Three Poems by Two Russian Poets

The River of Time
Река времён в своём стремленьи
Уносит все дела людей
И топит в пропасти забвенья
Народы, царства и царей.
А если что и остаётся
Чрез звуки лиры и трубы,
То вечности жерлом пожрётся
И общей не уйдёт судьбы.
The river of time in its swift course
Carries off all human things
And drowns in oblivion’s abyss
Peoples, kingdoms, and their kings.
And whatever lingers for an hour
In the sounds of lyre and flute
The maw of eternity will devour—
It will not escape the common fate.


Gavrila Derzhavin
Mary’s lament

Once upon a time our township
Flourished in the world:
Every Sunday in those days
The church of God was filled;
The children in the noisy schoolhouse
Raised their voices high,
And across the bright field flashed
The sickle and quick scythe.

Now the church is emptied out,
The school is locked up tight;
The dark grove is deserted, the idle
Field is overripe;
And the village stands alone here
Like a house burnt down—
All’s quiet—only the graveyard is
Not silent, not forlorn—

Every moment the dead are brought
And the living wail,
Begging God in fearfulness
To grant rest to their souls!
Every moment space is needed,
And to one another,
The graves, like a frightened flock of sheep,
Huddle close together!

If my springtime’s truly destined
For an early grave,
You, whom I loved so deeply, you
Who entranced me with your love,
I pray you: to your Jenny’s body
Do not dare go near,
Nor touch her dead lips with your kiss,
But follow her from afar.

And then up and leave the village!
Go away somewhere,
Find a place where you can sweeten
And ease your soul’s despair.
And when the plague is past and gone,
Come visit my poor dust,
For even in heaven Edmund will
Remain in Jenny’s breast.
Walsingham’s hymn
When like a bold chieftain
Mighty Winter swoops
Upon us with his troops
Of shaggy frost and snow—
We meet him with crackling fires
And merry feasting’s glow.

The terrible queen, the Plague,
Now goes against us all,
And hopes for a rich haul;
And her gravedigger’s spade
Keeps rapping at our window . . .
Will none come to our aid?

As on mischievous Winter,
On the Plague we’ll shut the door,
Light lamps and drink still more,
Merrily our minds to drown
And, in a whirl of feasts and dancing,
Exalt the Plague’s renown.

There’s inebriation in battle,
On the brink of a black abyss,
In huge waves and churning darkness
Of the furious ocean’s rage,
In the Arabian desert’s sandstorm,
And in the breathing of the Plague.

All, all that threatens death,
For the hearts of mortals hides
Inexplicable delights—
Even a pledge of eternal life!
Happy one who can find and know them
Amid such storm and strife.

And so—praise to thee, Plague,
We fear not the grave’s dark pall,
We’re undaunted by your call!
Our foaming cups we raise
And drink the rose-maiden’s breath—
Though it, too, be filled with Plague!
Alexander Pushkin
[Translated from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky]