All poems translated from Russian.

The Rock

A gold cloud rested the whole night
Upon the breast of a huge rock;
And cheerfully at dawn it dashed
Into the blue not to come back

Wet traces in the crevices
Of ancient stone like tears remained;
And deep in thought alone it stands
And weeps into the distant void.



Ночевала тучка золотая
На груди утеса-великана;
Утром в путь она умчалась рано,
По лазури весело играя;

Но остался влажный след в морщине
Старого утеса. Одиноко
Он стоит, задумался глубоко,
И тихонько плачет он в пустыне.


The Neighbor

Whoever you might be, my neighbor sad,
I love you as my young years’ dear comrade,
________A friend by accident or fate;
Though circumstance’s craft and treachery,
You are sequestered from my company
________By wall and secret separate.

When the first ruddy streaks of dawn unfurl
The last time at the windows of our cells
________The one who’ll lead me to my death
Is leaning on his brightly polished gun
And dreams of how his past will not return
________Half sleeping with each heavy breath,

I bend my head close to the roughhewn wall,
And listen — then silence starts to fill
________The gloom with your heartbreaking tunes,
What they’re about — I do not understand;
You sing them sadly in a set routine,
________And silent tears flow on and on . . .

My younger years were full of hope and love,
Again, within my breast they come alive,
________And images from distant lands
Fill up my mind with longings and desires,
My blood afire — tears burning in my eyes,
________As one by one your songs resound.



Кто б ни был ты, печальный мой сосед,
Люблю тебя, как друга юных лет,
Тебя, товарищ мой случайный,
Хотя судьбы коварною игрой
Навеки мы разлучены с тобой
Стеной теперь — а после тайной.

Когда зари румяный полусвет
В окно тюрьмы прощальный свой привет
Мне умирая посылает
И, опершись на звучное ружье,
Наш часовой, про старое житье
Мечтая, стоя засыпает,

Тогда, чело склонив к сырой стене,
Я слушаю — и в мрачной тишине
Твои напевы раздаются.
О чем они — не знаю; но тоской
Исполнены, и звуки чередой,
Как слезы, тихо льются, льются . . .

И лучших лет надежды и любовь
В груди моей все оживает вновь,
И мысли далеко несутся,
И полон ум желаний и страстей,
И кровь кипит — и слезы из очей,
Как звуки, друг за другом льются.


The Prophet*

Since the timeless tribunal
Gave me a prophet’s sight,
The eyes of people reveal
Signs of hate and deceit.

So I proclaimed the truth
Of innocence of love I’d learned:
Whoever held my trust and faith
Cast stones like I was mad.

I covered myself with ashes,
Like a beggar I ran from town,
And in the desert with birds
I was fed by God’s own hand.

The creatures of earth served me
Obeying eternal laws;
And beaming playfully
Stars hearkened to my words.

But when my journey took me
Again, to my noisy town,
Old men spoke haughtily
To children and waved their hand:

“Behold, there’s a lesson for you!
His pride removed him from us:
He wants us to think, the fool,
That God speaks through his lips.

Behold him, children, and look:
This, sad and pale he is!
Behold how poor and naked
And by everyone despised!”



С тех пор как вечный судия
Мне дал всеведенье пророка,
В очах людей читаю я
Страницы злобы и порока.

Провозглашать я стал любви
И правды чистые ученья:
В меня все ближние мои
Бросали бешено каменья.

Посыпал пеплом я главу,
Из городов бежал я нищий,
И вот в пустыне я живу,
Как птицы, даром божьей пищи;

Завет предвечного храня,
Мне тварь покорна там земная;
И звезды слушают меня,
Лучами радостно играя.

Когда же через шумный град
Я пробираюсь торопливо,
То старцы детям говорят
С улыбкою самолюбивой:

«Смотрите: вот пример для вас!
Он горд был, не ужился с нами:
Глупец, хотел уверить нас,
Что бог гласит его устами!

Смотрите ж, дети, на него:
Как он угрюм, и худ, и бледен!
Смотрите, как он наг и беден,
Как презирают все его!


Poet’s Note: Probably this is Lermontov’s last poem written within days of the fatal dual that killed him. It recalls Pushkin’s 1826 poem of the same name. Both poems allude to Isaiah Chapter 6 (KJV):  1 In the year that king Uzziah died I saw also the LORD sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up, and his train filled the temple. 2 Above it stood the seraphims: each one had six wings; with twain he covered his face, and with twain he covered his feet, and with twain he did fly. 3 And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory. 4 And the posts of the door moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. 5Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts. 6Then flew one of the seraphims unto me, having a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: 7 And he aid it upon my mouth, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged.


