SONGS OF RUSSIA
S. J. NADSON
Oft of thy love, my friend, I fondly dreamed;
Such musings made my glad heart throb like flame.
But yet, whene'er I met thy happy glance,
Straightway perplexed and troubled I became.
I feared the impulse soon would pass away,
Thy short caprice of sympathy be flown,
And I, who dreamed of bliss beyond my reach,
Be doubly orphaned, left again alone.
As if thy love were stolen, thy caress,
Sweet and unhoped for, were a phantom frail,
It gleamed, lit up the dark, and then was gone
Brief as a sound, false as a fairy tale;
As if thy tender, deep-blue glance, my love,
By chance or by mistake were given to me;
And in my feverish dreams at night it seems
That with the coming of the dawn 'twill flee.
Thus, parched by desert heats, a wanderer
Spies an oasis, but he doubts it yet;
Is it not some mirage in yon blue sky
Alluring him to rest and to forget?
Oh, had the Muses given to me the gift
Of burning speech, of clear and fiery song,
How mercilessly and how sternly then
Would I with infamy brand vice and wrong!
I would rouse all against the dark to strive,
Unfurl the banner bright of light and fire,
And with my glowing song the listening world
With longing for the truth I would inspire.
Oh, with what mighty laughter I would laugh!
What burning tears of sorrow I would shed!
To earth the holy, long-forgot Ideal
Should come again, arisen from the dead.
The world should waken, filled with fear, and quake,
Like to a culprit, conscience-struck within;
It should look back upon the guilty past,
And meekly wait the sentence for its sin.
In that dead silence reigning all around,
My fearless voice should thunder loud and clear,
Resound with indignation's sacred fire,
And ring with teardrops heartfelt and sincere.
Not unto me such power of speech is given;
My voice is weak to plead the cause of truth.
My soul indeed is ready for the strife,
But in me fails the energy of youth
Within my breast is but a barren sob,
Upon my lips, reproach that cannot save,
And in my heart the sad acknowledgment
That I am not a prophet, but a slave.
( In the first part of the poem, Nadson tells how in his boyhood he aspired to be the poet of beauty and to sing before great personages. Later he changed his mind. He continues: )
Henceforth I am the poet of labor, knowledge, grief—
No more in praise of beauty my hand the harp shall sweep.
I sing no song of conquest, no song of glorious deeds;
I suffer with the suffering, I weep with those who weep.
I give the weary one my hand. Though heavy be my cross,
Though storms and doubts, misfortune and struggle be my part,
Yet it has brought me also bright moments of delight,
Moments of high and holy joy that overflowed my heart.
One night I well remember: pale, like one who suffers much,
That night came down from heaven's blue height, pensive and lingering;
Came with the shy and coy caress of silver-shining May,
Game with the salutation of the mournful Northern Spring.
We opened all the windows wide; and, with the sound of wheels
Upon the echoing pavement, the night, with shadows murk,
Came to us, and was welcomed with heartiness and joy
Unto our modest festival, our cosy nook of work.
And even as it entered, and as throughout the room
Spread soft the fragrant perfume of blooming lilac sprays,
Silently following it, a band of mournful shadows came—
A throng of sounds that whispered from the depths of long-past days.
Those who had sought the capital from districts far away
Thought of their homes—the village poor, the church, the fields beyond;
Against their will it all came back—the plains, the village street,
The poplar standing motionless above the silent pond.
The garden they remembered, known from their cradle-time,
Where in the days of childhood, forever past, they played—
Where merrily the broken swing was wont to creak aloud,
And rippling laughter blithe was heard beneath the chequered shade;
The steep hill and the bower on it, the strips of golden wheat,
The path that like a serpent into the dark woods wound,
The peaceful light of dawn that shone beyond the slumberous stream —
And silence on our circle fell; we sat without a sound.
We all of us were longing to forget: for want and toil,
Privations sore and many cares had weighed upon us long;
And, with a gentle, soothing song of reconciling love,
I, even as in my youthful dreams, stepped forth before the throng.
Before me was no splendid hall, illumed with brilliant light,
Here in this room, so poor and small, sunk in half darkness now,
Where Thought alone was glittering in deathless beauty bright,
Wearing a crown of painful thorns upon her queenly brow.
My voice rang not that evening to amuse an idle throng
Of full-gorged earthly demi-gods; no! I was singing then,
Without expecting glory and without desiring praise,
As a brother unto brothers, unto tired and toil-worn men.
I sang to those who gathered around the flag of truth,
To those who, in their struggle, were suffering bitter pain.
I told them that their toiling hands should falter not, nor droop,
And their young union, newly formed, should not dissolve again.
I sang to them a glowing hymn, inspired and filled with hope;
I sang that truth was destined to be victor in the fight;
That, darkness could not evermore resist its radiance clear,
And that the future of our land would joyful be and bright.
And all that I had hidden and cherished in my heart,
Like to a precious treasure, through hard days, slow and long—
My highest aspirations, my best and noblest dreams,
I poured them all forth freely in the accents of that song.
