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From the book Kliazma and Yauza
From the book The Wild Rose
From the book Tristan and Isolde
From the book Old Songs
From the book Gates. Windows. Arches
From the book Stanzas in the Manner of Alexander Pope  
From the book Stellae and Inscriptions
From the book The Iambic Verses
The Chinese Travelogue
From An Unfinished Book
From the book The Evening Song
From the book Elegies
From the book The Beginning of a Book
From the book Stanzas in the Manner of Alexander Pope
(1979–1980)
Second Stanzas
On the Death of a Kitten
Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig
Words from Bach’s Chorale
1

What is he up to there, where he isn’t at all?
Where his being flows like the eternal rain,
like a poor little rain-coat bathing the dust and ashes
in the chance folds of skin on my hands,
no less chance than them. Does sleep
outlive the soul, like ozone
outlives its storm, and speaks about
it cleverer and quieter, quieter and cleverer.

2

Fortuna, turn your wheel,
the shadow of imaginary magnitudes, Saturn’s ring,
the juggler’s plate on the pole
in the emptiness that circles the heart in a spell.
But even on the plate of dust
where each will turn into their ghost,
we will wait in the earth made of nothing
with a sick little being pressed to our breasts.

3

Sick, for death is a sickness of the mind,
not more. Sickness and this darkness,
into which he looks, rigid and mute,
God knows where, God knows before whom,
on your grindstone wheel, at the swift sound –
disappearance – let the mind lay
its blunt knife and the sparks fly,
and immortal images soar.

4

Turning like Saturn’s ring...
O grief! Who looked into whose face?
Who knew whom? Looking at what is
left, one is turned into an image
of salt. Be strong, my life.
We are running away out of non-existence
like a huge ribbon, a twisting cord,
in single file before eternity over the protective ditch.

5

But if they came with offence and evil intent!
throwing broken glass into our eyes –
and at that very moment real tears
would wash them away!
Come on, get up. It is inconceivable to lie
face down in the mind, to support oneself on nothing,
to not be nothing, to crumble like mica,
to roll like the waters of the underworld Sheol...

6

Galaxy? Kitten? Waterfall?
Scattered treasure in dust!
But something is sickening. Poor road,
flashing off somewhere like a lizard
among the stones, that are, perhaps, of other worlds,
priceless, wonderful... Only we need to have a profile
in them, as visible as the snow.
It is the cradle that rocks everyone.

7

The living is alive in the deepest of dreams,
in oblivion, in diffusion, at the bottom
of some boat: not spirit, and not flesh,
but the fibres of your miracles, Lord.
It is confession, the one who talks and listens to You.
It is the pouring rain of conscience.
It has gone to sleep in Your arms
to the noise of the water on the noisy roofs.

8

The future is like the steppe, like a sieve.
Fear not and do not complain: there is nothing,
whatever happens there will be no more tears.
All the rest is empty, as the Arctic
frost. And he curled up
and swiftly rounded death’s little hill –
and bounded off as though he’d seen what he wanted...
My look goes off into his fur, as into a crack.

9

Everything will pass. And everything flies like snow –
the wrong side of vision, the membrane of eyelids,
the substance of an empty dream,
or an exhausted little creature –
it doesn’t matter. Everything slips out of my hands
down their images and their steps,
everything rolls, like a dark ball,
unwinding the name like fire.
Richard McKane

Notes by the Author

The lines are dedicated to Shurik, the kitten, who died three months after birth. He was born in the winter and did not live to see the spring. He was black with a white chest.
Image of salt – Lot’s wife (cf. also A. Akhmatova, Trans.)
The fibres of miracles – fate that was not stretched into thread (the idea of streams follows). The main image of these lines is one of rotation, the spinning wheel, the grindstone, the wheel of Fortuna that unwinds the ball.
The name like fire – remember «the fire brought down on earth» and «how the soul is in torment until it is burned».
 Second Stanzas. On the Death of a Kitten
Fourth Stanzas. In Memory of Nabokov
Coda
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