18+ Best Yevgeny Yevtushenko Poems

Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Yevtushenko was a Soviet and Russian poet. He was also a novelist, essayist, dramatist, screenwriter, publisher, actor, editor and director of several films.

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Famous Yevgeny Yevtushenko Poems

I’M An Angel

I’ve stopped drinking.
I love my wife.
My own wife- I insist on this.
Living so like an angel,
I almost quote Shchipachev.
This is a shriveled life.
I’ve shut my eyes to all other women.
My shoulders feel peculiar.
Aha! Wings must be sprouting!
This makes me anxious. Moody.
And the wings keep sprouting-what a nuisance!
How awkward!
Now I’ll have to slit
my jacket in appropriate places.
A true angel,
I bear life no grudge
for all its cruel hurts.
I’m a true angel. But I still smoke.
I’m the smoking type.
To be an angel is strange work.
Pure spirit. Not an ounce of flesh.
And the women pass by.
A true angel, what good to them am I!
I don’t count for the present,
not while I hold celestial rank,
but-bear in mind-in this life,
a fallen angel is the worst devil of all!

Weddings

Weddings in days of war,
false cheating comfort,
those hollow phrases:
‘He won’t get killed…’
On a snowbound winter road,
slashed by a cruel wind,
I speed to a hasty wedding
in a neighboring village.
Gingerly I enter
a buzzing cottage,
I, a folk dancer of repute,
with a forelock dangling
from my forehead.
All spruced up, disturbed,
among relatives and friends
the bridegroom sits, just mobilized,
distraught.
Sits with Vera-his bride-
but in a day or two
he’ll pull on a gray soldier’s coat
and, wearing it, leave for the front.
Then with a rifle he will go,
tramping over alien soil;
a German bullet, perhaps,
will lay him low…
A glass of foaming home brew
he’s not able yet to drink.
Their first night together
will likely be their last.
Chagrined, the bridegroom stares,
and with all his soul in anguish
cries to me across the table:
‘Well, go on, why don’t you dance! ‘
They all forget their drinking,
all fix me with goggling eyes,
and I slide and writhe,
beating a rhythm with my hooves.
Now I drum a tattoo,
now drag my toes
across the floor.
Whistling shrilly,
I clap my hands,
leap up near the ceiling.
Slogans on the wall fly past,
‘Hitler will be kaput! ‘
But the bride
scalds
her face
with tears.
I’m already a wet rag,
barely catch my breath…
‘Dance! ‘-
they shout in desperation,
and I dance again…
Back home, my ankles
feel as stiff as wood;
but from yet another wedding
drunken guests
come knocking at the door once more.
Soon as mother lets me go,
I’m off to weddings once again,
and round the tablecloth anew
I stamp my feet and bend my knees.
The bride sheds bitter tears,
friends are tearful too.
I’m afraid for everyone.
I’ve no desire to dance,
but you can’t not dance.

I Dreamed I Already

I dreamed I already loved you.
I dreamed I already killed you.

But you rose again; another form, but you,
a girl on the little ball of the earth,
naive simplicity, curve-necked
on that early canvas of Picasso,
and prayed to me with your ribs:
‘Love me, ‘ as though you said, ‘Don’t push me off.’

I’m that played-out, grown-up acrobat,
hunchbacked with senseless muscles,
who knows that advice is a lie,
that sooner or later there’s falling.

I’m too scared to say: ‘I love you, ‘
because I’d be saying: ‘I’ll kill you.’

For in the depths of a face I can see through
I see the faces-can’t count them-
that, right on the spot, or maybe
not right away, I tortured to death.

You’re pale from the mortal balance. You say:
‘I know everything; I was all of them.
I know you’ve already loved me.
I know you’ve already killed me.
But I won’t spin the globe backwards:
Love again, and then kill again.’

Lord, you’re young. Stop your globe.
I’m tired of killing. I’m not a damn thing but old.

