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Translating Poetry: Alexander Blok’s Magical “The Lady Unknown”

Updated: Jun 17, 2023

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A portrait of the beautiful Lady Helen Vincent, Viscountess D’Abernon, by the great American portraitist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925).
Lady Helen Vincent, as painted by the great American portraitist John Singer Sargent (1856–1925)


Александр Блок

По вечерам над ресторанами

Горячий воздух дик и глух,

И правит окриками пьяными

Весенний и тлетворный дух.

Вдали, над пылью переулочной,

Над скукой загородных дач,

Чуть золотится крендель булочной,

И раздается детский плач.

И каждый вечер, за шлагбаумами,

Заламывая котелки,

Среди канав гуляют с дамами

Испытанные остряки.

Над озером скрипят уключины

И раздается женский визг,

А в небе, ко всему приученный,

Бессмысленно кривится диск.

И каждый вечер друг единственный

В моем стакане отражен

И влагой терпкой и таинственной

Как я, смирен и оглушен.

А рядом у соседних столиков

Лакеи сонные торчат,

И пьяницы с глазами кроликов

«In vino veritas!» кричат.

И каждый вечер, в час назначенный

(Иль это только снится мне?),

Девичий стан, шелками схваченный,

В туманном движется окне.

И медленно, пройдя меж пьяными,

Всегда без спутников, одна,

Дыша духами и туманами,

Она садится у окна.

И веют древними поверьями

Ее упругие шелка,

И шляпа с траурными перьями,

И в кольцах узкая рука.

И странной близостью закованный,

Смотрю за темную вуаль,

И вижу берег очарованный

И очарованную даль.

Глухие тайны мне поручены,

Мне чье-то солнце вручено,

И все души моей излучины

Пронзило терпкое вино.

И перья страуса склоненные

В моем качаются мозгу,

И очи синие бездонные

Цветут на дальнем берегу.

В моей душе лежит сокровище,

И ключ поручен только мне!

Ты право, пьяное чудовище!

Я знаю: истина в вине.

The Lady Unknown The Stranger

trans. by B. Deutch and A. Yarmolinsky trans. by A.S. Kline

Of evenings hangs above the restaurant At evening, above the restaurants,

A humid, wild and heavy air. the sultry air is savage, heavy,

The Springtide spirit, brooding, pestilent, and the breath of spring, corruption,

Commands the drunken outcries there. holds the sound of drunken shouting.

Far off, above the alley’s mustiness, Far off, over the dusty streets

Where bored gray summerhouses lie, the boredom of suburban houses,

The baker’s sign swings gold through dustiness, the bakery’s gilt sign glitters, faintly,

And loud and shrill the children cry. and there’s the noise of children, crying.

Beyond the city stroll the exquisites, And every night, beyond the toll,

At every dusk and all the same: the expert wits, in bowler hats,

Their derbies tilted back, the pretty wits tipped at a rakish angle,

Are playing at the ancient game. stroll along the ditches with their ladies.

Upon the lake but feebly furious On the lake oars creak,

Soft screams and creaking oar-locks sound. and somewhere a woman shrieks,

And in the sky, blasé, incurious, while the moon’s orb in the sky

The moon beholds the earthly round. inured, leers mindlessly.

And every evening, dazed and serious, And every night my only friend

I watch the same procession pass; is reflected in my wineglass,

In liquor, raw and yet mysterious, quiet like myself, and stunned

One friend is mirrored in my glass. by sour mysterious drink.

Beside the scattered tables, somnolent While nearby waiters half-asleep

And dreary waiters stick around. round the neighboring tables pass,

“In vino veritas!” shout violent and drunks with their rabbit eyes

And red-eyed fools in liquor drowned. cry out: ‘In vino, veritas!’

And every evening, strange, immutable, And each night at the appointed hour

(Is it a dream no waking proves?) (or is it only in dream I see it?)

As to a rendezvous inscrutable the form of a girl, clothed in silk,

A silken lady darkly moves. moves across the misted pane.

She slowly passes by the drunken ones Passing slowly through the drunks,

And lonely by the window sits; and always on her own,

And from her robes, above the sunken ones, sits down by the window

A misty fainting perfume flits. scattering mist and perfume.

Her silks’ resilience, and the tapering And her stiff silk brocades,

Of her ringed fingers, and her plumes, and her hat with its dark feather,

Stir vaguely like dim incense vaporing, and her slender hand, clothed with rings,

Deep ancient faiths their mystery illumes. breathe the air of ancient stories.

I try, held in this strange captivity, And bewitched by mysterious nearness,

To pierce the veil that darkling falls I gaze through a shadowy veil,

I see enchanted shores' declivity, and see an enchanted shoreline

And an enchanted distance calls. and an enchanted distance.

I guard dark secrets’ tortuosities. Hidden secrets are given to me, someone’s

A sun is given me to hold. sun is for me to hold,

An acrid wine finds out the sinuosities and the sour wine has entered

That in my soul were locked of old. in the labyrinth of my soul.

And in my brain the soft slow flittering And the soft ostrich plumes

Of ostrich feathers waves once more; nod gently in my brain,

And fathomless the azure glittering and blue unending eyes bloom

Where two eyes blossom on the shore. in some distant place.

My soul holds fast its treasure renitent, A treasure’s buried in my soul,

The key is safe and solely mine. and the only key to it is mine!

Ah, you are right, drunken impenitent! You’re right, you drunken fool!

I also know: truth lies in wine. I know: ‘There’s truth in wine.’

icon of a flower with blue and white colors


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