The Founders – N. Gumilev

Russian Silver Age poetry translation series, 54/?

The literature teacher who introduced me to this poem was not completely clear which one, of Romulus and Remus, killed the other. In Russian, the word for Rome is “Rim,” which is closer to “Rem,” the word for Remus, so she thought it would be Remus who killed Romulus and named the city after himself — or, considering the word “Roma,” Romulus killed Remus and named the city after himself, or named it after his brother out of regret.

I would think that Gumilev would be more certain about the legend (according to most sources on the legend, Romulus killed Remus), but the poem works both ways: that Remus’s last line is foreboding about either his own death, or his brother’s. 

To make the rhyme work, I put more than one hill in the second line. After all, in reality, there should be seven. 

The Founders

Remus and Romulus stood on the hilltop.
Hills stretched wild and silent before, beside.
Romulus said, “Here will be a city.”
“Bright as the sun, yes,” Remus replied.

Romulus said, “Ancient honours we’ve gotten
By will and order of stars on high.”
“What’s gone before should be forgotten,
Look on ahead,” Remus replied.

“Here will be a circus,” Romulus was saying,
“And here, our home, open to all coming by.”
“But closer to our home, we must be laying
The tombs and the graves,” Remus replied.

Nikolai Gumilev, 1924; translation by Tamara Vardomskaya, September 19, 2019