You move the earth beneath your little feet,
you fall, ‘Love me.’
It’s only in those eyes, so similar, you say:
‘This time don’t kill me! ‘

Antedeluvian

The woman walked past Execution Block
on Red Square
carrying rolls of toilet paper,
twenty at least,
not in her arms,
but on twine hanging from her neck.
These are the necklaces of Mother Russia today!
And this woman-
my God! -was almost proud,
while my head all but pounded
the cobblestones,
ashamed that in the Russia
of Gagarin and Shostakovich
trials and torments
of getting necessities
are so demeaning!
Why brains and courage enough
for the cosmos,
but not
for toilet paper?
We heroically build difficulties.
Antedeluvian-
I can’t say it otherwise-
antedeluvian.
From Execution Block
in consternation
the severed skull of Stenka Razin watches
a brawl over track shoes
in the Moscow Mall.
His gouged eyes stare,
inside out,
at the Russian woman
bearing her antedeluvian yoke
like a Mongol captive.
Right in front of the Kremlin
someone hauls a pedal sewing machine,
another,
a Persian rug,
with no Persian princess, for sure.
If each day
this antedeluvian deluge appears,
it’s hard for Stenka’s severed head to grasp
who are the boyars and who are the serfs.
We live in a land
that’s not comfortable,
the first in some things,
but in others antedeluvian,
and our antedeluvianism has
a putrid spirit, half boyar
half serf.
When our bedraggled quasi-boyars
deposit grain
in a storehouse with a rotten roof
and throw computers out
to perish under snow-
it smells like a raid by Genghis Khan.
Quasi-boyars stare arrogantly,
boorishly,
but if you dig into them-
there’s the batting
of servility.
It was they who put into parks,
empty and sexless,
antedeluvian plaster discus-throwers.
Their discus-throwers crumble at the slightest touch.
Their alarm clocks won’t wake up
without an alarm clock.
Don’t try to dress up
in their stores,
where there are no dresses-but curses,
no shoes-but abuse.
Their vegetable bins-
are pits for mortals.
A store can’t be a temple
for those who turn temples into stores!
It’s their necklaces
of spools of toilet paper
our suffering women wear,
certainly not pearls.
How I want to believe:
The unsung song will be sung.
Like a spring flood
we’ll wash away all antedeluvianism,
and around the necks of our loved ones,
we will place
the real necklaces
they deserve!

1986
Translated by Albert C. Todd and James Ragan

Eight Year Old Poet

On the platform, in Pasternak’s unerased footprints,
leaving behind your own print,
you stand a moment with me in farewell,
eight-year-old poet.

I can’t understand your origins
or from which kind of rain you come.
Created almost in a vacuum, Nika,
you part the rain with a mere glance.

You simply stopped being a child,
burning, tormenting yourself.
As soon as you learned to stand,
you spat your pacifier into the fire.

A secret little queen,
you and your crown have grown into one.
Each illness you’ve survived
is a heavy jewel in your tiara.

I fear that you will suddenly shatter,
and the invisible ring
of the freshly forged white-hot crown
will scorch your childish bangs.

A pencil in your fingers is heavier than a scepter;
your notebook has iron pages.
If a chasm opens at your feet,
you have nothing to lose but your childhood.

Might this be our salvation from a lack of poets,
when children as if from a cliff
leap directly into the poetry-abyss
to fill up the gap?

If elders fear this profession,
children will avenge them.
Will a nursery bring forth a Homer
and kindergarten a Shakespeare?

Children are secret grown-ups. This torments.
All of us are secret children,
and we’ll never grow up completely,
because we fear the children within.

On the platform, in Pasternak’s eternal footprints,
leaving behind your own print,
you sigh a deep moan inside,
eight-year-old poet.

With a burst you skip and run down the platform,
flying with girlish delight,
but when you stumble on your dropped crown
you are no longer a child.

And from the foot-board your eyes call me
into a life where there is no age.
Farewell! It’s too late for me to jump on your train,
eight-year-old poet.

