
Yet but an instant! And the vision veiled.
The sun climbed the sky’s dome.
Silence, desert silence. And so my soul prayed;
While within: an endless celebration of bells!
Full, my spirit filled with strength! But empty, I hadn’t eaten for two days,
And my far seeing faded.
Alas! However sensitive the soul,
Famine is no friend, as they say.
Along the Nile I followed the sun’s way west
And by evening come home to Cairo.
My soul held tracings of your rose smiles,
While my boots couldn’t hide their many holes.
Friends called me fool.
(The vision kept secret, though facts were fessed).
Wordlessly, the general, his soup now finished,
Fixed me with a look, then grandly declared:
“Fellow, reason gives you the right to be a fool.
But best not abuse your birthright.
Neither skilled nor stupid
Can skillfully sort a way through stupidity.
“So, if you’re offended
To be thought an idiot —
Then in regard to this whole idiotic incident
Say no more.”
Oh, he was generous with his jibes, but before me
The blue ether still shone bright
And, dispelled by that mysterious splendor,
The sea of troubles drew far away.
Still the slave of the vain world’s mind,
But beneath rough matter’s rind,
I’ve clearly seen eternal violet, rich royal purple,
And felt the warm touch of divine light!
Triumphing over death in wisdom’s light,
Stilling the dream of time from its unyielding flight,
Eternal Beloved, your name is held by my utmost plight,
And forgive my timorous song!
by Vladimir Solovyov
English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Russian