Music / “At night, when troubles fall in slumber” – A. Blok

Russian Silver Age poetry translations, 21/?

I continue the mini-theme of how Silver Age poets dealt with God and religion, and we return to the greatest of the Russian Symbolists, Alexander Blok.

Today’s poem had no name as Blok wrote it in 1898. It was Dmitri Shostakovich who dubbed it “Music.” Yes, today’s musical setting is finally by a composer you have heard of. In 1967, while recovering in hospital from a broken leg, Shostakovich went through a two-volume set of Blok’s poetry and picked seven poems, mostly from 1898-99 with one from 1902 to create a song suite (he didn’t like the term “song cycle”) for voice, violin, cello and piano: his “Seven Songs on the Poetry of Alexander Blok,” Op. 127. This poem is the seventh, forming the climax of the suite as it is performed.

A reader of this series asked me a short while ago, “Well, what is the message of these poems?” Well, for this one, laced with Symbolism as it is, I’m pretty sure the message is, “Blok thought sunsets were pretty.” He just expressed it quite fervently.

(Music)

At night when troubles fall in slumber,
And cities vanish in the shade,
Oh, God has music without number,
What wondrous sounds the earth gets played!

What matter all life’s storms and fears
If I’ve the burning bloom of rose?
What matter all the human tears
When blushing spread the sunset glows!

Accept, o queen of heaven’s gloaming,
Through blood, through torture, through the grave,
The cup of final passion foaming
From your most undeserving slave!

Alexander Blok, September 1898; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, July 2016

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