I don’t believe forebodings, nor do omens
Frighten me. I do not run from slander
Nor from poison. On earth there is no death.
All are immortal. All is immortal. No need
To be afraid of death at seventeen
Nor yet at seventy. Reality and light
Exist, but neither death nor darkness.
All of us are on the sea-shore now,
And I am one of those who haul the nets
When a shoal of immortality comes in.
I will call up any century,
Go into it and build myself a house.
That is why your children are beside me
And your wives, all seated at one table,
One table for great-grandfather and grandson.
The future is accomplished here and now,
And if I slightly raise my hand before you
You will be left with all five beams of light.
With shoulder blades like timber props
I held up every day that made the past,
With a surveyor’s chain I measured time
And travelled through as if across the Urals.
We headed south, made dust swirl on the steppe.
Tall weeds were rank; a grasshopper was playing,
Brushed horseshoes with his whiskers, prophesied
And told me like a monk that I would perish.
I took my fate and strapped it to my saddle;
And now I’ve reached the future I still stand
Upright in my stirrups like a boy.
For my blood to go on flowing from age to age.
I would readily pay with my life
For a safe place with constant warmth
Were it not that life’s flying needle
Leads me on through the world like a thread.
Embers of last leaves, a dense self-immolation,
Ascend into the sky, and in your path
The entire forest lives in just such irritation
As you and I have lived for this year past.
The road is mirrored in your tearful eyes
Like bushes in a flooded field at dusk,
You mustn’t fuss and threaten, leave it be,
Don’t jar the stillness of the Volga woodland.
You can hear the sound of old life breathing:
Slime covered mushrooms grow in the wet grass,
Slugs have bored through into the very core,
And a gnawing dampness niggles at the skin.
All of our past is like a kind of threat:
‘Look out, I’m coming back, see if I don’t kill you!’
The sky huddles up, holds a maple, like a rose —
Let it glow still hotter! — raised almost to the eyes.
Arseniy Alexandrovich Tarkovsky (Elizabetgrad 1909 – Moscow 1989) was a major Russian poet. He was also a translator of many poets, such as Abu’l-Ala-Ma’arri, Nizami, Magtymguly, Kemine, Savat-Nova, Vazha-Pshavela, Adam Mickiewicz, Mollanepes, Grigol Orbeliani. He was the father of the well-known Russian filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky and many of his poems were used in his son’s films. A new edition of a selection of translations of his poems by Virginia Rounding was released last year (Crescent Moon Publishing) but much of his work still remains unavailable in English.
The translations shown above were first done by Kitty Hunter-Blair in 1986, and are from the book ‘Sculpting in Time’ by Andrei Tarkovsky (Thirteenth University of Texas Press printing, 2012. This translation originally published in slightly different form in Great Britain by Bodley Head Ltd., London).