Yuri Kazarnovsky’s Final Stroll

Cartier-Bresson-Gorky-Park-1954.jpg

(Henri Cartier-Bresson. Gorky Park, Moscow, USSR, 1954)

A little over a month ago I shared a link to my translation of Yuri Kazarnovsky’s rollicking poem “The Tram,” which inspired an insightful and deeply moving post on Patrick Kurp’s incomparable literary blog Anecdotal Evidence. Today I’d like to share another of Kazarnovsky’s poems, which he sent to Ilya Selvinsky (1899-1968) in 1956. Selvinsky was, by then, a grand old man of Soviet letters, while Kazarnovsky was living hand to mouth. This late poem, titled “The Stroll,” bears few traces of the many unthinkable indignities the poet had suffered throughout his life. Instead it playfully captures the minor indignity of an old man’s hopeless infatuation with a young woman.

In its thematic universality, stylistic elegance, and wistfully stoic tone, “The Stroll” reminds me of certain Elizabethan masterpieces, like Ben Jonson’s “My Picture Left in Scotland.” The better-known Soviet poet Nikolai Zabolotsky (1903-1958) also adopted a “plain style” after his term in the camps; all filigree had been burnt away. (Two poems from Zabolotsky’s cycle “Last Love” — on a similar theme, treated more seriously — are included in The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry.)

The Stroll

Yes, I remember… And the shadow
of someone else’s grief descends:
A blindman met us in the morning —
but couldn’t meet your lovely glance.

I gaze at you… And blindly trust
that muteness is more frightening yet:
A mute man who sat down beside us
could offer you no compliment.

A streak of smoke… Whine of a motor…
I marvel, can’t believe it’s true:
A pilot flies his jet — a hero…
He flies so fast… And not to you?

A car darts by, clashing with wind.
Its driver is as pale as chalk:
His is the pallor of deep pain —
because he couldn’t whisk you off.

Chopin… And wreaths… And through your lashes
the sadness of huge eyes shines blue…
Oh, how I pity the poor soldier
who died for anyone but you.

Still, I’m unhappier than others —
the poet is a bit too old…
Where can I find you magic glasses
that would remove ten years or so?


Прогулка

Припомнил все… И сразу снова
Чужого горя сумрак лег:
Мы, утром, встретили слепого,
И он — увидеть вас не мог.

Смотрю на вас… И слепо верю,
Что немота страшнее мглы:
Немой, сидевший с нами в сквере,
Не мог сказать — как вы милы.

Полоска дыма… Стон мотора…
Дивлюсь, глазам не веря сам,
Геройству летчика — который
Летит так быстро… И — не к вам.

Вот ЗИМ промчался, с ветром споря,
Мелькнул седок, бледней чем мел:
Он бледен так — конечно, с горя,
Что увезти вас не сумел.

Шопен… Венки… Сквозь ваши веки
Синеет грусть огромных глаз…
И — очень жаль мне человека,
Который умер не за вас.

Но я несчастней, чем другие, —
Немного стар уже поэт…
Где вам найти очки такие,
Чтоб стекла минус десять лет?

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