Arsenii Tarkovsky


New translations of all the poems by Arsenii Tarkovsky appearing in his son’s films. These new translations are by Alex Nemser and Nariman Skakov. Alexander Nemser has completed his studies in European Literature at New College, Oxford and published poems in The New York Times and The Atlantic, and has a poem forthcoming in The Paris Review. Nariman Skakov is writing a doctorate thesis on the cinema of Andrei Tarkovsky at University College, Oxford. His research interests also include 20th-century Russian literature (Mandelstam, Platonov, Sokolov). My sight, my strength, dims... appears here in translation for the first time. The rest of the poems have also been bublished in Tarkovsky (Nathan Dunne (ed.), 2008). Copyrights are retained by Nemser and Skakov.


I don’t believe in presentiments, and signs
Don’t frighten me. I run from neither slander 
Nor poison. In the world, there is no death:
All are immortal. Everything is immortal. 
One should not be afraid of death at seventeen,
Nor seventy. There is neither gloom nor death
In this world, only clarity and light.
We are all already on the shore of the sea,
And I am one of those who pulls in nets,
When immortality swims by like a shoal.

Live in a house—and the house won’t collapse.
I will summon any of the centuries,
I will enter it and build a house in it. 
Here is why your children and your wives
Are seated with me at a single table,—
At a single table, your ancestor and grandson:
The coming time is being enacted now,
And if I raise my arm up just a little,
All five of the rays will remain with you.
I propped up every day of the past,
Supporting with my collarbones. 
I measured time with a surveying chain,
And passed through it, as if through the Urals.

I picked the age according to my stature.
Going south, we held dust over the steppe;
The tall weeds smoked; the grasshopper made mischief,
Touched horseshoes with its whisker, and prophesied,
And threatened me with destruction, like a monk.
I fastened my fate to the saddle;
And now, in the coming times, like a boy, 
I raise myself up halfway in the stirrups.

For me my immortality is enough,
That my blood should flow from age to age.
For a faithful corner of unchanging warmth
I would pay wilfully with my own life,
Whenever its flying needle
Would lead me, like a thread, around the world.


A human has a body
Just one, like one alone,
The soul has had enough
Of its continuous frame
With all its ears and eyes
The size of a silver coin
And skin like scarves on scarves,
As if hung on a rack.

It flies out through the cornea
Into the heavenly clearness,
Upon the icy spoke,
Upon the bird-drawn chariot
And listens through the bars
Of its own living prison
To the crack of woods and fields,
To the horn of seven seas.

A bodiless soul is shameful,
Like a body without its garment, - 
No reasoning or deed,
No impetus or line.
A riddle without solution:
Who will return again,
From dancing on that stage,
Where nobody is dancing?

And I dream of another
Soul dressed in different clothes:
It burns and runs across
From timidity to hope,
With fire that leaves the earth,
Like spirit without a shadow,
Leaving a bunch of lilac
On the table for remembrance.

Run, child, don't lament
For poor Eurydice,
And chase your copper hoop
With a stick around the world,
While, still hardly audible,
Joyfully and dryly,
In answer to each step
The earth resounds in your ears.


We celebrated every moment of our
First meetings, like an epiphany,
Alone in the entire world. You were
More daring, and lighter than a bird’s wing,
On the stairs, like dizziness,
Running down over the step and leading 
Through the moist lilac to your domain,
From that side of the mirror’s glass.

When night set in, grace was given 
To me, the altar gates 
Were opened, and in the darkness 
Nakedness shined and slowly bowed,
And, waking up: ‘May you be blessed!’
I said and knew, that my blessing
Was audacious: you slept,
And the lilac reached out from the table to touch
Your lashes with the universe’s blue
And the lashes, touched by the blue,
Were calm, and your hand was warm.

While in the crystal, the rivers pulsed,
The mountains smoked, the seas glimmered,
And you held a crystal sphere
On your palm, and you slept on the throne,
And—righteous God!—you were mine.

You woke up and transfigured 
The daily human vocabulary,
And your speech was filled to the throat 
With a full-bodied force, and the word ‘thou’ 
Revealed its new sense and it meant: ruler.

In the world everything was transfigured, even
Simple things—the basin, the jug,—when 
Between us stood, as if on watch, 
The stratified and solid water.

We were led, not knowing where.
Before us stepped out, as if mirages,
Miraculously built cities, 
The mint itself was lying beneath our feet, 
And birds were following the same path as us,
And fish were jumping out along the river,
And the sky opened out before our eyes…

When fate followed behind us on the trail,
Like a madman with a razor in his hand.


As a child I once fell ill
From fear and hunger. I’d scratched off the scab
From my lips and licked my lips; I remembered
The cool and salty taste.
But still I go, but still I go, I go,
I sit on the front stairs and warm myself,
Delirious, I wander as though to follow
The tune of the pied-piper to the river,
I warm myself on the stairs, consumed by fever.
But mother stands and beckons, she seems
Not far away but unapproachable:
I approach a little, it’s only seven steps,
She beckons, I approach but she still stands
Only seven steps away, she beckons.

Grips me, I undid my collar and laid down – 
And trumpets started trumpeting, my eyelids 
Were struck by light, and horses galloped, mother
Is flying above the cobblestones, she beckons – 
And vanished…
And now I dream
Beneath the apple trees, a white ward,
And the white bed-sheet beneath my throat,
And the white doctor looks down at me,
And the white nurse stands beside my feet
Ruffling her wings. And they remained.
But mother came and beckoned – 
And vanished…


My sight, my strength, dims, 
Two invisible adamant spears;
My hearing deafens, full of distant thunder
And the breathing of home;
The knots of my tensed muscles have weakened,
Like grey oxen on a ploughed field;
Two wings at the back of my shoulders
Don’t shine anymore in the night.

I am a candle, I burned out at a feast.
Gather my wax in the morning,
And this page will prompt you
How to cry and what to be proud of,
How to give away the last third 
Of joy and die easily,
And under the shade of an inadvertent home
How to burn as posthumously as a word.


From the morning I was waiting for you yesterday, 
They guessed that you wouldn't come, 
Do you remember the weather?
Like a feast day! And I went out without a coat.

Today you came, and they have fixed for us 
An especially gloomy day, 
And the rain, and the especially late hour,
And the drops are running along the cold branches.

They can't be calmed with a word, nor dried with a cloth…


So summer has passed
Like it never had been
It is warm in the sun
But it’s no consolation.

All that might have come off
Landed right in my hand
Like a five-fingered leaf
But it’s no consolation.

Neither evil nor good
Were expended in vain
All was burning and glowed 
But it’s no consolation.

Life arched over its wing 
It took care and preserved
And, in truth, I was blessed
But it’s no consolation.

The leaves were not burned
The boughs were not broken
The day’s rinsed like glass
But it’s no consolation.

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