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This poem is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.

from The Poems of Yuri Zhivago (translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky) Boris Pasternak

Of the twenty-five poems that make up the final part of Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, twenty-one are included here. The other four (‘A Winter Night’, ‘The Star of the Nativity’, and the two poems entitled ‘Magdalene’) will appear with some early chapters of the novel in the summer issue of The Hudson Review. Our translation of the entire novel will be published by Harvill and Pantheon later this year. Some of the poems of Yuri Zhivago are linked to specific moments in the novel; others belong only to its general artistic make-up. Pasternak shared the ‘promptings of inner restraint’ that Zhivago felt as he wrote, ‘which did not allow him to reveal personal experiences and unfictitious happenings too openly.’ In translating the poems, we have been guided by the meaning of the words, and have welcomed poetry when it has offered itself.

We have sacrificed rhyme, which Pasternak most often used quite regularly and with great originality, but which in the many rhymed English versions of his poems, to borrow a phrase from a fellow translator, makes him sound like bad Tennyson. We have tried, on the other hand, to keep the rhythm of the poems, especially when it is as important as in ‘Wedding,’ which Pasternak composed in the popular song form known as the chastushka. And above all we have been attentive to the tone and inner movement of the originals. Several of the poems mention nightingales, and specifically the contrast between the ‘homely little bird’ and the ‘ecstasy and turmoil’ awakened by its singing. For Pasternak that unlikely combination was the essence of poetry.



1   Hamlet

The hum dies down. I step out on the stage.
Leaning against a doorpost,
I try to catch the echoes in the distance
Of what my age is bringing.

The night’s darkness focuses on me
Thousands of opera glasses.
Abba Father, if only it can be,
Let this cup pass me by.

I love the stubbornness of your intent
And agree to play this role.
But now a different drama’s going on -
Spare me, then, this once.

But the order of the acts has been thought out,
The end is inevitable.
I’m alone, all drowns in Pharisaism.
Life is no stroll through a field.


2   March

The sun heats up to the seventh sweat,
And the ravine, gone foolish, rages.
Like the work of a robust barnyard girl,
Spring’s affairs are in full swing.

The snow wastes away with anaemia
In the branchwork of impotent blue veins,
But life is steaming in the cowshed,
And the pitchfork’s teeth are the picture of health.

Oh, these nights, these days and nights!
The drumming of drops towards the middle of day,
The dwindling of icicles on the eaves,
The sleepless babbling of the brooks!

Everything wide open, stables and cowshed,
Pigeons peck up oats from the snow,
And the lifegiver and culprit of it all -
Dung - smells of fresh air.


3   Holy Week

Still the gloom of night around.
Still so early in the world,
The stars are countless in the sky,
And each of them as bright as day,
And if the earth were able to,
It would sleep its way through Easter
To the reading of the psalms.

Still the gloom of night around.
So early an hour in the world,
The square lies like eternity
From the crossroads to the corner,
And the light and warmth of dawn
Are still a millennium away.

The earth’s still bare as bare can be,
With nothing to put on at night
To go and swing the bells outside
And there back up the choristers.

And from Great and Holy Thursday
Right to Holy Saturday,
Water bores the riverbanks
And twines in whirlpools round itself.
And the woods are undressed, uncovered,
And at the service of Christ’s Passion,
Like the ranks of people praying,
Stand trunks of pine trees in a crowd.

And in town, with very little
Space, as at a local meeting,
Trees, stark naked, stand and look
Through the church’s grillwork gates.

And their gaze is filled with terror.
The cause of their alarm is clear.
Gardens are coming through the fence,
The order of the earth is shaken:
It is God they’re burying.

And they see light by the royal doors,
A black pall and a row of candles,
Tear-stained faces - suddenly
The procession of the cross
Comes to meet them with the shroud,
And two birches by the gate
Are forced to step aside for it.

And the procession makes its way
Around the yard and past the walk,
And brings to the chapel from outside
Spring, and springtime conversation,
And air that smacks of blessed bread,
And of spring’s intoxication.

And March squanders its hoard of snow
On cripples crowding by the porch,
As if a man came out to them
Carrying the ark, and opened it,
And gave away all to the very last.

And the singing goes on till dawn,
And, when it has sobbed its fill,
The reading of psalms and the epistle
Reaches more softly from inside
To vacant lots under the lamps.

But at midnight creature and flesh
Fall silent, hearing the springtime rumour
That the moment the weather clears
Death itself may be overcome
By the effort of the Resurrection.


