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“Masquerade” by Nikolai Gumilev (1886 – 1921)
Translated by Don Mager
In barren halls and secluded corridors
Today merry maskers were amassing,
Today in parlors, variegated colors
Like mad whirlwinds, swept through, dancing.
They snaked about beneath dragons and moons,
Chinese vases were tossed among them,
Torches flamed and lutes strings kept on
Repeating the same impenetrable name.
The call to the headlong mazurka was made
And I danced with Sodom’s courtesan,
Some things I grieved, at some I laughed,
And some seemed strangely, too well known.
I pleaded with her: “Take off your mask,
And who is your brother, pray tell?
You remind me of some ancient fairy tale
That I heard in the long distant past.
You remain forever-strange, to all,
And to me you are no boon-companion,
But it’s true, of all the masks, all the people,
You are known as Tsarina of Sodom.”
Under my mask I heard her youthful laugh,
But her glances would not connect with mine,
As they snaked about beneath dragons and moons,
And Chinese vases were tossed among them,
Suddenly beneath the window as night
Vainly threatened to hide her face in dark,
Slipping away from me like a snake,
She pulled off her mask and her eyes glanced back.
I recall everything once again—such a song,
With a wild chilly voluptuousness
Such tender enticing whispers: “Rise up,
Rise again to live in the anguish of bliss!”
Much I saw in that brief while
But her fearsome oath did not deter me.
Tsarina, Tsarina, I am your captive, see,
You can take my body, you can take my soul!