Let’s Not…

Let’s not…
Everything’s ghostly-
the blank windows watching,
the snow reddening behind the stoplights of the cars.
Let’s not…
Everything’s ghostly, lost in mist,
like a garden in March emptied of men and women,
paraded by shadows.
Let’s not…
I stand by a tree,
not speaking, undeceiving, facing
the double glare of the headlights,
and with a quiet hand touch
but do not break
the tender icicle imprisoning a twig.
Let’s not…
I see you in the sleepy, reeling trolley
with spectral Moscow rocking in the window,
your cheek propped on a child’s wool mitten,
thinking of me with a woman’s rancor.
Let’s not…
You’ll be a woman soon enough, subtle and worn,
hungry for praise, for the balm of a caress;
it will be March again,
a callow boy will whisper in your ear,
your head will whirl inconsolably.
Let’s not…
for both your sakes,
don’t stroll with him down the slippery path,
don’t place
your insubordinate hands
upon his shoulders,
even as I do not place them today.
Let’s not…
Oh, disbelieve, like me, in the ghostly city.
Be spared
from waking in the wasteland, terrified.
Say: ‘Let’s not…’
bending your head,
as I this moment
say ‘Let’s not…’ to you…

1960
Translated by Stanley Kunitz with Anthony Kahn

Once People

Once people get under my skin,
they never find the exit.
They romp around,
fill my insides with their song and dance,
make lots of noise, using my dumbness as their cover-up.
I’m full to bursting with wise men
and fools- they’ve utterly exhausted me!
So much so that my skin’s
quite worn through
by their heels, rubbing from inside!
Give me a chance to breathe!
It’s all impossible!
I’m stuffed to the gills
with those who’ve brought me so much joy
as well as those who’ve given most offence.
What has come over me?
What can I do with this great throng
stuck in my own small heart-
police are needed to keep order there!
I’ve gone a little cracked,
for there, in that secluded shade,
I’ve dropped none of the women
and none of them’s dropped me!
It’s awkward to revive dead friendships
however much you tire yourself with trying.
The only friends I’ve lost
were on the outside,
but of those inside I’ve lost nobody.
All the people in my life I’ve quarreled with,
or made friends with,
or only shaken hands with,
have merged in a new life under the old one’s skin-
a secret conflagration without flame.
The repossession of the unpossessable
is like a waterfall that rushes upward.
Those who have died
have been born again in me,
those who have not been born as yet
cry out.
My population is too large,
beyond the strength of just one man-
but then, a person would be incomplete
if he contained no others.

1975
Translated by Arthur Boyars and Simon Franklin

No, I’Ll No Take Half

No, I’ll not take the half of anything!
Give me the whole sky! The far-flung earth!
Seas and rivers and mountain avalanches-
All these are mine! I’ll accept no less!

No, life, you cannot woo me with a part.
Let it be all or nothing! I can shoulder that!
I don’t want happiness by halves,
Nor is half of sorrow what I want.

Yet there’s a pillow I would share,
Where gently pressed against a cheek,
Like a helpless star, a falling star,
A ring glimmers on a finger of your hand.

1963
Translated by George Reavey

We Should Be Stingier

We should be stingier
breathing out and breathing in-
then, perhaps, the epic
will lie down in neat quatrains.

We have to be more generous,
louder, like the outcry ‘Follow me! ‘
stronger, coarser-
with the earth’s coarse globe.

I envy the relics of space,
compressed by the word in layers,
but brevity is the sister of ineptitude
when it springs from emptiness.

Not all conciseness is priceless.
Rhymed oil cakes are stiff and brittle,
and someone’s square hay,
I wouldn’t eat if I were a horse.

I like hay by the armful,
with the dew still not dried out,
with red whortleberries, with mushroom caps,
clipped by a scythe.

All sentimentality with form is sloppy,
hurl the epoch into rhythm,
tear it up the way an invalid in despair
tears up his striped sailor’s shirt!

Should we place in a woman’s cap and dress
along with other old-fashioned rags,
the divine tatters
that we call life?

Handicraft taste is not art.
A great reader will grasp
both the charm of the absence of style
and the splendor of longeurs.

