“Leaves fall on your grave…” – M. Tsvetaeva

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 18/?

This poem by Marina Tsvetaeva is part of a cycle addressed to Peter Efron, her husband’s brother, who had died of tuberculosis.

She uses the you-formal form throughout in addressing him, a distinction I tried to preserve by using “sir.” In my effort to keep to the rhythm (and make the poem somewhat singable to the numerous musical settings that Russian composers have made of it) I changed the last lines from the letter of the original to a call, although since she does vary the meter of the last line of each verse, I felt I could relax my constraints on this. “To take you home” has more syllables than the original, but there was no shorter way I could do it in English.  


Leaves fall on your grave with the end of the year.
The air wafts winter’s chill.
Listen, my dead sir, listen, my dear,
You are mine still.

You laugh! From the blessed travel cart heading out!
The moon’s overhead.
Mine — as inalienably, with no doubt,
As this hand I spread.

With my bag I’ll go at dawn without fail
To the hospital door.
You’ve just gone away for a holiday, to sail,
To the great ocean shore.

I kissed you! Bespelled you! I laugh at the notion
That dark is the graveyard loam.
I don’t believe death! I await at the station
To take you home.

Let leaves crumble down, what mourning crepe said
Gilt words now erase clear through.
And if the whole world believes you are dead,
Then I am dead too.

I see you, I feel you — all around I scent you!
What matter the wreaths mourners send!
I haven’t forgotten you, I won’t forget you
To eternity’s end!

Of such vows I know the pointless vanity,
Worthless, destroyed.
A call to the endless – A call to infinity –
A call to the void.

Marina Tsvetaeva, 1914; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016.

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