‘She came in out of the frost’ by Alexander Blok

 She came in out of the frost,
her cheeks glowing,
and filled my whole room
with the scent of fresh air
and perfume
and resonent chatter
that did away with my last chance
of getting anywhere in my work.

Straightaway
she dropped a hefty art journal
onto the floor
and at once
there was no room any more
in my large room

All this
was somewhat annoying,
if not absurd.
Next, she wanted Macbeth
read aloud to her.

Barely had I reached
the earth's bubbles
which never failed to entrance me
when I realized that she,
no less entranced,
was staring out of the window.

A large tabby cat
was creeping along the edge of the roof
towards some amorous pigeons.
What angered me most
was that it should be pigeons,
not she and I,
who were necking,
and that the days of Paolo and Francesca
were long gone.


by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(1908)
translated by Robert Chandler

‘The earth’s bubbles’ in this poem references a line from Act I, scene 3 of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth “The earth hath bubbles, as the water has, / And these are of them.” which Banquo says to Macbeth when the witches disappear after their encounter. Between 1904 and 1905 Blok wrote a poem cycle he titled ‘Bubbles of the Earth’, incorporating motifs from folk magic. In 1907 he wrote of Shakespeare, ‘ I love him deeply; and perhaps, most deely of all – in the whole of world literature – Macbeth’.

Paolo and Francesca refers to the affair between Francesca and her brother-in-law Paolo Malatesta, both of who were married, but fell in love nonetheless. Their tragic adulterous story was told by Dante in his Divine Comedy, Canto V of the Inferno, and was a popular subject with Victorian artists and sculptors, especially with followers of the Pre-Raphaelite ideology, and with other writers.

To the Muse [Exerpt] by Alexander Blok

And I knew a destructive pleasure

in trampling what's sacred and good,

a delirium exceeding all measure -

this absinthe that poisons my blood!



by Александр Александрович Блок
(Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)
(19??)
translated by Stephen Capus

Три стихотворения (Three Poems) [extract] by Anna Akhmatova

The poet was right: once again –

lantern, side-street, drugstore,

silence, the Neva and its granite…

A monument to our century’s

first years, there he stands, as when,

waving goodbye to Pushkin House,

he drank a mortal weariness –

as if such peace

were more than he deserved.

 

by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova)

(1960)

translation by Robert Chandler


Fun Fact: This poem is an homage to Alexander Blok, whose last poem is addressed to Pushkin House in St Petersburg.


Original Russian Cyrillic version:

Он прав — опять фонарь, аптека,
Нева, безмолвие, гранит…
Как памятник началу века,
Там этот человек стоит —
Когда он Пушкинскому Дому,
Прощаясь, помахал рукой
И принял смертную истому
Как незаслуженный покой.

Коршун (The Kite) by Alexander Blok

Over the empty fields a black kite hovers,

and circle after circle smoothly weaves.

In the poor hut, over her son in a cradle

a mother grieves:

‘There suck my breast: there, grow and take our bread,

and learn to bear your cross and bow your head.’

 

Time passes. War returns. Rebellion rages.

The farms and villages go up in flame,

and Russia in her ancient tear-stained beauty,

is yet the same,

unchanged through all the ages. How long will

the mother grieve and the kite circle still?

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(22 March 1916)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman


Fun fact: As you can tell from the date this was written into the lead up to the Russian Revolution. To be more exact, during the early months of 1916, there were increasing food and fuel shortages and increasingly high prices. Thus the Progressive Bloc was formed. Despite successes in the Brusilov offensive, the Russian war effort was still characterised by shortages, poor command, death and desertion. Away from the front, the conflict caused starvation, inflation and a torrent of refugees. Both soldiers and civilians blamed the incompetence of the Tsar and his government. This lead, later in the year, to increasing strikes which are supported by the military who declare they won’t protect the Tsar from a revolution – which would be successful in October 1917 after many further events and internal conflicts.

A recital of the poem in Russian:

The original Russian text in Cyrillic:

Чертя за кругом плавный круг,
Над сонным лугом коршун кружит
И смотрит на пустынный луг. —
В избушке мать над сыном тужит:
«На́ хлеба, на́, на́ грудь, соси,
Расти, покорствуй, крест неси».

Идут века, шумит война,
Встаёт мятеж, горят деревни,
А ты всё та ж, моя страна,
В красе заплаканной и древней. —
Доколе матери тужить?
Доколе коршуну кружить?

Dances of Death [Excerpt] by Alexander Blok

Night, lantern, side street, drugstore,

a mindless, pallid light.

Live on for twenty years or more –

it’ll be the same; there’s no way out.

 

Try being reborn – start life anew.

All’s still as boring and banal.

Lantern, side street, drugstore, a few

shivering ripples on the canal.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1912)

translated by Robert Chandler

In A Restaurant by Alexander Blok

Will I ever forget it, that mythical night:

in the blaze of the setting sun

an abyss divided the sky in two

and the street lamps came on one by one.

 

I sat in a crowd by the window while somewhere

an orchestra sang about love;

I sent you a rose in a glass of champagne

as gold as the heavens above.

 

Returning your arrogant look with a mixture

of pride and confusion, I bowed;

with studied disdain you turned to your escort:

‘That one, too, is in love with me now.’

 

All at once the ecstatic strings thundered out

in response… But still I could see

from your show of contempt, from the tremor that shook

your hand, that your thoughts were with me.

 

You jumped up from your place with the speed of a bird

that’s been startled; your languid perfume,

the swirl of your dress as you passed, died away

like a vision that’s over too soon.

 

But out of its depths a mirror reflected

your glance as you cried: ‘Now’s your chance!’

And a gypsy, jangled her beads, sang of love

to the dawn and started to dance.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1910)

translated by Stephen Capus

The Sugar Angel by Alexander Blok

Through the closed nursery doors, the sugar angel

stares through the chink to see

the children playing at the Christmas party,

the brightly candled tree.

 

Nana is making up the crackling fire,

a blaze for Christmas Day.

Only the sugar angel – he is German –

wastes, warm and sweet, away.

 

First comes the softening of his little feathers,

the melting of his feet,

the tiny head falls back, he makes a puddle,

minute and warm and sweet.

 

And then the puddle dries away. The mistress

looks everywhere in vain,

while old deaf Nana, who remembers nothing,

grumbles and looks again.

 

You fragile creatures of our dearest daydreams!

Break, melt and vanish away

in the bright-burning blaze of hourly happenings,

the clatter of everyday.

 

Only a little mischevious girl, recalling

the breath of days departed,

will weep for you in secret for a moment.

A child is tender-hearted.

 

by Александр Александрович Блок (Alexander Alexandrovich Blok)

(1909)

translated by Frances Cornford and Esther Polianowsky Salaman