I ceased. The song was followed by no thunders of applause,
No wreaths came dropping at my feet, a fragrant, flowery storm;
The guerdon of the singer is a moment's silence deep,
And, in the hush, a hand-clasp—a hand-clasp close and warm.
But-whence and wherefore are these tears? How proud and glad am I!
My country, oh, accept me! Henceforward I am thine.
The gorgeous dreams of childhood pale, the
phantom roses fade, Before the joy that now in true reality is mine!
Long lasted our dispute, intense to tears.
We were all gathered, and we were alone.
Distressing thoughts and anguish and dark doubts
For days had vexed and wrung us, sparing none.
In our own circle here no monarch's power
Restrained free speech, and in those hours, too brief,
It poured forth freely and it sounded harsh,
And each of us, while speaking, felt relief.
Brothers whose aspirations were the same,
Life's fellow-travellers on the self-same path,
Oh, strange with what mistrust and bitterness
We on each other gazed, like foes in wrath!
Were we not all by one same feeling warmed,
The sacred love of our own country dear,
And on our lives, in stifling darkness wrapped,
Had not the self-same sun of hope shone clear?
You listened to us sadly; and sometimes
When I glanced at you, as we fiercely strove,
It seemed to me you suffered for our sake,
And longed to tell us something, filled with love.
The night was fleeting; through the whitening pane
The day appeared; star after star died slow;
The lamp's red, flickering light was melting now
Into the golden dawn's triumphant glow.
To the piano silently you stepped,
And touched the keys that dumbly glimmered there;
And an impassioned strain of love and grief
Beneath your hands gushed forth upon the air.
What was it in your song like a reproach,
That, full of sadness, o'er our circle came,
And hotly stirred the heart within my breast,
And filled it with pure love and burning shame?
I do not know. Was it the sleepless night?
Was it my sick nerves playing? Tears would rise.
My bosom heaved with them; a moment more,
And they burst forth with passion from mine eyes.
As if some friend of deeply truthful soul
Had come to us—all angry, wretched, ill—
And had begun to speak, our circle now,
Revived and filled with joy, grew hushed and still.
Groundless complaints and clamorous phrases loud,
And vanity, with its envenomed darts—
Whate'er of harm life, like a viewless plague,
Sows 'mid us all, e'en in the noblest hearts—
All these grew calm, and only one desire,
One impulse in us all blazed into fire—
To suffer and to strive with all our souls
To scatter the surrounding darkness dire.
O friend! your notes revealed to us that night
All that was false in us, unseen till then;
And we clasped hands more firmly when at dawn
We to our daily work returned again.
But yesterday, renouncing happiness,
I scorned contented souls who held love dear,
And who exchanged the autumn's fog and chill
For the spring sun's caressing warmth and cheer.
I said that while the world is full of tears,
And dense, unbroken darkness reigns around
It were a shame to dream of ease and bliss
Within one's own home-corner to be found,
But lo! to-day the golden-shining Spring,
Flower-clad, has glanced in at my window too;
And my tired heart beat rapidly, and grieved
That all within was poor and dark to view.
A passing glance of kindly sympathy,
Sadness upon a beautiful young face—
And a mad wish is mine for happiness,
Tears, endless love, a woman's fond embrace.
Long years ago she to our earth descended
From heaven's calm depths of shadowy air and cloud,
With youthful smile and crowned with fragrant roses,
Nude, lovely, of her sinless beauty proud.
She brought with her till then unknown emotions—
Music of heaven and love of dreams she bore.
Her law was art for art, she knew no other;
Her mission, to serve beauty evermore.
But soon the splendid flowers, torn from her forehead,
Were trampled in the dust; and dark and cold
A cloud o'erspread her beauteous virgin features
With doubt and grief; mute are the hymns of old!
Far, far away the notes of exultation,
Leaving no echo, by the storm are borne;
And now her song breathes fire of the soul's torment,
Her heavenly brow is pierced with many a thorn.
I know, dear friend, deep in my heart I know
My verse is pale and faint and lacking power.
Oft for its weakness do I sadly grieve,
And pour forth secret tears at night's still hour.
In vain at times forth from my lips would burst
A cry of anguish I can scarce endure;
In vain at times love almost burns my soul—
Cold is our tongue, and lamentably poor.
The rainbow of the flowers of many kinds,
Sweet music dying on the chord away,
Grief for ideals, and tears for liberty—
How tell of these in words of every day?
This boundless world outspread before our eyes,
The world of mind, so full of anxious fear—
How draw them true to life, with timid strokes,
Pent in my verse's narrow framework here?
But to be mute while hearing sounds of woe
That to allay we struggle eagerly—
Beneath the storm of strife, in face of pain,
Wounded, I cannot, will not silent be.
If hero-like I may not shatter chains,
Nor prophet-like spread light sublime and clear,
I with the crowd have mixed, and share its pain,
And give, as strength permits me, help and cheer.
Armenian Poems translated by Alice Stone Blackwell
Blackwell, Alice Stone. Songs of Russia rendered into English verse
by Alice Stone Blackwell. Chicago, IL: printed under the Supervision
of Charles H. Kerr & Company (Co-operative)