1986
Translated by Albert C. Todd

Prologue

I’m many-sided.
I’m overworked,
and idle too.
I have a goal
and yet I’m aimless.
I don’t, all of me, fit in;
I’m awkward,
shy and rude,
nasty and good-natured.
I love it,
when one thing follows another
and so much of everything is mixed in me:
from west to east,
from envy to delight.
I know, you’ll ask:
‘What about the overall goal? ‘
There’s tremendous value in this all!
I’m indispensable to you!
I’m heaped as high
as a truck with fresh-mown hay!
I fly through voices,
through branches,
light and chirping,
and butterflies flutter in my eyes,
and hay pushes out of cracks.
I greet all movement! Ardor,
and eagerness, triumphant eagerness!
Frontiers are in my way.
It is embarrassing
for me not to know Buenos Aires and New York.
I want to walk at will
through London,
and talk with everyone,
even in broken English.
I want to ride
through Paris in the morning,
hanging on to a bus like a boy.
I want art to be
as diverse as myself;
and what if art be my torment
and harass me
on every side,
I am already by art besieged.
I’ve seen myself in every everything:
I feel kin to Yesenin
and Walt Whitman,
to Mussorgsky grasping the whole stage,
and Gauguin’s pure virgin line.
I like
to use my skates in winter,
and, scribbling with a pen,
spend sleepless nights.
I like
to defy an enemy to his face,
and bear a woman across a stream.
I bite into books, and carry firewood,
pine,
seek something vague,
and in the August heat I love to crunch
cool scarlet slices of watermelon.
I sing and drink,
giving no thought to death;
with arms outspread
I fall upon the grass,
and if, in this wide world, I come to die,
then it’s certain to be
from sheer joy that I live.

1955
Translated by George Reavey (revised)

My Handwriting

My handwriting is not calligraphic.
Not following the rules of beauty,
words stagger about,
reeling,
as if clobbered on the jaw.

But you, the descendant, my textual critic,
following on the heels of the past,
take stock of those gales
your ancestor got caught in.

He walked on a pugnacious coastal freighter,
a bit arrogant,
but you
should see beyond the pitched handwriting
not only the author’s traits.

Your ancestor wrote while tossed about,
not kept too warm by squalls,
habitually,
like having a pack
of his usual cigarettes.

Of course, far off we made our way courageously,
but it’s hard to write a line,
when your head is smashed with relish
against the bulkhead.

Risking skin and bones,
it’s tough to sing acclaim,
when what you see compels you
not to praise, but only to throw up.

When churning water strangles motors
and a wave’s curl is aimed at your forehead,
then smudges are better than flourishes.
They’re black-but true.

Here- fingers simply grew numb.
Here- the swell slyly tormented.
Here- the pen jerked with uncertainty
away from some mean shoal.

But if through all the clumsiness,
through the clutches of awkwardness,
an idea breaks through the way a freighter on
the Lena breaks through to the arctic shore-

then, descendant, be slow to curse the style,
don’t judge an ancestor severely,
and even in the handwriting of the poet
find a solution to the enigma of time.

1967
Translated by Albert C. Todd

The Inexpressible

I want what’s inexpressible!
Impudent, I play with fire without a queen

My queen-reason is under the knight’s hooves
What joy to lose to the fire!

What flaming in the uncombed night
From slender you, as from a candle!

How you’ve fired-up
The idea of sin!

I writhe but the cry of my flesh is bliss
The heretic is already freed by the fire

Gul’ripshi
New York Paris Madrid in flames
And someone dear to me burns in them

But if from the heretic’s fire
The flame leaps to some poor bastard’s roof

All the heretic burns for
Shall be forever damned to hell

For truth, when you burn down the scene
of someone nearby,
Is no longer truth but a lie.

