Good is the wine that is in love with us,
and good is bread, our generous friend;
and good the woman who brings us torment
yet yields her sweetness to us in the end.
But what are we to do with sunset fires?
With joys that can’t be eaten, drunk or kissed?
And what are we to do with deathless verse?
We stand and watch – as mysteries slip past.
Just as some boy too young to know of love
will leave his play to gaze, his heart on fire,
at maidens swimming in a lake, and gaze
and gaze, tormented by obscure desire;
or as within the gloom of ancient jungle
some earthbound beast once slithered from its lair
with wing buds on its back, still tightly closed,
and let out cries of impotent despair;
so year on year – how long, Lord, must we wait? –
beneath the surgeon’s knife of art and nature,
our flesh is wasted and our spirit howls
as one more sense moves slowly to creation.
by Николай Степанович Гумилёв (Nikolay Stepanovich Gumilyov)
translated by Robert Chandler
An influential Russian poet, literary critic, traveler, and military officer. He cofounded the Acmeist movement and was Anna Akhmatova’s husband who was arrested and executed by the Cheka, the secret Soviet police force, in 1921.