Speaking In Tongues
Scribbling In Voices

Boris Pasternak

 Translated by Alex Sitnitsky



A carrier’s yard; in the ledges, afloat
Felonious Tower rises. Then, clear —
The tinkling of the horseshoes, the mournful and cold
Hoarse chimes of Westminster emerge from the air.
The tight streets; the walls that store up their stale,
Damp smell like the hop sprouts that dwell on the porches.
Like soot they are sullen and revel like ale,
Like London they are chilled, like a pace they are tortuous.
The snow had sluggishly fallen and bent.
The doors were locked up when it, sleepy and flabby,
Like a slipped-down band from an abdomen, went
To fall down heavily to fill up an abbey.
The window is framed by the leaden thin rims
With the grains of blue mica — «It depends on the weather.
However... However let’s nap, being free.
However — cash down! Bring water, hairdresser!»
And shaving, he roars with laughter, — fists
He placed on his hips, to the wag, to the swearer
Who speaks through the sticky chibouk mouthpiece
The rubbish that kills.
                                       Meanwhile, Shakespeare
Lost a desire to tease. And written with the light,
At night, but without corrections the sonnet,
Behind a distant table where an apple still fights
With the claw of the lobster, and a loaf which is sodden.
The sonnet is telling him,
                                           «Yes, I admit
Thy talent, but, genius, expert and master,
It seems as to thee as to him on the lid,
With the soap-rubbed mug, that bloody poor bastard,
By flesh and by flush I am lightning and it
Means that by my caste I am higher and faster
Than humans — in short, I pour, I emit
The light upon you, like the stench — thy pipe’s knaster
Does. Father, I’m sorry for my son’s skepticism.
But sir, but my lord, we are both with the trouble.
This tavern and me in your company? Is
This fledgling of yours worth the clapping blunt rabble?
Recite to this one. Why not, dear sir?
For all guilds’ and bills’ sake! He’s just an old poor groom,
But you’re in the poolroom. I’m really concerned —
What’ s wrong in achieving the success in a poolroom?»
To him? Are you mad? — And he calls for a maid,
And playing with the grape twig, almost in a frenzy,
He counts — French ragout, half a pint — should be paid,
And — flinging the napkins at the phantom — he exits.

Piano Improvisation

I fed the keys’ flock out of my palm.
Escorted with clapping and lapping below.
I stood on tiptoes, I stretch out my arm.
The sleeve turned up. Night petted my elbow.
And there was a darkness, and a pond, and the shrill
Black beaks of the birds, that were growing suspicious.
It seemed they won’t die, they rather would kill
Those others from lovely «I love you» species.
And there was the pond and the darkness that raved
While the tar of midnight was floating down.
The bottom of the boat was gnawed by wave.
The birds squabbled fiercely, fighting around.
The night still was gargling in the larynx of dikes.
It seemed till the fledgling is filled up — the hen-bird,
She would rather kill — then let roulades die
In the clamorous throat, in the gluttonous keyboard.

* * *

It happens and I had to know,
On my debut embarking, that
The lines with blood can kill, can blow
Into the throat to make you dead.
Those jokes with their double meaning —
I would refuse them bluntly. Yet
It was so distant — my beginning
And first concern was timid, glad.
But age — it’s Rome, which, with high ardor,
Demands instead of balderdash
Not just a reading by an actor —
But ravaging of soul and flesh.
When feeling once dictates its lines,
It sends a slave upon the stage.
And here Art ends and assigns
Earth soil and fate to be engaged.


And I entered as the hum calmed down,
Leaned against the door-post on the stage;
I am harking to a distant aftersound:
What should happen to my cruel age.

O, I love Thine obstinate intention
And agree to play this part sublime.
But today another drama's mentioned,
And Thou wilt leave me alone this time.

A thousand binocularas have gathered,
Aimed at me as darkness multiplies.
If it's possible, then, Abba, Father,
Let Thine cap, I beg Thee, pass me by.

