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“The Lost Streetcar” by Nikolai Gumilev (1886 – 1921)
Translated by Vladimir Markov & Merrill Sparks
I was walking along the street as a stranger
And suddenly heard the cawing of crows.
The playing of lutes and distant thunder …
Before me a rushing streetcar arose.
How I managed to jump on the step as it passed me
Has remained a riddle to this day,
For it left a path in the air that was flaming
Even in daylight as it went its way.
It rushed like a storm that was dark and wingéd,
Lost in the depths of time somehow.
Stop the streetcar! Stop, stop, driver!
Stop the streetcar! Stop right now!
Too late. We had passed the wall already,
Slipped through the grove where the palm trees toss.
The Neva, the Nile, the Seine beneath us.
Three bridges we thundered across.
The face of an old beggar flashed past the window.
And his glance studied us, following us from the rear …
The same man, of course, the very same beggar,
Who died in Beirut sometime last year.
Where am I? My heart beats in replying
(Filled with a languor and care past control).
Do you see a station in which one can purchase
A ticket to the India of the soul?
Signboard … And the vegetable shop letters
Are painted with blood. I know here instead
Of cabbages, instead of rutabagas,
They sell only heads that are dead.
A man in a red shirt, face like an udder.
Cuts my head off too on the blocks.
It is lying together with the others
On the very bottom in a slippery box.
And there is a board fence in the alley,
A house with three windows and a lawn grown gray.
Stop the streetcar! Stop, stop, driver!
Stop the streetcar right away!
Now, Mashenka, you lived and sang here.
Wove carpets for me, the man you would wed.
Where now then is your voice and body?
Is it conceivable you are dead?
How you cried in your room so tiny!
And I in a powdered wig at the door
Was going to be presented to the Empress.
And I never saw you anymore.
I understand it now: Our freedom
Is only a light striking us from out-there.
People and spirits stand at the entrance
To a zoological garden of planets somewhere.
The sweet and familiar wind comes swiftly—
And across the bridge toward me full force
Flies the iron-gloved hand of the rider
—And two hoofs of his rearing horse.
The faithful fortress of orthodoxy,
Saint Isaac’s, rises heavenly.
There I’ll say a prayer for the health of
Mashenka And a simple ‘Rest in peace’ for me.
To breathe is hard; to live is painful …
My desolate heart is forever sad.
Mashenka, I never thought it possible
To love one so much and to feel so bad.