4   White Night

I am dreaming of a far off time,
A house over on the Petersburg Side:
The daughter of a modest steppe landowner,
You’re taking courses, you were born in Kursk.

You’re sweet, you have admirers.
On this white night the two of us,
Having settled on your window sill,
Are looking down from your skyscraper.

Streetlights like gas butterflies,
Morning touched by a first tremor.
What I am softly telling you
Is so much like the sleeping distance!

We are gripped by the very same
Timid loyalty to the secret
As Petersburg spreading its panorama
Beyond the boundless river Neva.

Far off at the dense confines,
On this white night in the spring,
Nightingales fill the forest’s limits
With their thunderous hymns of glory.

The crazy trilling surges, rolls,
The voice of the little homely bird
Awakens ecstasy and turmoil
In the depths of the enchanted wood.

In those parts, night, the barefoot pilgrim,
Making her way along the fence,
Draws after her from the window sill
A trail of overheard conversation.

To the echoes of talk heard aloud,
In orchards fenced with wooden palings,
Bending apple and cherry boughs
Clothe themselves in whitish flowers.

And the trees, like white apparitions,
Pour in a crowd out to the road,
Waving as if to bid farewell
To the white night that has seen so much.


5   Bad Roads in Spring

Sunset’s fires were burning down.
A man on horseback dragged himself
Over a bad road through the pines
To a far-off farmstead in the Urals.

The horse’s spleen was tossed about,
The splashing of its iron shoes
Was echoed in its wake by water
In the sinkholes of the springs.

When the rider dropped the reins
And went on at a walking pace,
The flooding waters spread nearby
With all their roar and rumbling.

Someone laughed, someone wept,
Stone against stone crashed and crumbled,
Tree stumps torn out by the root
Toppled into the whirling pools.

And at sunset’s conflagration,
In the far-off, blackened branches,
Like the tolling of the tocsin,
A nightingale sang furiously.

Where the widowed willow bowed
Her headdress over the ravine,
Like old Nightingale the Robber,
He whistled in the seven oaks.

What calamity, what lady-love
Was this ardour destined for?
At whom did he fire off his load
Of birdshot in the thickset wood?

A demon, he seemed, about to step
From the camp of fugitives from hard labour
And go to meet the local posts
Of partisans, mounted or on foot.

Earth and sky, forest and fields
Tried to snare this rarest sound,
These measured shares of madness, pain,
Happiness, and suffering.


6   A Final Talk

Life has come back as causelessly
As once it was strangely broken off.
I am here on the same old street
As then, that summer day and hour.

The same people and the cares the same,
And the fire of sunset not yet cooled,
As when death’s evening hastily
Nailed it to the wall of the Manège.

Women in cheap workday clothes
In the same way wear out their shoes at night.
And later the garrets crucify them
In the same way on the iron roofs.

Here one with a weary gait
Slowly emerges on the threshold
And, climbing up from the half-basement,
Goes diagonally across the yard.

I again ready my excuses,
And again it’s all the same to me.
And the neighbour woman skirts the backyard,
Leaving the two of us alone.

                          _______


Don’t cry, don’t pucker your swollen lips,
Don’t gather them in wrinkles.
You’ll re-open the dried-up scab
Of your spring fever sore.

Take your palm off of my breast,
We are high-tension wires,
Watch out, or by accident we may be
Thrown together again.

Years will pass, you will get married,
And forget all this disorder.
To be a woman is a giant step,
To drive men mad - heroic.

While at the miracle of a woman’s arms,
Shoulders, and back, and neck,
I’ve stood in reverence all my life
Like a devoted servant.

But howsoever night may bind me
With its anguished coil,
Strongest of all is the pull away,
The passion for a clean break.


7   Summer in Town

Talk in half-whispers,
And with fervent haste
She gathers her hair up
In a shock from the nape.

A woman in a helmet
Looks from under the big comb,
Tossing back her head
With its braids and all.

But the night outside is hot
And promises bad weather,
And, shuffling as they pass,
Pedestrians head for home.

Abrupt thunder comes
With sharp reverberations,
And the wind flutters
The curtains of the windows.

A hushed stillness follows,
But it’s sultry as before,
And lightning as before
Rummages in the sky.

And when the intense, radiant
Morning heat dries up
The puddles on the boulevards
After the night’s downpour,

The still-flowering lindens,
Fragrant, centuries old,
Look gloweringly around them,
Having had too little sleep.


