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Appendix I. An Early Version of Poem Without a Hero

Appendix I. An Early Version of Poem Without a Hero

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Appendix I

As if I paused to cross myself

And enter dark vaults underground.

1941. August, Leningrad.


And since my paper has run out,

I’m using your rough draft for writing.

And there a word not mine shows through,

like a snowflake on my hand alighting,

to melt trustingly, without reproof.

And Antinous’ dark downy lashes

rose suddenly—and there’s green smoke

and a native breeze began to blow . . .

Is it the sea?

No, just pine branches

on a grave, and closer, close at hand

in boiling foam comes . . .

Marche funèbre. . .

Chopin . . .

Dec. 26, 1940


In my hot youth, when George the Third

was king . . .


I’ve set the cherished candles alight,

With the guest who didn’t arrive

I planned to honor Forty-one’s birth.

But . . . God be with us, His power abound!

Within the crystal the flame has drowned

‘‘And the brimming wine like poison burns.’’

There are splashes of cruel conversations

As long-dead ravings reawaken

Although the hour has not struck yet.

A rush of fear hits me at full force,

Like a ghostly guard I stand by the door


Tashkent Version of Poem Without a Hero

To defend my final haven’s rest.

And the bell rings, insistent and shrill,

At its sound I feel a fever chill,

Cold seizes me, I freeze, I burn . . .

Then, as if something came back to mind,

I turn slightly, looking half-behind,

And the words I speak are quiet and firm:

‘‘You’ve got it wrong—you just went past

The Venice of the Doges . . . but your masks,

Your cloaks, staffs, crowns and all the rest,

You’ll have to leave in the entryway.

I’ve decided to honor you today,

You mischief-making New Year’s guests!’’

This one’s Faust, over there’s Don Juan,

Someone goes past with a female faun

To the sound of jingling tambourine bells.

To receive them the walls spread out,

In the distance sirens began to howl,

Like a cupola the ceiling swelled.

Clearly I’m who they want, if not, who’s meant?

But not for them is my table set,

And I don’t plan to forgive their sins.

The last one is lame, his cough is dry,

I certainly hope that you would shy

From inviting an unclean spirit in.

I’d forgot the lessons you conferred,

False prophets juggling pretty words,

But you hadn’t forgotten me.

As in the past the future takes shape

So in the future the past decays,

A hideous fete of rotting leaves.

Something about maskers wakes my fears,

It’s just that somehow it always appeared

That some sort of superfluous shade

‘‘Without face or name’’ had gotten in

Hidden among them . . . But let’s begin

The proceedings for this New Year’s day.

I’d rather not have the whole world know


Appendix I

About this midnight Hoffmanesque, so

If I could ask a favor . . . Wait,

You there, you’re not among those listed

With the Capuchins, clowns, Lysiscas—

Dressed as a milepost in striped array

Painted with crude and gaudy strokes—

You’re as old as the Mamre oak,

You converse with the moon through centuries.

You pretend to groan, but no one’s fooled,

You use letters of iron to write your rules,

Hammurabi, Lycurgus, Solon too

Would have profited to hear you teach.

With what strange tastes this being’s endowed,

Not content to wait for gout and renown

To rush to seat him on display

In lavish thrones for his jubilee,

He triumphs out on the flowering heath,

Through the wilderness he takes his way.

And there’s nothing he needs repent,

Not a single thing . . . In any event

Poets and sins don’t go together.

Where the Ark of the Covenant is,

They must dance or vanish! . . .And about this,

It’s been expressed in verses better.

A cry: ‘‘Let’s have the hero up front!’’

No need to worry: he’s sure to come,

He’ll replace that tall man, take the floor . . .

Why do you rush off in a throng,

As if each saw the bride for whom he longed,

While I’m left behind to stand forlorn,

Alone in the gloom, facing that black frame

From which there looks out, still the same,

That hour none ever rightly mourned?

It comes, not all at once, but slowly.

Like a musical phrase’s flowing,

I hear gusts of words, a broken cry.

Then—flat steps heading up the stair,


Tashkent Version of Poem Without a Hero

A flash of light and far off somewhere

A clear voice: ‘‘I am ready to die.’’


You embody the senses’ pleasures

More fully than those alive, radiant shade.


The fur coat’s flung open, all satin-lined!

Don’t think, my Dove, that I’m unkind,

It’s myself, not you, I’m punishing now.