Mikhail Yuryevich Lermontov (1814-1841) died in a senseless duel at age 27.  Unique to 19th century Russian writers he produced seminal masterpieces the all three major genres: prose fiction (A Hero of Our Time), drama (Masquerade), and poetry (narratives and short lyrics).  With the death of Pushkin in 1837 at age 23 he assumed the role of his successor with his widely disseminated, although unpublished, eulogy “Death of a Poet” and quickly was acclaimed the second greatest Russian poet.  Besides the short lyrics, Lermontov excelled in poemy—the Russian name for long narrative or reflective poems, first developed fully by Pushkin.  Two of these are judged landmark masterpieces Mtsyri and The Demon.  Except for The Demon, much of his poetry is not well known to English readers.

Don Mager’s chapbooks and volumes of poetry are: To Track The Wounded One, Glosses, That Which Is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns, The Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook, Drive Time and Russian Riffs.  He is retired and was the Mott University Professor of English at Johnson C. Smith University where he also served as Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011).  As well as a number of scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from German, Czech and Russian.  Translations have appeared In Life And Legends, UCity Review, Interim, River Styx, Third Coast, Natural Bridge, The Los Angeles Review, Ezra, Roger The New Renaissance, The New Press Literary Quarterly. New Orleans Review and Hayden’s Ferry Review. He lives in Charlotte, NC with his partner of 35 years, Bill.

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8 Responses

  1. Jenni Wyn Hyatt

    Beautiful poetry and translation. What a tragic and unnecessary early death!

  2. Leo Yankevich

    Alas, these are not translations, but rather imitations. They are way too far from the originals to be called “translations.”

  3. Alecsei Burdew

    I must admit I enjoyed Mr. Mager’s interpretation of The Rock, more so than those musical “adaptations” of Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov. But is it necessary to rhyme The Rock, as has Rus Ciel Badeew in his less-than-satisfying trochaic pentametre transformation?

    Through the night, a gold-lit cloud was resting
    in a giant crag’s gigantic bosom;
    in the morning cheerfully she left him
    for the bright blue azure heavens, questing.

    But she left him traces in his ridges,
    ancient stone with teary wetness. Only
    standing, deep in thought, commanding lonely;
    here he weeps in desert’s spacing edges.

    Of the three “adaptations” of Mr. Mager, The Prophet is my favourite, because somehow, without Lermontov’s rhyme scheme or metre, he nevertheless manages to capture some of the power of Lermontov’s homage to Pushkin. I had never thought about it before, but surprisingly, at least to me, Lermontov’s poem reminds me, of all things, Lessing’s mini-fable Der Phönix: “Der unglüchliche Phönix! Ihm wurde das harte Los, weder Geliebte noch Freund zu haben; denn er ist des einsige seiner Art!”

    Though I think the term Romanticism, as a period, diluted of its emotional baggage, still remains a valuable term, I think Lermontov, approaching Realism, has a greater claim to the kind of “Classicism” Canadian poet Mr. Gosselin espouses than does Keats.

    In fact, Mr. Mager’s note, pointing out that both Pushkin and Lermontov had alluded to Isaiah Chapter 6, Verses 1-7, prompted me to “adapt” the KJB “translation” into a dodeca:

    The Prophet
    by Israel W. Ebecud

    The year that King Uzziah died, I also saw the Lord,
    upon a throne, his train filled up his temple, like a gourd.
    Above the temple stood the seraphim, each with six wings,
    two at his face, two at his feet, two flew him o’er all things.
    Each cried to each, o, holy, holy, holy is the Lord.
    His glory fills the Earth. These voices moved posts of the door.

    The house was filled with smoke. O, woe is me. I am undone.
    I am a man of unclean lips among the unclean ones.
    My eyes have seen the Living King, the mighty Lord of Hosts.
    An angel from the altar then picked up one of its coals.
    With tongs he put it in his hand, and placed it on my mouth,
    and said, o, this has touched your lips, your sin is driven out.

    I thank Mr. Mager for his offering, the spirit of Lermontov, and I am happy also to have the honor to touch the shades of Herbert and Heber.


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