There is joy in battle,
poised on a chasm’s edge,
and in black ocean’s rage –
that whirl of darkening wind and wave –
in an Arabian sandstorm,
and in a breath of plague.
Within each breath of death
lives joy, lives secret joy
for mortal hearts, a pledge,
perhaps, of immortality,
and blessed is he who, storm-tossed,
can see and seize this joy.
by Александр Сергеевич Пушкин (Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin)
a.k.a. Aleksandr Sergeyevich Pushkin
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun Facts: This is one of Pushkin’s ‘Little Tragedies’, an adaption of part of a play by a Scottish writer, John Wilson. The song this excerpt is from is of Pushkin’s own original composition though.
Before death I have felt the dark of death;
I thought: like Ossian I shall lose my way
in mist by the grave’s edge and blindly stare
from wild moors down through the dim precipice
of dawnless night and see no trees, no fields
of freedom, no soft grass, no azure skies,
and no sun rising like a miracle.
Yet with the soul’s eye I shall see you, shades
of prophets, friends too soon flown out of sight,
and I shall hear the blessed poet’s song
and know each voice and recognize each face.
by Вильгельм Карлович Кюхельбекер (Wilhelm Karlovich Küchelbecker)
translated by Peter France
Fun fact: This was written after he went blind about a year before his death.
I am an end and a beginning.
So little spun from all my spinning!
I’ve been a firm link nonetheless;
with that good fortune I’ve been blessed.
New Russia enters on her greatness;
they’ll carve my head two-faced, like Janus,
at crossroads, looking down both ways,
where wind and sand, and many days…
by Владислав Фелицианович Ходасевич (Vladislav Felitsianovich Khodasevich)
translated by Michael Frayn
I hear the oriole’s always grieving voice,
And the rich summer’s welcome loss I hear
In the sickle’s serpentine hiss
Cutting the corn’s ear tightly pressed to ear.
And the short skirts on the slim reapers
Fly in the wind like holiday pennants,
The clash of joyful cymbals, and creeping
From under dusty lashes, the long glance.
I don’t expect love’s tender flatteries,
In premonition of some dark event,
But come, come and see this paradise
Where together we were blessed and innocent.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (Summer, 1917)
– from Подорожник (Plantain/Wayside Grass, 1921) translation by D. M. Thomas