Do you see, beyond the swirling snow,

The blackamoor boys who were in the show

Are playing games and horsing around?

Boldly and gaily the sleigh runners chime,

And a goathair lap robe trails behind.

Shades, begone!—He stands alone indeed.

The wall shows his profile, firm and clear.

Say, my lady, is your chevalier

Gabriel or Mephistopheles?

Out of the portrait to me you came,

Upon the wall the empty frame

Will be waiting for you till the dawn.

So go on, dance now—unescorted,

And the role of the fatal chorus

I myself have agreed to take on . . .

You came to Russia out of nowhere,

O my wonder with flaxen hair,

The Columbine of the 1910s!

Why show such a troubled and keen-eyed gaze,

You Petersburg doll, acclaimed on stage—

You’re one of my doubles, another me.

That’s one more title you must append

To the others. O poets’ beloved friend,

The fame you once had is now my own.

To an amazing musical meter

As Leningrad’s wind swoops and sweeps here,


Appendix I

I behold dancing courtiers’ bones.

Down the wedding candles wax slowly drips,

The white-veiled shoulders wait to be kissed,

The church thunders: ‘‘Dove, come to the groom!’’

Parma violets in April piled up high,

And the Maltese Chapel rendezvous lies

Deep in your heart like a poisoned wound.

Circus wagons pale beside your home,

Around the altar of Venus go

Cupids with features pitted and gouged.

You made your bedroom a garden retreat,

The people living on your street

Back home in Pskov wouldn’t know you now.

Golden candlesticks form a glittering line,

Upon the walls saints in sky blue shine,

These goods aren’t quite stolen, but it’s close . . .

Like Botticelli’s ‘‘Spring,’’ flower-bedecked,

You received lovers in your bed,

And anguish filled the sentry Pierrot.

Where your husband is, I didn’t see, couldn’t guess,

I, the hoarfrost against the window pressed

Or the chiming of the fortress bells.

Have no fear—I don’t mark crosses on doors,

I’m waiting for you, come boldly forth,

It’s long been known what your stars foretell.


They fall at Bryansk, while Manteshev’s


Already he’s gone, the young man, our own.

—Velimir Khlebnikov

To heat the holidays bonfires burned,

And carriages on bridges overturned,

And the black-draped city was borne away,

It drifted on toward an unknown goal,

Following or fighting the Neva’s flow—

But always moving away from its graves.


Tashkent Version of Poem Without a Hero

In the Summer Garden a weathervane’s tune

Rang delicately, and a silver moon

Hung frozen over the Silver Age.

And through the cold and choking atmosphere

Of prodigal prewar days, one could hear

A low muffled hum, a warning sound.

But then it was still far-off and faint,

And, almost beyond any hearing range,

It sank into the Neva snows and drowned.

After midnight someone paces and stamps

Beneath the windows, a streetcorner lamp

Sheds a merciless and sickly glow—

And then he sees the pretty masker

Coming back from ‘‘The Road from Damascus’’

Has come home at last, and not alone.

On the landing a lingering scent is sweet,

And a young hussar bearing poetry

And senseless death will ring the bell,

If the courage he calls up doesn’t fail,

To you, his Traviata, he will pay

His final respects. Look where he fell:

Not in the mud by some Polish creek. . .

Not upon the blue Carpathian peaks. . .

He is at your door—

There on the floor . . .

Mercy, oh show mercy, Lord!

I, your olden conscience, here affirm:

I tracked down the tale that had been burned,

I went to the deceased’s house

And there I laid it down

On a window shelf and then I tiptoed off . . .


All’s as it should be: the poem rests now,

As usual, with no more to say.

But what if a theme suddenly bursts out,


Appendix I

Knocks with its fists on a windowpane?

And to that summons there replies

A distant sound fraught with alarm—

Gurgling, groaning, and shrieking cries . . .

And a vision of crossed arms.

December 26, 1940

Leningrad. The Fontanka House (night).


Tashkent Version of Poem Without a Hero


Flip Side


To V. G. Garshin

. . . I take the waters of Lethe,

Doctor’s orders—I’m not allowed to be



My editor was dissatisfied,

Swore he was busy, and sick besides,

His phone number went under cover.

Impossible! Three themes are mixed up here!

The reader gets lost—it’s still not clear,

When all is done, who are the lovers.

