Friday, February 21, 2014

Russian Poetry: The Poet by Mikhail Lermontov

by Mikhail Lermontov (trans. A. Liberman)

A favorite of war, my sharp, unblemished blade,
   It did not ever bend or waiver;
Long, long ago in Eastern smithies it was made
   And worked upon by an engraver.

By a Caucasian mountaineer it was possessed
   And left its victims dead and riven;
It did not seek rewards for thrusting through a breast
   Or ripping coats of mail to ribbons.

It shared its master's joys like an obedient slave
   And boldly wrought retaliation;
To set it then in gold, embellish, and engrave
   Was but a waste of decoration.

A Cossack raised it too, to cut at war and chop

   (He took if off the owner's body);
It later gathered dust in an Armenian's shop
   With other goods, unused and shoddy.

Its scabbard, scratched and scarred, was lost for good
    and all;
  Without a sheath in which to sink it, 
 It glitters pleasantly - a toy upon the wall,
   An unheroic, harmless trinket.

And no one's loving hand, with interest and care,
   Will clean again the dagger proudly,
And no one's lips will say a fervent morning prayer
   While reading its inscriptions loudly.

You, poet in this unmanly age of ours
   Have, like that dagger, lost your station
And traded off for gold the sacred ancient power
   That filled the world with adoration.

It happened in the past that combatants went up
   To your steady rhythm;
Your trenchant word was like a sacrificial cup,
   Which stayed in war and worship with them.

Your verse would cover all with its gigantic wing,
   It moved like the Almighty's spirit.
And you yourself were like a bell whose sound 
   would ring,
So men in joy and grief could hear it.

But proud and simple words today annoy and bore,
  We love the bell that only tinkles;
Alas! Our wilted age is a wilted whore
   That tries to hide with rouge her wrinkles.

Oh, prophet ridiculed! When will your dagger thrust?
   When shall we witness the explosion
At which you noble blade will leave its bed of rust,
   Its shameful scabbard of corrosion?


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