The Silver Age of Russian Poetry

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Nikolai Gumilev

The Streetcar Gone Astray

I was walking along an unfamiliar street,
And suddenly heard a cawing of crows,
And resonant lutes, and distant rumbling,
-- Before me a streetcar flew.

How I leapt to its platform
Was a riddle to me,
Even in the light of day
It left a fiery trail in the air.

Rushing ahead like a dark-winged storm,
It went astray in the abyss of Time...
"Stop, conductor,
Stop the car right now! "

Too late. We had already passed the wall,
We leapt through the grove of palms,
Across the Neva, the Nile, the Seine,
We boomed across three bridges.

And flashing past the window's frame,
Casting a searching glance after us was
An old man -- of course, the same one
Who died in Bierut a year ago.

Where am I? So languid and anxious,
My heart hammers in answer:
"Do you see the station where one
Can buy a ticket to the India of the Spirit?"

A sign... letters poured from blood
Announce -- "Vegetables." I know this is where,
Instead of cabbages, instead of rutabagas,
Corpse's heads are being sold.

Clad in a red shirt, with a face like an udder,
The executioner cleaves my head too,
It was lying here with the others,
On the very bottom in a slippery box.

And in an alley -- a board fence,
A three-windowed house with gray grass.
"Stop, conductor,
Stop the car right now!"

Mashenka, here you lived, and here you sang,
You wove a rug for me, your love,
Where are your voice and body now,
Can it be that you are dead!

How you sobbed in your chamber,
But I with powdered queue
Was going to present myself to the Empress,
And never again did we meet.

Now I understood: our freedom
Is only light which strikes from there,
Humans and shades are standing at the gate
To the zoological garden of the planets.

And suddenly a sweet, familiar wind
And across the bridge, flying toward me --
The iron-gloved hand of the Horseman
And the two hooves of his steed.

That faithful bulwark of Orthodoxy,
St. Isaac's is chiseled into the sky,
There I'll have some prayers for Mashenka's
Health, and a requiem mass for myself.

And still my heart is dark forever,
And it's hard to breathe, and pain to live...
Mashenka, I never believed
It possible to love and grieve like this.


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The Silver Age of Russian Poetry
created by Lindsay Malcolm

last modified: August 8th, 1999