Translated by Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Anthony Kahn

Vietnam Classic

The Vietnam classic
was a seventy-year-old child,
with the face of a tired, wise turtle.
Not from his own extraordinary fame
did he suffer,
but from the fact
that he was in fear
of the behavior of a red-haired tomcat
that followed after us with an ulterior motive.
The cat reclined on a bookshelf,
choosing a volume of Saint-John Perse as his mat.
The Vietnam classic kept a wary eye
when he tossed three pepper pods on a saucer,
though cats-
when sitting half-starved-
won’t eat, perhaps, only peppers.
A prose writer,
but, in essence, a poet,
though afraid of not entertaining,
as one should-
the classic never once fell to complaining
that
there wasn’t a spare crust in the house.
He poured a dropp of whiskey in a glass of water,
and over an alcohol-lamp,
with a rolling laugh,
heated small pieces of cuttlefish-
a dried delicacy of war.
In him was the striking,
deeply moving,
spiritual staying power of a Buddhist,
and on a bicyclist’s trouser leg
was a forgotten clothespin.
Dismissing with a hand the flames of battle,
he spoke of Bo Tzu-i,
Baudelaire,
and I thought:
‘What could be meaner-
than to destroy such a man! ‘
And fear
pierced through,
broke through,
burned through me:
the tomcat
made a jump
from the bookshelf.
Burning hunger had flared up in him.
The cat landed near a bottle
and snatched a piece of cuttlefish in his teeth
right from my fork.
The host in Vietnamese screamed:
‘Scat! ‘
and, dismayed by the tactless act,
spread his hands,
visibly afraid,
that I will consider it all unseemly.
I took the cat joylessly in my arms.
The cat himself was none too joyful about the theft,
and I froze with numbness,
when
suddenly I sensed:
he weighed nothing.
A red-haired bit of nature and a warm grain of sand,
trying to arch his back like a wheel,
he was weightless in my palms,
like the fluff of a poplar.
‘Forgive me…’-
sadly glimmered in his pupils.
And nothing-
I say in all conscience-
did I ever hold in my hands heavier
than the weight of that terrifying weightlessness.

1972
Hanoi
Trans lated by Albert C. Todd

Irpen

Irpen is the memory of
the south and summer…
-B. Pasternak

I once promised so much to you,
and I can give you nothing-
I made you poor.
I promised you us in the blue, in the foliage,
on green grass,
head to head,
cool cherries on each cheek,
and tranquillity that smells lazily of hay.
We wanted to come to Irpen,
languid and half asleep,
here on that precipice or tree stump,
the exquisite fugitive wrote
of gillyflowers and forest
when he fled here…
But today there is no escaping,
as from a tribunal,
out of shame for history.
Clouds burst endlessly,
ferociously,
washing away all hope of peace and comfort
for you and me,
in the blue and foliage,
on green grass,
head to head…
The toadies swill their borscht,
their bellies growling.
A prominent critic approaches
who barely reaches my shoulders,
but nevertheless he pats me on them:
‘Right now you’re just how
I’ve always wanted you.
You haven’t swallowed the bait of flattery,
and on civic issues you’ve come out strong…’
In your eyes I see contempt and shame.
By his praise
I’m destroyed for you.
Don’t believe it-
I’m not that way,
I’m not that way,
I’m not that way!
I’m simply smashed to splinters,
like a raft in a flood.
That critic lies.
Don’t listen to nonsense!
He just likes the chips that fly off me,
but not me!
But you say:
‘No,
you’re just that way.
You’re not a raft,
but the pampered fruit of the age,
everyone’s favourite,
a model son…’
and your beautiful glance is unbearably cruel.

You say,
the epoch is a blood mother to me.
Could a mother maim
and break?
Like a horse,
they harnessed me with a collar,
and beat me with a whip,
grinning to boot.
But today they lavishly pass me gingerbread.
Every piece scars me
like a whip.
The raw autumn mist clings like a sucking swamp.
The toadies gloomily play dominoes.
The countryside hungers,
woods become scarce,
yet cosmonauts are flying to the heavens!
I’ve impoverished you even more terribly-
I’ve impoverished you with my soul.
Forgive me, that I promised you so much.