But the train of acts has been forethought by Reason,
And the end's not promising at all.
I'm alone. All drowns in pharisaism.
A walk through life is not a tranquil stroll

* * *

Loving someone is a heavy cross.
But you -- no doubts -- you are splendid.
The secret of that charm of yours
Is sealed like life's enigma. And it

Is clear in spring, with rustle of dreams.
The truth, the news, they also rustle.
You are from decent roots. It seems
Your meaning is like air -- trustful.

It's easy -- just wake up and sense,
The wordy trash shake out, keep on
Your life without rubbish hence.
Indeed, all that is very simple.


I fizzled and flared. I trembled, didn't I?
I just have proposed. Too late and so difficult --
Guess I got cold feet -- and it was denied.
I pity her tears! Like a saint I'm beatifical!

I went outside. As one who's reborn,
I could be considered. Despising my presence,
Each substance diminutive lively went on,
Ascending in its valedictory essence.

Flagstones grew red hot on the brow of the street,
And pavement's stones gloomily frowned.
The wind, like a boatman, rowed through the lime-trees.
And all of those were just phantoms around.

Whatever they were I tried to evade
Its glances, neglecting its doubtful greetings.
And I did not wish its profoundness. Away,
Off, out from them! Not to burst into weeping.

My native instinct, that bootlicker -- old man,
Being nearly unbearable prowled aside hence.
And thought, «What a calf-love. I'm sure, I can't
To keep my eyes off from the guy, he needs guidance».

The instinct insisted, «Make a step, than repeat…»
He led me so sagely, like an old scholastic
Trough wildwood of virgin, impassable reed,
Of candescent trees, of lilac, of lust -- and:

«Learn how to pace, and then you may rush…»
He harped on; the new sun has watched from the zenith
The native of that new world learning afresh
To walk to his lot. If there are any…

Some people were blinded by all that; perhaps --
For others -- it seemed as the darkness approaches.
The chickens dug up in the dahlia' shrubs,
The crickets, the dragonflies ticked like watches.

The roof-tiles melted, the noon -- from above --
Observed them not blinking. In Marburg somewhere,
Light-heartedly, someone was crafting a bow
While others were up to the Whitsuntide Fair.

The clouds were devoured by the yellowing sand
The thickets' eyebrows made a thunderstorm evident,
The sky curdled at once as it managed to land
On arnica pieces -- a blood stopping remedy.

That day, all of you, from your feet to your head,
Like an actor in a province with a Shakespearean drama,
I carried along and knew all off pat,
I fiddled about rehearsing your glamour.

And when -- before you -- I docilely kneeled
And grasped all this ice, all this surface erected,
(What a beauty you are!) -- That smothery whirl…
Where was I? Wake up! It's over. Rejected.


Martin Luther lived here. And the brothers Grimm,
The roofs with the claws. The trees. The tombstones.
All that still remembers them and sees in a dream.
All that is alive. And all they are phantoms.

O, the yarns of love. Can one catch up, get in?
You are so immense -- that apish selection,
When there, above, at the gates of being
As equal, you're reading you own description!

Once under that knight's nest the noxious plague
Spread out. But a nowadays scarecrow --
Is a flight of the trains, a cloudy clang
From steaming, beehive-like-buzzing hollow.

I will not be seen at her place as a guest.
Refusal's more utter then parting. We're even.
I hardly would leave you -- gaslights and cash desks,
The ancient tombstones, send me an omen!

The fog will spread out the blankets and, look, --
The moon's in the windows, just for a grouch.
And longing, like a passenger, will choose a book
And like she, to read it, will sit down on a couch.

If it happens -- they'll save me. As much as my grammar
I knew my insomnia. Why am I so tense?
My mind? It's the moon for sleepwalkers, and friendly we are
But I'm not the vessel for its contents.

For in the moonlight my neighbors-nights drop in
To play with me chess on the floor in the hall.
The scent of acacia, and windows are open
And passion, like a witness, grows gray by the wall.

And a poplar is king. I play with insomnia.
A queen is a nightingale. Should I move with a pawn?
All pieces sidestep. The night has won here.
And I recognize the white face of the dawn.