Russian Legacy

Nikolai Gumilev
(1886-1921)

The Giraffe

Today, I see, your gaze is particularly forlorn,
And your hands particularly thin, embracing your knees.
Listen: far away, far away, on Lake Chad,
A refined giraffe is roaming.
His proportions are harmonious and his legs are long,
And a bewitching pattern adorns his skin;
Nothing dares compare with it, save the moon,
Fragmented and flowing on the liquid of broad lakes.
He juts out like the many-colored sails of ships,
And his gait is floating, like joyous birdflight.
I know this earth has seen many wonders
When at sunset he hides in a marble grotto.
I know the happy stories of secret lands,
About the dark maiden, about the passion of the young chief,
But you have breathed in the heavy mists for too long -
You will believe in nothing, except rain.
And how I would tell you about tropical orchards,
About elegant palms, about the scent of extraordinary grasses…
You're crying? Listen… far away, on Lake Chad,
A refined giraffe is roaming.

Translated by Katharine Gilbert
Жираф

Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд,
И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.
Послушай: далеко, далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.
Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,
И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,
С которым равняться осмелится только луна,
Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.
Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,
И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.
Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,
Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.
Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран
Про черную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,
Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,
Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь, кроме дождя.
И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,
Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав…
Ты плачешь? Послушай… далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.

The Giraffe

Today I see that your look is particularly sad,
And your hands are particularly fragile, clasped over your knees.
Just listen: far, far away, on Lake Chad
Roams a proud giraffe.
He has been blessed with gracefulness and bliss,
His hide is decorated with a magical pattern,
That only the moon would dare to compete with,
Glistenting and bouncing on the wetness of the wide lake.
From a distance he looks like the coloured sail of a ship,
And when running he glides, like the flight of a gleeful bird.
I know that there are a lot of miraculous things to see in the world,
When at sunset he hides himself in a marble grotto.*
I know the merry fairy tales of mysterious lands
About a dark maiden, about the fear of a youthful chief,
But you have breathed in the heavy fog for too long,
You don't want to believe in anything but the rain.
And when I tell you about a tropical garden,
About straight-standing palms, about the unbelievable
scent of the grasses…
You're crying? Just listen… far away, on Lake Chad
Roams a proud giraffe.

Translated by Lindsay Malcolm

* I do not know if Gumilev would like my translation, or if he used the Russian word grot to mean grotto, or its other meaning, mainsail. This interpretation would continue the comparison of the movement of the giraffe to that of a gliding boat, and give the line: When at sunset he disguises himself as a marble sail.

Жираф

Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд,
И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.
Послушай: далеко, далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.
Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,
И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,
С которым равняться осмелится только луна,
Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.
Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,
И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.
Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,
Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.
Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран
Про черную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,
Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,
Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь, кроме дождя.
И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,
Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав…
Ты плачешь? Послушай… далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф

The Giraffe

Today I can see your expression is especially sad,
And your arms that are hugging your knees so frail and fine,
But listen: somewhere far off by the distant lake Chad
An exotic giraffe roams about, adorned and refined.
An exquisite figure and a leisurely life are his boon
And a magical pattern that covers his beautiful hide,
Whose beauty can only be rivaled by the brilliant moon
That breaks on the surface of lakes in a tremulous light.
He looks at a distance like the colorful sails of the ships,
His run so smooth, like the birds in the jubilant flight,
I know there's much of miraculous one can glimpse
When in a grotto of marble at sunset he hides.
Of faraway countries I've heard many cheerful songs,
Of an ebony maiden, of a daring and passionate swain,
But you've been breathing this thick foggy air too long,
You wouldn't believe in anything else but the rain.
And how could I tell you about the tropical land,
About the palms and the herbs that one rarely finds?…
Are you weeping? But listen… far off by the distant lake Chad
An exotic giraffe roams about, adorned and refined.

Translated by Alexander Shaumyan

Жираф

Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд,
И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.
Послушай: далеко, далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.
Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,
И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,
С которым равняться осмелится только луна,
Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.
Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,
И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.
Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,
Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.
Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран
Про черную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,
Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,
Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь, кроме дождя.
И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,
Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав…
Ты плачешь? Послушай… далеко, на озере Чад Изысканный бродит жираф.

The Giraffe

Today you are gazing especially sadly, my love,
Your hands seem so slim when they weakly embrace your knees.
So, listen, far away, an exquisite giraffe
Is wandering near the lake Chad among other African beasts.
Such slenderness, sweet bliss are lavishly given to him.
His skin is adorned with some magic and graceful designs.
And only the moon dares to rival, to cleave and to swing
On the moisture of wide lakes, repeating those marvelous lines.
From afar he resembles the colored thin sails and I'd bet
His run can surpass even seagulls' glad flight over waves.
I know - the earth beholds some miraculous things at sunset
When he hides himself in the marble, mysterious caves.
I know the jovial tales from the ancient, inscrutable folks
About The Maiden and The Warrior's passion and pain.
But you, for too long, have been breathing in heavy, wet fogs
And wouldn't believe in anything but the continuous rain.
And what kind of words should I use to describe to you, child,
The tropical orchards, the fragrance, the palms? But enough…
Are you crying? So listen… there lives, at the lake named Chad,
An exquisite and proud giraffe.

Translated by Alex Sitnitsky

Жираф

Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд,
И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.
Послушай: далеко, далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф.
Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,
И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,
С которым равняться осмелится только луна,
Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.
Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,
И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.
Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,
Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.
Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран
Про черную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,
Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,
Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь, кроме дождя.
И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,
Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав…
Ты плачешь? Послушай… далеко, на озере Чад
Изысканный бродит жираф

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.

1921

Translated by Carl R. Proffer.


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