Like a jester complaining of the cruel weight
of his hump – let me tell about my orphaned state.
Behind the devil there’s his horde, behind the thief there’s his band,
behind everyone there’s someone to understand
and support him – the assurance of a living wall
of thousands just like him should he stumble and fall;
the soldier has his comrades, the emperor has his throne,
but the jester has nothing but his hump to call his own.
And so: tired of holding to the knowledge that I’m quite
alone and that my destiny is always to fight
beneath the jeers of the fool and the philistine’s derision,
abandoned – by the world – with the world – in collision,
I blow with all my strength on my horn and send
its cry into the distance in search of a friend.
And this fire in my breast assures me I’m not all
alone, but that some Charlemagne will answer my call!
by Марина Ивановна Цветаева (Marina Ivanovna Tsvetaeva)
translated by Stephen Capus
Fun facts: This poem was a favourite of Varlam Shalamov, according to Irina Sirotinskaya (she was a close friend of his and the holder of his works’ publication rights). It’s very likely he may have referenced this work in his poem Roncesvalles.
Tsvetaeva is referencing the romanticised tale of the historical figure Roland‘s death as retold in the eleventh-century poem The Song of Roland, where he is equipped with the olifant (a signalling horn) and an unbreakable sword, enchanted by various Christian relics, named Durendal. The Song contains a highly romanticized account of the Battle of Roncevaux Pass and Roland’s death, setting the tone for later fantastical depiction of Charlemagne’s court.
And, yes, he is ‘that’ Roland – the one who Stephen King references in his Dark Tower series though it was chiefly inspired by him via the poem “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came” by Robert Browning.
Original Russian cyrillic version:
Как нежный шут о злом своем уродстве,
Я повествую о своем сиротстве…
За князем — род, за серафимом — сонм,
За каждым — тысячи таких, как он,
Чтоб, пошатнувшись,— на живую стену
Упал и знал, что — тысячи на смену!
Солдат — полком, бес — легионом горд.
За вором — сброд, а за шутом — все горб.
Так, наконец, усталая держаться
Сознаньем: перст и назначением: драться,
Под свист глупца и мещанина смех —
Одна из всех — за всех — противу всех! —
Стою и шлю, закаменев от взлету,
Сей громкий зов в небесные пустоты.
И сей пожар в груди тому залог,
Что некий Карл тебя услышит, рог!
A recital of the original Russian language version