1961
Translated by Albert C. Todd and James Ragan

My Universities

I learned not only from those
who brightly beam out of golden frames,
but from everyone whose ID photo
didn’t come out quite right.
More than from Tolstoy
I learned from blind beggars
who sang in train cars about Count Tolstoy.
From barracks
I learned more than from Pasternak
and my verse style was hot ‘barracko’.
I took lessons on Yesenin
in snack bars from invalids of war
who tore their striped sailor shirts
after spilling out their plain secrets.
Mayakovsky’s stepped verse
didn’t give me as much
as the dirty steps of staircases
with handrails polished by kids’ pants.
I learned in Zima Junction
from my most untalkative Grannies
not to be afraid of cuts, scratches,
and various other scrapes.
I learned from dead-end streets that smell of cats,
from crooked spattered lanes,
to be sharper than a knife,
more ordinary than a cigarette butt.
Empty lots were my shepherds.
Waiting lines my nursing mothers.
I learned from all the young toughs
who gave me a whipping.
I learned
from pale-faced harried hacks
with fatal content in their verse
and empty content in their pockets.
I learned from all the oddballs in attics,
from the dress cutter Alka
who kissed me
in the dark of a communal kitchen.
I was put together out of the birthmarks of the Motherland
from scratches and scars,
cradles and cemeteries,
hovels and temples.
My first globe was a rag ball,
without foreign threads,
with brick crumbs sticking to it,
and when I forced my way to
the real globe,
I saw-it was also made of scraps
and also subject to blows.
And I cursed the bloody soccer game,
where they play with the planet without refs or rules,
and any tiny scrap of the planet,
which I touched,
I celebrated!
I went round the planet
as if it were a gigantic Zima Station,
and I learned from the wrinkles of old women,
now Vietnamese, now Peruvian.
I learned folk wisdom
taught by the worldwide poor and scum,
the Eskimo’s smell for ice,
and the Italian’s smiling non-despair.
I learned from Harlem
not to consider poverty poor,
like a Black
whose face is only painted white.
And I understood that the majority bends
its neck on behalf of others,
and in the wrinkles of those necks
the minority hides as if in trenches.
I am branded with the brand of the majority.
I want to be their food and shelter.
I am the name of all without names.
I am a writer for all who don’t write.
I am a writer
created by readers,
and readers are created by me.
My debt has been paid.
Here I am
your creator and your creation,
an anthology of you,
a second edition of your lives.
I stand more naked than Adam,
rejecting court tailors,
the embodiment of imperfections-
yours and my own.
I stand on the ruins
of loves I destroyed.
The ashes of friendships and hopes
coldly fly through my fingers.
Choking on muteness
and the last man to get in line,
I would die for any one of you,
because each of you is my homeland.
I am dying from love
and I howl with pain like a wolf.
If I despise you-
I despise myself even more.
I could fail without you.
Help me to be my real self,
not to stoop to pride,
not to fall into heaven.
I am a shopping bag stuffed
with all the world’s shoppers.
I am everybody’s photographer,
a paparazzo of the infamous.
I am your common portrait,
where so much remains to be painted.
Your faces are my Louvre,
my private Prado.
I am like a video player,
whose cassettes are loaded with you.
I am an attempt at diaries by others
and an attempt at a worldwide newspaper.
You have written yourself
with my tooth-marked pen.
I don’t want to teach you.
I want to learn from you.

Translated by Antonina W. Bouis, Albert C. Todd and Yevgeny Yevtushenko

Verlaine

The guide was quoting Verlaine to me:
in one gesture of easy fine feeling
he swept his hand over Paris,
under the rustle of the thin rain.
The verses are irrecoverable,
they ripple like water lit by stars.
‘The sound of it, sir, is beautiful.’
I nod, I say the sound is beautiful.
Paris forgets. Verlaine in vellum
standing as if by the decree of God
stiff on the book-shelf of the bourgeoisie.
How beautiful it is with gin and lime
in prospect of a good night of sleep,
that short, discreet reading aloud.
Proper to do some honour to Verlaine.
And beautiful?
Beautiful.
But this
as I remember not as you remember
belongs to you and I return you it.
Verlaine afflicted you. I do not know you.
That misfit of your false pieties
inflamed with alcohol-wrong, you remarked.
Am I too hasty? You distort your faces.
Beautiful?
It murdered him by inches.
He was assassinated. Jeers hit at him
from the street-corners. Your kind of
morality consumed him to ashes.
Oh tight drum-bellies drinking to Verlaine!
-these poet-murderers are poet-quoters.