At first I was ready to yield. But then

Words began to fall in again,

A music box pealed and its echoes rung,

And above the broken flask the glow

Of a mysterious poison rose,

Flamed straight up in a greenish tongue.

And I kept on writing in my dream

A libretto for someone, it seemed,

And the unceasing music poured.

Yes, a dream—but in it some truth stirs!

The ‘‘soft embalmer,’’ the long-sought blue bird,

The parapets of Castle Elsinore.

Let me just say that I didn’t rejoice

When I heard the distant roaring noise

Set up by that hellish mocking crew.

I kept on hoping, in spite of all,

That the pine branches, like a pall,

Would drift off to the mysterious gloom.


Appendix I

He’s still putting on his old show!

That motley clownish Cagliostro

For whom I feel nothing but disgust.

And bats go flying by in a flash,

And across the rooftops hunchbacks dash,

Blood flows, and a gypsy girl licks it up.

No trace of a Roman carnival night—

The Chant of the Angels trembles outside,

Beyond the high windows, barred from entry.

Outside my door no steps draw nearer,

All the mirror’s dreams are of a mirror,

Over silence silence stands sentry.

But here’s what that theme was like for me—

A flower that fell to the floor unseen

And was crushed when a coffin went past.

Friends, ‘‘remember’’ and ‘‘call to mind’’

Are as different as Luga’s countryside

Is from the city of satin masks.

I opened a trunk and dug things out—

The devil made me do it—well, but how

Does that mean I’m the one most to blame?

I’m simple at heart, I don’t try to shock,

You know my books: Wayside Herb, White Flock . . .

To defend myself—what can I say?

But know this: if plagiarism’s the charge . . .

Well, am I the guiltiest one at large? . . .

But really, this time will be the last . . .

It all turned out badly, yes, I know,

I’ll freely let my confusion show,

Not try to hide it behind a mask.

But that hundred-year-old enchantress

Suddenly woke, head full of fancies.

I didn’t invite it, I just was there.

Her lace kerchief languidly falls,


Tashkent Version of Poem Without a Hero

From behind the lines her coy looks call

In a Bryullov pose, her shoulders bare.

I drank her in every drop and was cursed

With a raging demonic thirst,

I didn’t know what to do, couldn’t bear it,

I had to get away from this raver,

I threatened her with the Star Chamber

And forced her back home to her garret,

To the darkness under Manfred’s pines

And to where, face turned to see the sky,

Shelley’s body lay upon the shore,

And the ethereal sphere was riven

As all earth’s skylarks soared to heaven,

And George Gordon held a torch.

But her reply was firm and stately:

‘‘No, I am not that English lady,

And I’m certainly not Clara Gazoul.

I don’t claim any forefathers’ glories,

Save from the sun and mythical stories

And July itself brought me to you.

‘‘As for your ambiguous fame,

For twenty years left to lie unclaimed,

Yet I shall not have it served like this.

In triumph we two shall celebrate,

And your evil midnight will be repaid

With the splendor of my royal kiss.’’

1941. January (the 3rd–5th)


The Fontanka House

Recopied in Tashkent

Jan. 19, 1942

(on a night when there was a minor earthquake)


Appendix I


To my city and my beloved

Under the roof of the Fontanka House

Where the evening langour wanders round

Bearing a lamp and keys on a ring,

I hallooed and distant echoes answered,

And my inappropriate laughter

Troubled the unbroken sleep of things

In the place where each day, at dusk and dawn,

Witness to everything that goes on,

The old maple gazes into my room.

As it sees our parting in advance,

It extends to me a gnarled black hand

As if giving help, remaining true.

But under my feet was burning ground,

And such a star looked balefully down

On the home I hadn’t yet fled in fear,

Glaring, watching for the appointed day . . .

It’s in Tobruk somewhere—still far away,

It’s right around the block—it’s almost here.

You, awe-inspiring, the last there will be,

Bright listener to dark fantasies,

Forgiveness, honor, intoxication!

Like a flame that lights my way you burn,

Like a banner before me you stand firm,

And you kiss me sweetly as temptation.

Lay your arm now upon my shoulder,

Let the world never grow any older,

Let the hands of the watch you gave me freeze.

Ill fate and sorrow will not pass us by

And the cuckoo will no longer cry

Amid our leafless fire-blackened trees.

Where I faced doom but didn’t perish,

You, city of granite, hellish, cherished,

Have fallen silent, turned deathly white.


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Appendix I. An Early Version of Poem Without a Hero

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