All Commentary
Thursday, April 23, 2015

Life, Life


I don’t believe in omens, nor fear
foreboding signs. No poisons or lies
will strike me down. There is no death on earth;
everyone’s immortal. Nothing will die.
There’s no need to fear the end—at seventeen
or seventy. There’s only this life, this light
on earth; there’s no darkness or death.
We’re all already on the seashore,
and I’m among those who haul in the nets    
when immortality swims past a shoal.

If you live in a house, the house will not fall.
Summon any of the centuries,
I’ll enter and build a house in it.
That is why they are with me,
our beloveds and children, around my table
large enough for ancestors and grandchildren:
the future turns its face to us now,
and if I raise my hand a little,
all five rays will dwell among you.
Every day I used my collarbones
as if they were logs to shore up the past—
I measured time with cubits and spans
then crossed its mountain range.
I tailored the age to fit my frame,
then we headed south, made the steppe dust fly.
Tall weeds fumed. A grasshopper played;
touching its antenna to a horseshoe, it prophesied;
like a monk, it threatened me with destruction.
I strapped my fate to the saddle.
And even now, in the time to come,
I stand up in stirrups like a boy.
My immortality suits me well—
my blood flows from age to age.
I would have paid with my life, whimsically,
for a warm and sturdy corner—
if the flying needle had not tugged me
like a thread across the universe.
translated by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev

  • Arseny Tarkovsky (1907-1989) was a Russian poet who spent most of his life as a translator, only publishing his own poems after Stalin’s death (beginning in 1962). His work emerges from a visionary sensibility that became his way of forging a Russian art outside of Soviet realism. He was wounded in World War II, lost a leg to gangrene, and wrote some of the most powerful poems about the War.