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>
The souls of those I love are on high stars.
How good that there is no-one left to lose
And one can weep. Tsarskoye Selo’s
Air was made to repeat songs.
By the river bank the silver willow
Touches the bright September waters.
Rising from the past, my shadow
Comes silently to meet me.
So many lyres, hung on branches, here,
But there seems a place even for my lyre.
And this shower, drenched with sun and rare,
Is consolation and good news.
by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova) (1921?)
from Седьмая книга (The Seventh Book)
translation by D. M. Thomas
Fun fact: Though the poem is dated as being written in the 1940s it is more likely it was written just after her husband Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov‘s execution in 1921.
Where’s there a name for you?
No mortal’s art has the power
to express your charm.
Nor are there lyres for you!
Songs? Not to be trusted –
the echo of a belated rumour.
If they had ears for the heart,
every one of my senses
would be a hymn to you.
I carry your life’s charm,
this pure, holy image,
like a mystery in my heart.
All I can do is love;
only eternity can speak
the love you inspire.
by Василий Андреевич Жуковский (Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky)
translated by Robert Chandler
Fun fact: Ivan Bunin, the Nobel Prize winning Russian emigre author, is related to him.
Not the lyre of a lover
I’ll carry through my land
The rattle of a leper
Will sing in my hand.
– by Анна Ахматова (Anna Akhmatova), 1940
– from Тростник (Reed) / Из шести книг (From the Sixth Book)
– translation by D. M. Thomas