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25 April 2017

The Last Poet - Yevgeny Baratynsky

Translated by Peter France, 2015

The Last Poet

It strides along its iron track, our century:
the people's dream, as hearts succumb to greed,
with every hour more clearly, shamelessly
is swallowed in utility and need.
Enlightenment with her clarity dispels
the childish dreams by which the poet lives,
and generations, thirsting after wealth,
care nothing for the gifts the poet gives.

Hellas has sprung again,
jubilant in her freedom,
gathers her people together,
raises up cities;
knowledge flowers afresh,
rich cargoes ride the Aegean,
but the lyre lies low, unheard
in the paradise of the muses.

It shines, the winter of the decrepit world -
it shines! Humanity looks pale and grim,
but in the land of Homer green is unfurled
on hills and woods and banks of azure streams.
Parnassus flowers; as once upon a time,
Castalia's water gushes at its base;
unlooked-for son of nature in decline,
the poet has risen - and lifts up his voice.

Simple-hearted he sings
songs of love and of beauty,
sings how science scorns them
in her empty fretting:
with insouciance healing
ephemeral suffering,
earth knows joy more fully
in the days of unknowing.

To chilly-hearted Urania's worshippers
he sings, alas! of passion's gifts to art:
as winter tempests fertilize the earth,
passion brings plenty to the human heart.
Engendered and nurtured by its living breath,
fancy takes wing and soars, as once above
the ocean's foaming depths that raged beneath
rose Aphrodite, bringing love.

Why not give ourselves over
to our smiling dreams?
Yet with cheerful hearts
we think craven thoughts!
Trust the sweet urgings
of eyes that caress you
and the bright revelations
of compassionate heaven!

A stony laugh replied, he checked the motion
of fingers as they strayed across the lyre,
closed tight the lips that prophecy had opened,
but still he proudly keeps his head held high;
and in the world of thought he makes his way
to the dumb wilderness, the desert heath - 
but there is now no cave where he can lay
his head, no room for solitude on earth.

The blue sea alone
resists man's will;
spacious and free,
it bids us welcome;
and its face is the same
since the day when Apollo
first raised his undying
flame in the firmament.

It roars beneath Leucadia's rocky heights.
The bard stands there, deep in tumultuous thought,
he stands... and suddenly joy fills his eyes:
this rock... and Sappho's shade... the waves' uproar...
Where spurned by Phaon once the lovesick poet
buried in ocean her unhappiness,
there too will he, Apollo's favourite,
bury his useless gifts, his hopeless dreams!

As of old the world gleams,
luxuriant and frigid,
silver and gilt
on lifeless bones;
but the crashing sea
dismays the poet,
and with desolate soul
he quits the loud waves!

To a Sage

Between cold death and the storms of life, in vain
you search for a port, philosopher, to call it peace.
Raised from the void by creation's unquiet voice,
life is given for passion: passion and life are one.
He who escapes the common turmoil still decrees
cares enough for himself, with lyre or chisel or brush;
ignorant of the world, the baby senses its laws
and calls for its cot to be rocked with its newborn cries.


***

Days! What's the use! This earthly life will never bring anything unknown!
All is familiar, and we can only expect the same again.

Poor foolish soul! Why be in such a hurry? Too hot for your own good,
you grew to your noble maturity before the body could!

And having soon run through the narrow gamut of worldly incident,
cradled by dreams of life as once you knew it, you fall asleep, but it,

the body, wildly staring, sees the morning follow the night in vain,
then darkness swallow up the sterile evening, crowning the vacant day.