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“The Forest” by Nikolai Gumilev (1886 – 1921)
Translated by Burton Raffel & Alla Burago
White trunks
were stark, suddenly, against the haze,
Roots wound up out of the ground
like corpses’ arms.
The leaves’ bright fire
hid giants, dwarves, lions;
Fishermen saw in the sand
the print of a six-fingered hand.
No French noble, no knight of the Round Table,
ever walked here.
No robber slept in these bushes,
no monk dug caves in these hills.
Once, one stormy night,
a woman with a cat’s head came out of this forest,
Wearing a silver crown,
but she moaned all night
And died at dawn
before a priest could save her soul.
Ah, but that was so long ago
that no one remembers,
That—that was in a land
your dreams won’t take you to.
And I invented all this, staring
at your braids, the coils of a flaming snake,
Your green eyes
like round Persian turquoise.
That forest—it might be your soul.
That forest—it might be my love—
Or maybe, when we die,
that forest is where we’ll go, together.