8   Wind

I’m no more, but you’re still alive,
And the wind, complaining, weeping,
Sways the forest and the dacha,
Not each pine tree separately,
But all in their entirety,
With all the boundless distances,
Like the hulls of sailing ships
On the smooth surface of a harbour.
And it’s not out of mere bravado,
Nor out of pointless fury, but
So as in anguish to find words
To make for you a lullaby.


9   Hops

Under a willow twined with ivy
We seek shelter from the rain.
Our shoulders are covered by a raincoat,
And my arms are twined about you.

I was wrong. These thick bushes
Are wound not with ivy, but with hops.
Better, then, let’s take this raincoat
And spread it out wide under us.


10   Indian Summer

The currant leaf is coarse and nappy,
There’s laughter in the house and the clink of glass,
There’s chopping there, and pickling, and peppering,
And cloves are put into the marinade.

The forest, like a scoffer, flings this noise
As far away as the precipitous slope
Where the hazel grove burnt by the sun
Looks as if a bonfire’s heat had scorched it.

Here the road descends into a gully,
Here you feel pity for the dry old snags
And for the poor rag-picker, Mistress Autumn,
Who sweeps it all down into the ravine.

And because the universe is simpler
Than some clever thinker might suppose,
Because the grove is feeling so crestfallen,
Because it is all coming to its end.

Because it is senseless to stand blinking
When everything before you is burnt down,
And the white autumnal soot
Draws its cobwebs across the window.

There’s a way from the garden through the broken fence,
And it loses itself among the birches.
Inside there’s laughter and the noise of housework,
And the same noise and laughter far away.


11   Wedding

Cutting through the yard outside,
Guests came to make merry
In the bride’s house until dawn
With a concertina.

Back behind the masters’ doors,
Doubled with felt lining,
The snatches of small talk died down
Between one and seven.

Just at dawn, the deep of sleep,
Slumber, slumber, slumber,
The accordion struck up afresh
Going from the wedding.

The accordionist poured out anew
Music from his squeeze-box,
The clap of hands, the flash of beads,
The din of merrymaking.

And again, again, again
The chattering chastushka
Burst right into the sleepers’ bed
From the joyous feasting.

And one woman white as snow
Amidst the noise and whistling
Floated again like a peahen
Swaying her hips in rhythm.

Tossing back her haughty head,
And with her right hand waving,
She went dancing down the road -
Peahen, peahen, peahen!

Suddenly the heat and noise of play,
The stomping of the round dance,
Went plunging into Tartarus
And vanished in a twinkling.

The noisy yard was waking up,
And the busy echo
Mixed itself into the talk
And the peals of laughter.

Into the sky’s immensity,
A whirl of blue-grey patches,
A flock of pigeons went soaring up,
Rising from the dovecot.

Just as if someone half-asleep
Suddenly remembered
To send them, wishing many years,
After the wedding party.

For life is only an instant, too,
Only the dissolving
Of ourselves, like the giving of a gift,
Into all the others.

Only a wedding that bursts its way
Through an open window,
Only a song, only a dream,
Only a blue-grey pigeon.


12   Autumn

I’ve let the family go its ways,
All those close to me have long dispersed,
And the usual solitude
Fills all of nature and my heart.

And so I’m here with you in the cabin,
In the unpeopled and deserted forest.
The paths and trails, as in a song,
Are half submerged in undergrowth.

Now the log walls gaze in sorrow
At us alone. We never promised
To take the obstacles, if we perish,
We shall do it openly.

We sit down at one, get up at three,
I with a book, you with your sewing,
And at dawn we won’t have noticed
How at some point we stopped kissing.

Rustle, leaves, rustle and fall
Still more splendidly and recklessly,
Let yesterday’s cup of bitterness
Brim over with the anguish of today.

Attachment, attraction, loveliness!
Let’s be scattered in September’s noise!
Bury yourself in autumnal rustling!
Freeze in place, or go half crazy!

You shed your dress in the same way
A grove of maples sheds its leaves,
When you fall into my embrace
In your robe with silken tassels.

You are the blessing of a fatal step,
When life’s more sickening than illness,
Yet courage is the root of beauty,
And that’s what draws us to each other.


13   A Tale

Once in olden times,
In a faery land,
A horseman made his way
Over the thorny steppe.

He was hastening to battle,
And far across the steppe,
Out of the dust a forest
Darkly rose to meet him.

An aching in his bosom,
A gnawing in his heart:
Fear the watering-place,
Tighten the saddle girth.

The rider did not listen
And rode on at full speed,
Going ever faster
Towards the wooded mound.

