Evgeny Baratynsky, "The Skull"


Усопший брат! кто сон твой возмутил?
Кто пренебрег святынею могильной?
В разрытый дом к тебе я нисходил,
Я в руки брал твой череп желтый, пыльный!

Еще носил волос остатки он;
Я зрел на нем ход постепенный тленья.
Ужасный вид! Как сильно поражен
Им мыслящий наследник разрушенья!

Со мной толпа безумцев молодых
Над ямою безумно хохотала;
Когда б тогда, когда б в руках моих
Глава твоя внезапно провещала!

Когда б она цветущим, пылким нам
И каждый час грозимым смертным часом
Все истины, известные гробам,
Произнесла своим бесстрастным гласом!

Что говорю? Стократно благ закон,
Молчаньем ей уста запечатлевший;
Обычай прав, усопших важный сон
Нам почитать издревле повелевший.

Живи живой, спокойно тлей мертвец!
Всесильного ничтожное созданье,
О человек! Уверься наконец:
Не для тебя ни мудрость, ни всезнанье!

Нам надобны и страсти и мечты,
В них бытия условие и пища:
Не подчинишь одним законам ты
И света шум и тишину кладбища!

Природных чувств мудрец не заглушит
И от гробов ответа не получит:
Пусть радости живущим жизнь дарит,
А смерть сама их умереть научит.

1824, 1826


The Skull

Departed brother, who has disturbed your sleep
And trampled on the sanctity of the tomb?
Into your house, all dug up, I stepped down —
I took your skull in my hands, dusty and yellow.

The remnants of your hair — it wore them still.
I saw the slow course of decay upon it.
Horrible sight! How powerfully it struck
The sensible inheritor of that ruin.

Along with me a crowd of mindless youths
Above the open pit laughed mindlessly.
If only then, if only in my hands
Your head had burst forth into prophecy!

If only it had taught us — rash, in bloom,
And menaced hourly by the hour of death —
The truths that lie within the ken of tombs,
Uttering them in its impassive voice!

What am I saying? A hundred times is blessed
That law which has embalmed its lips in silence.
And righteous is that custom which demands
Respect for the solemn sleep of the departed.

Let the living live! Let the dead decay in peace!
O man, worthless creation of the Almighty,
Recognize finally that you were made
Neither for wisdom nor for omniscience!

We need our passions as we need our dreams.
They are the law and nourishment of our being:
You will not bring under the selfsame laws
The noise of the world and the silence of the graveyard.

Wise men will not extinguish natural feelings.
The answer they search for no grave shall supply.
Let life bestow its joys upon the living —
And death itself will teach them how to die.

1824, 1826


Ilya Bernstein is a poet, translator, and editor of Osip Mandelstam: New Translations (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2006).

Evgeny Baratynsky (1800-1844) was, next to Pushkin, the brightest light in the Golden Age of Russian poetry and the most thoughtful of all Russian poets.


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From a bi-lingual reader:

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