Two Russian poems on old age translated by Robert Chandler

01 February 2015

ABOUT THE POEM Some kinds of art, such as painting, are experienced all at once. Verbal art forms such as lyric poetry, by contrast, progress in a linear way, and we experience them in time. So time’s turning is built into the very form of the lyric poem, which often then also takes the passing of time—this time, Time with a capital “T”—as its subject.

In these renderings from Russian by the acclaimed translator Robert Chandler, two poets from different centuries—Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, who lived from 1792 to 1878, and Maria Petrovykh, who lived from 1908 to1979—take stock of life in old age. They look back ruefully at “youthful mysteries and thoughts” and mourn “the fire of the heart fading away.” Yet old age has many consolations too: experience and wisdom bring new rewards, and memory seems to have a brighter glow. And now that age has blurred, in Maria Petrovykh’s unforgettable phrase, “the clear divide between life and death,” the aged soul looks again to the future, just as it did in youth. The close of her poem, somehow both elegiac and nonchalant, sounds the many notes of life’s final rite of passage.

These poems are taken from The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry, edited by Robert Chandler, Boris Dralyuk and Irina Mashinski, and published this month.