Turning at the barrow,
He entered a dry gap,
Passed beside a meadow,
Rode over a hill.

And finally reached a hollow,
And by a forest path
Came upon animal footprints
And a watering-place.

And deaf to any warning,
And heedless of his sense,
He led his steed down the bankside
To water him at the stream.

                          _______


By the stream - a cave,
Before the cave - a ford.
What seemed like flaming brimstone
Lighted the cave mouth.

And from that crimson screen,
Which hid all from view,
A distant call resounded,
Coming through the pines.

Then straight across the gully
The startled rider sent
His horse stepping surely
Towards the summoning cry.

And what the rider saw there
Made him clutch his lance:
The head of a dragon,
A long tail all in scales.

Its maw was spewing fire,
Spattering light about,
In three rings round a maiden
Its twisting length was wound.

The body of the serpent,
Like a whip’s lash,
Swayed about, just grazing
The shoulder of the girl.

The custom of that country
Was to bestow the prize
Of a captive beauty
On the monster in the woods.

The local population
Had agreed to pay this tax
Each year to the serpent
In ransom for their huts.

The serpent wound and bound her
And tightened on her neck,
Having received this tribute
To torture as it liked.

With a plea the horseman
Looked to the lofty sky
And prepared for battle,
His lance set at the tilt.

                          _______
 
Tightly shut eyelids.
Lofty heights. Clouds.
Waters. Fords. Rivers.
Years and centuries.

The rider, without helmet,
Knocked down in the fight,
The faithful steed tramples
The serpent with his hoof.

Steed and dragon body
Lie there on the sand.
The rider is unconscious,
And the maiden stunned.

The heavenly vault at noonday
Shines with a tender blue.
Who is she? A royal princess?
A daughter of the earth? A queen?

First in a flood of happiness
Her tears pour out in streams,
Then her soul is mastered
By sleep and oblivion.

He first feels health returning,
But then his veins go still,
For his strength is failing
From loss of so much blood.

Yet their hearts keep beating.
And now she, and now he
Tries to awaken fully,
And then falls back to sleep.

Tightly shut eyelids.
Lofty heights. Clouds.
Waters. Fords. Rivers.
Years and centuries.


14   August

This morning, faithful to its promise,
The early sun seeped through the room
In an oblique strip of saffron
From the curtains to the couch.

It covered with its burning ochre
The nearby woods, the village homes,
My bedstead and my still moist pillow,
The edge of wall behind the books.

Then I remembered the reason why
My pillowcase was slightly damp.
I had dreamed you were walking through the woods
One after another to see me off.

You walked in a crowd, singly, in pairs,
Then someone remembered that today
Was the sixth of August, old style,
The Transfiguration of Our Lord.

Ordinarily a flameless light
Issues on this day from Tabor,
And autumn, clear as a sign held up,
Rivets all gazes to itself.

And you walked through little, beggarly,
Naked, trembling alder scrub
To the spicy red woods of the graveyard
Burning like stamped gingerbread.

The sky superbly played the neighbour
To the hushed crowns of its trees,
And distances called to each other
In the drawn-out voices of the cocks.

Death, like a government surveyor,
Stood in the woods among the graves,
Scrutinising my dead face,
So as to dig the right-sized hole.

You had the physical sensation
Of someone’s quiet voice beside you.
It was my old prophetic voice
Sounding, untouched by decay:

‘Farewell, azure of Transfiguration,
Farewell, the Second Saviour’s gold.
Ease with a woman’s last caress
The bitterness of my fatal hour.

‘Farewell, years fallen out of time!
Farewell, woman: to an abyss
Of humiliations you threw down
The challenge! I am your battlefield.

‘Farewell, the sweep of outspread wings,
The wilful stubbornness of flight,
And the image of the world revealed in words,
And the work of creation, and working miracles.’


16   Separation

The man looks from the threshold,
Not recognising his home.
Her departure was more like flight.
Havoc’s traces are everywhere.

All the rooms are in chaos.
The extent of the destruction
Escapes him because of his tears
And an attack of migraine.

Some humming in his ears since morning.
Is he conscious or dreaming?
And why does the thought of the sea
Keep coming to his mind?

When God’s world cannot be seen
Through the hoarfrost on the windows,
The hopelessness of anguish resembles
The waste of the sea twice over.

She was as dear to him
In her every feature
As the coast is near the sea
Along the line of breakers.

As waves drown the reeds
In the aftermath of a storm,
So her forms and features
Sank to the bottom of his soul.

