Reading: A Dream by Boris Pasternak

Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) was a hero of Russian literature, and not just for the famous Doctor Zhivago. He translated Goethe, Schiller and Shakespear and published influential books of poetry, including his breakthrough ‘My sister, Life’. The English Wikipedia page on Pasternak is has lots of details that I am not going to mention here. I read a poem about a dream, in an English translation whose authorship I couldn’t determine.

A dream
I dreamt of autumn in the window’s twilight,
And you, a tipsy jesters’ throng amidst. ‘
And like a falcon, having stooped to slaughter,
My heart returned to settle on your wrist.

But time went on, grew old and deaf. Like thawing
Soft ice old silk decayed on easy chairs.
A bloated sunset from the garden painted
The glass with bloody red September tears.

But time grew old and deaf. And you, the loud one,
Quite suddenly were still. This broke a spell.
The dreaming ceased at once, as though in answer
To an abruptly silenced bell.

And I awakened. Dismal as the autumn
The dawn was dark. A stronger wind arose
To chase the racing birchtrees on the skyline,
As from a running cart the streams of straws.

I found an alternative translation as well:

I dreamed of autumn through the glass half-lightened,
Of friends and you in their joyful band,
And, like a falcon, which took blood in fighting,
Heart was descending on your gentle hand.

But time did go, grew older, failed to hear,
And only slightly silvering the frames,
Sunrise was catapulting bloody tears
Of late September on the glasses’ panes.

But time did go, grew older. And the crumbled,
Like ice, was thawing and breaking sofa’s silk.
And suddenly you stopped and stayed the silent,
And dream, like echo of a bell, did sink.

I waked. The dawn was, like the autumn, blackened,
The passed by wind was carrying far away,
Like a straw rain running behind a hay-cart,
The crag of birches running the sky’s gray.

The imagery of the falcon is convincing (I am reminded of a bird Dostojewski described in his Notes from the underground). The metaphor for time is beautiful and I would have to quote the original Russian here (anybody can help?) As for late September, I think of the October revolution, and how Pasternak, like so many other Russian intellectuals ‘awoke to a blackened dawn’. And then the final metaphor of the hay-cart disappearing from our view, and the silhouettes of the birches against the horizon.

Eureka! I use reverse translation of some peculiar words to find the original Russian. And “falcon” does it! Here is the original poem, first written in 1913:

Мне снилась осень в полусвете стекол,
Друзья и ты в их шутовской гурьбе,
И, как с небес добывший крови сокол,
Спускалось сердце на руку к тебе.

Но время шло, и старилось, и глохло,
И, поволокой рамы серебря,
Заря из сада обдавала стекла
Кровавыми слезами сентября.

Но время шло и старилось. И рыхлый,
Как лед, трещал и таял кресел шелк.
Вдруг, громкая, запнулась ты и стихла,
И сон, как отзвук колокола, смолк.

Я пробудился. Был, как осень, темен
Рассвет, и ветер, удаляясь, нес,
Как за возом бегущий дождь соломин,
Гряду бегущих по небу берез.

I don’t have a ‘feeling’ for the Russian, but something tells me that the “Гряду бегущих по небу берез.” sounds much more haunting than the translation. Perhaps a Russian friend can weigh in on this?

Reading: A Dream by Boris Pasternak was originally published on Meandering home


Published by

Kamiel Choi

Dutch philosopher and poet, sometimes sharing thoughts on the internet.

3 thoughts on “Reading: A Dream by Boris Pasternak”

  1. Not so intuitive, the Russian language, to allow for a guess… I didn’t know about P.’s poems; I’m reading Dr. Zhivago, struck by the mastery of descriptions as a means to make plain events come alive.

    1. Yes, he was a great writer. I am by no means fluent in Russian but do believe we may all take our chancees and guess – as long as we admit we’re wrong, of course. I try to share a new poem with tiny commentary (for our sped up age…) almost daily, hoping this can make good poetry a bit more popular again. What do you think?

      1. Oh yeah, we should try and take our chances and guess, for sure. I love to do that with languages. With some languages it’s easier, with others – take Russian – a bit harder 😜 I must confess I’m not good at reading or ‘interpreting’ poetry. However, I admire you for your intention. Poetry deserves more attention and more of our focus. Adding tiny commentary is a fantastic idea, I think. Also, appealing, eye-catching graphics could help stick with poetry-related posts. Anything to spread culture and open our minds! Have a great day :)

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