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“The Word” by Nikolai Gumilev (1886 – 1921)
Translated by Vladimir Markov & Merrill Sparks
In those primal days when God Almighty
Bent His face over the fresh world—then
The word made the sun stand still in heaven,
The word tore apart the towns of men.
And when the word—like a pink flame burning—
Floated freely in the highest flight,
Eagles did not stir their wings or flutter
And the stars crouched toward the moon in fright.
Those on lower planes were given numbers—
Like domestic cattle under yoke;
For all shades of meaning can be rendered
By sagacious numbers at one stroke.
And the hoary patriarch is bringing
Both evil and good neath his command;
Not prone to turn to the sound, he sketches
Numbers with his cane upon the sand.
We forget that just the word is haloed
Here where earthly cares leave us perplexed.
In the Gospel of St John is written
That the word is God: that is the text.
We have put a limit to its meaning:
Only to this life, this shallow shell.
And like bees in an abandoned beehive,
Dead, deserted words have a bad smell.