Twenty-first Century Russian Poetry


Natalia Gorbanevskaya


Translated by Misha Semenov

To Czeslaw Milosz

'Twas then I fell for foreign rhymes,
ones that rustled so stridently some dubbed them "hissing..."
And from there, I suppose, did arise,
many misfortunes of mine, fortunes too. And now I'm

a seasoned translator, professional of sorts,
spending nights rustling pages of Dal's* musty tome,
reveling in the chirping of archaic words.
and muttering out loud as if over a book of Tarot.

But I'll give thanks, though I don't know to whom
not to myself, nor to God, not to chance, nor to blind divination,
that, as I whisper at night to the Paris outside of my room,
I still hesitate, pausing in awe before hammering out each translation.

No, not to myself, nor to God, nor to chance, nor to a call from above-
but to that tongue which believed my sincere declaration of love.

* Vladimir Dal's Dictionary of the Russian Language, which contains tens of thousands of old words and expressions.

* * *

And I smothered my rhymes like a baby,
like a towel laundered to a rag,
like stale bread ground up into sawdust.
Means my carriage will get stuck again
in that labyrinth of wax and honey
overhung by a mosquito net.

* * *

Oh, how great it can be when for days, weeks sometimes
nothing crowds in my head, nothing comes to my mind
as if headphones with music slid over my ears,
music that smoothly sways like a small ship at sea.

Here's the captain at helm, there the sailors on board,
The loudspeaker over the radio shack plays at half-swell,
but mere echoes are all that reach to the far shore;
voices reach the near shore-but just for an instant, a spell.