Four New Translations of Sergei Yesenin – translated by Anton Yakovlev

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Please enjoy these four poems from The Last Poet of the Village: Selected Poems of Sergei Yesenin Translated by Anton Yakovlev, now available in print and Kindle format from Amazon. Or ask for it from your local bookstore or library.

sergei yesenin front cover anton yakovlev

Hooligan

The rain cleans the willow dung
Off the meadows with its wet brooms.
Go ahead, wind, spit your clumps of leaves.
I’m a hooligan just like you.

I love it when your blue woods,
Like oxen with heavy steps,
Soil the knees of the trunks
With their foliage-wheezing bellies.

Here it is, my ginger herd!
Who better to sing it praises?
Yes, yes, I see how the twilight
Licks the human footprints.

Russia! My wooden Russia!
I alone am your bard and town crier.
I’ve fed the sadness of my beastly verses
With mignonette and mint.

Rustle up, midnight, the jug of the moon
To scoop up the milk of the birches!
It’s as if the churchyard would like to strangle
Someone with its hands made of crosses!

Black horror walks the hills,
Stirring a thief’s anger into our garden.
Except I’m a lout and a bandit myself
With the blood of a steppe horse thief.

Who among you has seen the host
Of cherry trees boil in the night?
All I want at night is to stand with a bludgeon
Somewhere in a blue steppe.

Ah, the shrub of my head has wilted,
Songs’ bondage has sucked me in.
I’m condemned to grind the millstone
Of poems in the chain gang of feelings.

But don’t worry, demented wind,
Keep calm and keep spitting your leaves over meadows.
That “poet” label won’t kill me.
I’m a hooligan just like you.

<1919>

* * *

For Marienhof

I’m the last poet of the village.
The wooden bridge is modest in my songs.
I’m attending the farewell night service
Of birches hemorrhaging foliage.

The wax candle of flesh
Will burn its last golden flame,
And the moon’s wooden clock
Will wheeze out my twelfth hour.

Soon the iron guest will appear
On the path across the blue field.
His black palm will collect
The wheat spilled by dawn.

Dead, alien hands, these songs
Won’t survive when you show up!
Only the wheat stalks, like horses,
Will mourn their old master.

The wind will suck on their neighing,
Dancing its danse macabre.
Soon, very soon the wooden clock
Will wheeze out my twelfth hour!

<1920>

* * *

Since ancient times, a special measure
Has existed for all living things.
If I hadn’t been a poet, I probably would
Have been a thief and a conman.

Thin and short,
Always a hero among boys,
How often I came home
With a busted nose.

To my frightened mother
I hissed through my bloody mouth,
“This is nothing! I tripped on a rock.
This will heal by tomorrow.”

Now that the scalding grip
Of those days has cooled down,
A turbulent, insolent power
Spills all over my poems.

A golden pile of words—
And every line, without fail,
Reflects the former bravado
Of a rascal and a troublemaker.

As before, I’m courageous and proud,
But there’s something new in my walk.
I used to get hit in the face;
Now it’s my soul that’s bleeding.

And these days it’s not to my mother
But to an unfriendly laughing rabble
That I say, “This is nothing! I tripped on a rock.
This will heal by tomorrow!”

<1922>

* * *

Shine, my star, don’t fall,
Shed your cold rays.
After all, a living heart doesn’t beat
Behind a cemetery fence.

You glow with August and wheat
And fill the shadows of fields
With such a tearful trembling
Of herons that never flew away.

And, raising my head ever higher,
From beyond the grove or the hill,
I once again hear someone’s song
About my homeland and home.

And the golden autumn,
Diminishing the sap in the birches,
Cries its foliage onto sand
For all those I loved and abandoned.

I know, I know. Soon, very soon,
Not through mine or anyone’s fault,
I too will have to lie
Under the low mournful fence.

The gentle flame will burn out,
And my heart will turn to ash.
My friends will put up a gray stone
With a cheerful inscription in verse.

But, taking in the funeral sadness,
This is what I would write for myself:
He loved his land and this earth
The way a drunk loves a pub.

<1925>

–Sergei Yesenin, translated by Anton Yakovlev


Poetry

2 thoughts on “Four New Translations of Sergei Yesenin – translated by Anton Yakovlev

  1. These American poems, made generously out of Yesenin’s, should be treasured for the hooligan who wrote them in Russian and for the Russian-American hooligan who remade them in American..

  2. I enjoyed these poems immensely, the treatment of nature, homeland, truths. Grateful to talented poet Anton Yakovlev for the translations.

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