Translated by Peter Levi and Robin Milner-Gulland

In Jest

Goodbye, fame! Put someone else in my niche.
I’d swap a seat in the President’s jeep
for a warm corner in a ditch
where I could go soundly off to sleep.
Oh, how I would unload my fears,
pour all my deadly, dreary pride
into the burdocks’ hairy ears
as I lay fidgeting on my side.
And I would wake up, with unshaven chin,
amongst the bugs and little insects.
Oh how marvelously unknown! –
someone fit to dance gypsy steps.
Far off, people would grasp for power,
hang by their nails from the top of the tower,
but none of this would send me sour,
in a ditch I would be lower.
And there, embracing a mangy dog,
I would lie down and make my berth
in the friendly dust, holding dialogue
on the highest level-of the earth.
Alongside, the bare feet of a girl
would float innocently by,
and pale blades of grass would twirl
down from the haycarts between me and the sky.
On a bench a smoker would toss out
a cigarette pack, squashed and empty,
and from the label the twisted mouth
of Blok would sadly smile at me.

Translated by Geoffrey Dutton with Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin

The Mrk Of Cain

The poor pilgrims dragged themselves wearily
along to Mecca through gray Syria,
huddled and doubled up
the pilgrims stumbled along-
away from delusion and ferment
to repent, repent, repent…
And I was standing like an impenitent sinner
on the summit of the mountain
where once upon a time (don’t stir!)
Abel was killed by Cain.
And-of all communiqués of blood
the most unforgettable-
the elemental voice was heard:
‘Cain, where is your brother, Abel? ‘
But once again the Pharisees,
with their vile-sweet voices:
‘Why do you worry about visions that are fake?
Yes, with Abel maybe we should have held back.
Admittedly, there was a little mistake,
but generally speaking we were on the right track…’
And I was standing on the summit
between those ahead and the hosts behind,
above a world where people could commit
every corruption of their own kind.
There was no lightning and no thunder,
but the stones were crying with mouths opened wide:
‘The corruption of the soul may be bloodless
but it is also fratricide! ‘
And I imagined a gloomy, dead
brick orphanage,
where as with henbane
the children of Abel are spoonfed
with lies by the children of Cain.
And in the faces of Abel’s children,
doing what they know that they must do,
which is always to stay silent,
the red mark of Cain shows through…

And I, no one’s murderer,
was standing on the sticky summit,
but my conscience murmured
like the Bible: ‘You won’t be able to quit!
You’re corrupting your spirit with lies,
and your spirit is crumbling, cracking inside.
And to kill yourself- you cannot disguise
that that is also fratricide!
And how many women, you twister,
lie like crucifixions along your way-
but women, they are your sisters,
worth more than brothers can repay.
And the Hussars’ toasts ‘To the ladies, ‘
what are they worth?
Bravado, empty form.
To kill love- you cannot evade it,
that is also fratricide.
And someone’s gray brown eyes
staring at you with disdain,
on your forehead cicatrize
you with the eternal mark of Cain…’
I shuddered:
‘Quiet, O conscience…
You know this is not comparable,
it is like comparing a children’s circus
with a bloody Roman shambles.’

But the shadow of bony Cain
jutted out from the rocks near at hand,
and the blood of the brother he had slain
was endlessly dripping from my hand.

‘Look- my bloody hands shake.
As a child it was fun to improvise,
out of curiosity to break
the velvet wings of butterflies
and then- fratricide.’

My conscience- the protectress
of the mark of Cain,
the prophetess-seer said again
with prophetically bitter sadness:
‘What will you say to the eternal skies
and the court of stars when you cannot run back-
To say I am sinless would be telling lies,
but generally speaking I’m on the right track!
You know, all those whom you hate
set this up as the true state,
while the cigarettes take on
the smell of burning flesh, the Winstons, and the Kents,
and the bullet that passed through John
kills Robert Kennedy.
And the bombs charge the earth, turn
brown villages bloodred, fire black.
Admittedly they fall on children,
but generally speaking they’re on the right track…
Everything begins with the butterflies,
later it comes round to bombs…
No amount of washing purifies-
the blood on your hands will be your doom.
The only murder that is fit-
is to kill the Cain inside! ‘

And losing my footing on the sticky summit,
face to face with the infinite,
I tore the flesh open in my side
and the strangled embryo Cain died.
I strangled everything mean and evil,
all that you would later despise,
but it was far too late to heal
the broken wings of the butterflies.
And the wind, blood-soaked, invisible,
lashed at me from the fury of space
as if the pages of the Bible
were lashing me on the face…

1967
Translated by Geoffrey Dutton with Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin (revised)

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