In years of affliction, in times
Of unthinkable daily life,
She was thrown to him from the bottom
By the wave of destiny.

Amidst obstacles without number,
Past dangers in its way,
The wave bore her, bore her
And brought her right to him.

And now here is her departure,
A forced one, it may be.
Separation will devour them both,
Anguish will gnaw their bones.

And the man looks around him:
At the moment of leaving
She turned everything upside down,
Emptying the dresser drawers.

He wanders about and till nightfall
Keeps putting scattered scraps
Of fabric and pattern samples
Back into the drawer.

And pricking himself on a needle
Stuck into some sewing,
All at once he sees the whole of her
And quietly starts to weep.


17   Meeting

Snow will cover the roads,
It will heap up on the rooftops.
I’ll go out to stretch my legs:
You’re standing near the door.

Alone in a fall coat,
Without hat, without warm boots,
You’re fighting back agitation
And chewing the wet snow.

Trees and lattice fences
Go off into the murk.
Alone amidst the snowfall,
You stand at the corner.

Water runs from your kerchief
Down your sleeve to the cuff,
And drops of it like dewdrops
Sparkle in your hair.

And a flaxen strand
Illuminates: your face,
Your kerchief and your figure,
And that skimpy coat.

Snow moist on your lashes,
Anguish in your eyes,
And your entire aspect
Is formed of a single piece.

As if with iron dipped
In liquid antimony,
You have been engraved
Into my very heart.

And the meekness of those features
Is lodged in it forever,
And therefore it’s no matter
That the world’s hardhearted.

And therefore everything
On this snowy night is doubled,
And I can draw no boundary
Between myself and you.

But who are we, where from,
If of all these years
There remains only gossip,
And we’re no longer here?


19   Dawn

You meant everything in my destiny.
Then came war, devastation,
And for a long, long time there was
No word of you, no breath.

And after many, many years
Your voice has stirred me up again.
All night I read your Testament,
As if I were reviving from a faint.

I want to go to people, into the crowd,
Into their morning animation.
I’m ready to smash everything to bits
And put everybody on their knees.

And I go running down the stairs,
As if I’m coming out for the first time
Onto these streets covered with snow
And these deserted sidewalks.

Everywhere waking up, lights, warmth,
They drink tea, hurry for the tram.
In the course of only a few minutes
The city’s altered beyond recognition.

In the gateway the blizzard weaves
A net of thickly falling flakes,
And in order to get somewhere on time,
They drop their breakfast and rush off.

I feel for them, for all of them,
As if I were inside their skin,
I myself melt as the snow melts,
I myself knit my brows like morning.

With me are people without names,
Trees, children, stay-at-homes.
Over me they are all the victors,
And in that alone lies my victory.


20   Miracle

He was walking from Bethany to Jerusalem,
Already weighed down by sad presentiments.

The prickly brush on the steep hillside was scorched,
Over a nearby hut the smoke stood still,
The air was hot and the rushes motionless,
And the Dead Sea was an unmoving calm.

And in a bitterness that rivalled the bitterness of the sea,
He was going with a small throng of clouds
Down a dusty road to someone’s house,
Going to town, to a gathering of his disciples.

And he was so deep in his own thoughts
That the fields in their wanness smelled of wormwood.
All fell silent. He stood alone in the midst,
And the countryside lay unconscious on its back.
Everything mixed together: the heat and the desert,
And the lizards, and the springs and rivulets.

A fig tree rose up not far away
With no fruit on it, only leaves and branches.
And he said to it: ‘What good are you?
Is your stupor of any earthly use to me?

‘I hunger and thirst, and you are a sterile blossom.
Meeting with you is more cheerless than with granite.
Oh, how galling you are and how ungifted!
Stay that way until the end of time.’

A shudder of condemnation ran down the tree,
Like a flash of lightning down a lightning rod,
And the fig tree was reduced to ashes.

If the leaves, the branches, roots, and trunk
Had found themselves a free moment at that time,
Nature’s laws might have managed to intervene.
But a miracle is a miracle, and a miracle is God.
When we’re perturbed, in the midst of our disorder,
It overtakes us on the instant, unawares.


21   The Earth

Spring comes barging loutishly
Into Moscow’s private houses.
Moths flutter behind the wardrobe
And crawl over the summer hats,
And fur coats are put away in trunks.

Pots of wallflowers and stock
Stand on the wooden mezzanines,
There’s a breath of freedom in the rooms,
And the garrets smell of dust.

