The Strides of the Commendatore – A. Blok

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series (occasional), 33/?

Well, I was tired tonight, and of course when I am physically exhausted from dance, my brain decides that today is a good day to try to translate Alexander Blok’s “The Strides of the Commendatore.”

I think this poem, not even the Mozart opera it is inspired by, was where I heard of Don Juan/Don Giovanni for the first time (Pushkin’s “The Stone Guest” would have been a close second). The original still gives me chills, and its uneven, shifting meter contributes to that. At first I tried to match each line to the original syllable for syllable, then decided the heck with it after a few verses. I did keep repeated words as repeated words, though. I guess Blok knew what he was doing. (I don’t know what’s with the black engine in the sixth verse. I am picturing a drone.)

Here’s a creepy poem. Enjoy.


The Strides of the Commendatore

Past the casement pane the mist curls pale.
Heavy drapes the doorway shade.
So what’s now to you your liberty so stale,
Don Juan, who’s been afraid?

Cold and empty is the chamber’s splendour.
Servants sleep; the night is dead to all.
Out of a land unknown, distant, blissful, tender,
A cock faintly sings its call.

What are blissful sounds to traitors tossing?
Your life’s hours now are finite.
Donna Anna sleeps, over her heart hands crossing.
Donna Anna dreams tonight.

Who is it whose cruel face is doubled
In the mirror’s reflected gleams?
Anna, Anna, is sleep in the grave untroubled?
Are they sweet, unearthly dreams?

Life is mad, and boundless and deflated!
Come and sally forth, old doom!
In reply, victorious and infatuated,
A horn sings from snowy gloom.

Spraying light, an engine passes gliding,
Black and quiet as an owl’s wing.
Quietly, with the weight of stone striding,
The Commander’s coming in.

Like the night clock’s chime from rasping gear,
The door open, out of frozen air,
Chimes the clock: “You invited me to dinner here.
I have come. Are you prepared?”

There’s no answer to the cruel query.
There’s no answer. Silence reigns.
Servants sleep, and in the chamber’s splendour all is eerie.
Night is pale beyond the panes.

At dawn’s hour, strange and cold the air.
At dawn’s hour, the night is dim.
Maid of Light! Where are you, Donna Anna, where?
Anna! Anna! — Only silence grim.

Only in the dawn mist dread and dour
The clocks strike and strike their last:
Donna Anna’s waking comes at your death hour.
Anna’ll rise when your life’s past.

Alexander Blok, 1910-1912;
translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, August 2016.

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