On Transcience by Gavrila Derzhavin

Time’s river in its rushing course

carries away all human things,

drowns in oblivion’s abyss

peoples and kingdoms and their kings.

 

And if the trumpet or the lyre

should rescue something, small or great,

eternity will gulp it down

and it will share the common fate.

 

by Гавриил ”Гаврила” Романович Державин (Gavriil ”Gavrila” Romanovich Derzhavin)

July 1816 – written on a slate a few days or possibly only hours before Derzhavin’s death on 20 July 1816.

Translated by Peter France


 

Fun fact: Read as an acrostic the first letter of each line forms the phrase ‘руина чти‘ which translates as ‘ruin of honour’, ‘honour the ruin’ or ‘read the ruin’.

Although his works are traditionally considered literary classicism, his best verse is rich with antitheses and conflicting sounds in a way reminiscent of John Donne and other metaphysical poets.

An alternate translation of this, presumably, unfinished fragment found on his table after his death is:

The current of Time’s river
Will carry off all human deeds
And sink into oblivion
All peoples, kingdoms and their kings.
And if there’s something that remains
Through sounds of horn and lyre,
It too will disappear into the maw of time
And not avoid the common pyre… <lines broken>
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