And the street enjoys hobnobbing
With the half-blind window frame,
And the white night and the sunset
Can’t help meeting by the river.

And in the corridor you can hear
What’s happening in the wide outdoors,
What April says to the dripping eaves
In a random conversation.

He can tell a thousand stories
About the woes of humankind,
And dawn feels chilly along the fences,
And draws it all out endlessly.

And that same mix of fire and fright
Outside and in our cosy dwellings,
And the air everywhere is not itself,
And the same transparent pussywillows,
And the same swelling of white buds
At the window and at the crossroads,
In the workshop and in the street.

Then why does the distance weep in mist,
And why does the humus smell so bitter?
In that precisely lies my calling,
So that the expanses won’t be bored,
So that beyond the city limits
The earth will not languish all alone.

It is for that my friends and I
Get together in early spring,
And our evenings are farewells,
Our little feasts are testaments,
So that the secret stream of suffering
Can lend warmth to the chill of being.


22   Evil Days

When in the last week
He was entering Jerusalem,
Thundering hosannas met him,
People ran after him with branches.

But the days grow more grim and menacing,
Love will not touch hearts.
Brows are knitted scornfully,
And now it’s the afterword, the end.

The sky lay over the courtyards
With all its leaden weight.
The Pharisees sought evidence,
Twisting before him like foxes.

And the dark powers of the temple
Hand him to the scum for judgement.
And with the same ardour as they praised him
Earlier, they curse him now.

The crowd from the lot next door
Peered in through the gates,
Jostling and shoving each other
As they waited for the outcome.

And a whisper crept through the neighbours,
And rumours came from all sides,
And childhood and the flight into Egypt
Were recalled now like a dream.

He remembered the majestic hillside
In the desert, and that height
From which Satan tempted him
With power over all the world.

And the marriage feast at Cana,
And the miracle that astonished the guests,
And the misty sea he walked on
To the boat, as over dry land.

And a gathering of the poor in a hovel,
And the descent into the dark cellar,
Where the candle died of fright
When the raised man stood up …


25   The Garden of Gethsemane

The bend of the road was lighted up
By the indifferent glitter of distant stars.
The road went around the Mount of Olives,
Down below it flowed the Kedron.

The little meadow broke off half way,
Beyond it the Milky Way began.
The grey, silvery olive trees tried
To step on air into the distance.

At the end was someone’s garden plot.
Leaving his disciples outside the wall,
He said, ‘My soul is sorrowful unto death,
Tarry here and watch with me.’

He renounced without a struggle,
As things merely borrowed for a time,
His miracle-working and omnipotence,
And was now like mortals, like us all.

Now night’s distance seemed the verge
Of annihilation and nonbeing.
The expanse of the universe was uninhabited,
And the garden only was the place for life.

And, peering into those dark gulfs,
Empty, without beginning or end,
And sweating blood, he prayed to his Father
That this cup of death might pass.

Having eased his mortal anguish with prayer,
He went back out. There, on the ground,
His disciples, overcome with sleep,
Lay about among the roadside weeds.

He woke them: ‘The Lord has granted you
To live in my days, but you lie sprawling.
The hour of the Son of Man has struck.
He will give himself into the hands of sinners.’

He had barely said it when, who knows from where,
A crowd of slaves and vagabonds appeared,
Torches, swords, and at their head - Judas,
With a treacherous kiss upon his lips.

Peter rushed the cutthroats with his sword
And lopped off the ear of one. He hears:
‘Disputes can never be resolved with iron.
Put your sword back in its place, man.

‘Could my Father not provide me
With hosts of winged legions? Then,
Having touched not a hair upon my head,
My enemies would scatter without a trace.

‘But the book of life has reached a page
Dearer than all that’s sacred.
What has been written must now be fulfilled.
Then let it be fulfilled. Amen.

‘For the course of the ages is like a parable,
And can catch fire in its course.
In the name of its awful grandeur, I shall go
In voluntary suffering to the grave.

‘I shall go to the grave, and on the third day rise,
And, just as rafts float down a river,
To me for judgement, like a caravan of barges,
The centuries will come floating from the darkness.’



Extracted from Dr Zhivago by Boris Pasternak. To be published by Harvill Secker on 14 October 2010 at £20.00. Copyright © Giangiacomo Feltrinelli Editore 1957. English translation copyright © Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky 2010.

This poem is taken from PN Review 192, Volume 36 Number 4, March - April 2010.



Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this poem to editor@pnreview.co.uk
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