I’ve been haunted by this poem, written by Marina Tsvetaeva in October 1916, ever since I read it; I mutter it to myself as I’m drifting off to sleep, and phrases from it keep bubbling up into my consciousness. So, since translating Tsvetaeva isn’t quite as impossible as translating Pasternak, I thought I’d try to bring into English at least a hint of its mysterious power. The original rhymes abba; I haven’t tried to preserve that, but I’ve happily accepted off-rhymes when they came naturally, as in the last stanza.
And with no pointless weeping
for father and mother — arise and go (for God’s sake),
take the open road
into the night — without dog or lantern.
The night’s maw is a thief’s:
it swallows shame and separates you from God.
But it teaches you
to sing, and smiling face to face, to steal.
And to call someone
with a drawn-out whistle, at a dark crossroads,
and under the trees to kiss other people’s
The field fills with ice,
or with ears of grain — on the road, everything’s magical!
Only in fairy tales does the prodigal
son return to his father’s house.
tr. Stephen Dodson