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:

СОН
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

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July 16. The Cave from my dream.

I am supposed to take the ferry to Vladivostok today, but “due to natural disaster” it has been postponed. I receive the email from the friendly Dongchun ferry employee on time, and I’m happy about it. Now I can go hiking Soraksan with Malia and Andrea. I wonder what the “natural disaster” would have been, but it’s probably not a big thing. Everything not directly caused by humans we will describe as a natural disaster for insurance reasons. The crew getting too drunk the other night is a natural disaster, too. We had a laugh about it when we got ready to hike in the famous Soraksan (“rough rocks”) mountains near Sokcho. Soft bread with red and green chickpea cream, orange juice, yoghurt.
The hike is great, the mountains even better than I remembered from several years ago. A short busride takes us to Soraksan, a very well-equipped national park with a little entrance fee. The tidyness, the civilized behavior of the Koreans contrasts to the rough peaks constituting the Soraksan region. We get halfway up one of them, and after climbing a steep path and some long metal stairs we reach a small cave with a Buddhist shrine. There are a few monks singing mantras when we arrive. We take off our shoes and I pay the Buddha lip service by kneeling down in front of its statue as I know it from the movies. This spot is amazing, and resembles the cavity I have actively dreamt about in a period of solitude craving. Living up there, overlooking a mountain range, being self-supportive so that only a few trips down would be required each year, writing poetry and books of endless wisdom. That was my adolescent dream and I was surprised as you can imagine by how much this cave resembles my imagination. We take pictures, and we get down, we take the same way back, pass the giant Buddha I forgot to tell you about before, and jump on our bus back.
We sleep late after a game of “risk” in which I did not conquer but a vast region of Eastern Siberia. Tomorrow I will travel there for real. There is a difference between reality and appearance, a difference we may stipulate with subtle remarks and a little bit of the human touch.

July 16. The Cave from my dream.

I am supposed to take the ferry to Vladivostok today, but “due to natural disaster” it has been postponed. I receive the email from the friendly Dongchun ferry employee on time, and I’m happy about it. Now I can go hiking Soraksan with Malia and Andrea. I wonder what the “natural disaster” would have been, but it’s probably not a big thing. Everything not directly caused by humans we will describe as a natural disaster for insurance reasons. The crew getting too drunk the other night is a natural disaster, too. We had a laugh about it when we got ready to hike in the famous Soraksan (“rough rocks”) mountains near Sokcho. Soft bread with red and green chickpea cream, orange juice, yoghurt.
The hike is great, the mountains even better than I remembered from several years ago. A short busride takes us to Soraksan, a very well-equipped national park with a little entrance fee. The tidyness, the civilized behavior of the Koreans contrasts to the rough peaks constituting the Soraksan region. We get halfway up one of them, and after climbing a steep path and some long metal stairs we reach a small cave with a Buddhist shrine. There are a few monks singing mantras when we arrive. We take off our shoes and I pay the Buddha lip service by kneeling down in front of its statue as I know it from the movies. This spot is amazing, and resembles the cavity I have actively dreamt about in a period of solitude craving. Living up there, overlooking a mountain range, being self-supportive so that only a few trips down would be required each year, writing poetry and books of endless wisdom. That was my adolescent dream and I was surprised as you can imagine by how much this cave resembles my imagination. We take pictures, and we get down, we take the same way back, pass the giant Buddha I forgot to tell you about before, and jump on our bus back.
We sleep late after a game of “risk” in which I did not conquer but a vast region of Eastern Siberia. Tomorrow I will travel there for real. There is a difference between reality and appearance, a difference we may stipulate with subtle remarks and a little bit of the human touch.

April 16. Buenavista Coffee.

Buenavista coffee beans, dried on the ground

Days begin with a cup of Buenavista coffee in a small tienda artesenal and some empanadas to bite on. I look for a place in the shade and write. Today, I work on my novel again, after many weeks. I’m a bit worried I can’t repair the narrative anymore and the project might go down the drain. So be it. Nothing is lost. All the words will remain on their spots in the book, the only thing that has changed is my judgement of it. And that judgement is not even important, I mean, not as important as yours. You are free. You can dance on the ashes of my freedom that I am burning away with all the passion long years of submission can squeeze out of a mind.


That night, I dreamt about mosquitos in a field hospital. Two patients shared a room and before they sleep the doctor makes his final round and advises them to use the mosquito net. One of the patients listens to the doc and carefully straps the mosquito net to his mattress. He falls asleep underneath his impermeable cover. The other patient doesn’t listen to the doc and sleeps without the net. After a few minutes, the mosquitos start zooming in through the window. A few at first, as if they were pathfinders, but very quickly a thick black stream of insects burst into the small ward. The patient that has not listened to the doc is eaten alive, buried under a big black heap of insects. The other patient sleeps like a baby. The next morning, all the mosquitos have left. On one of the beds now lies a skeleton. “We should buy a second net” the doctor grumbles as he strokes with his hand through his grey beard.

February 10. Pasteleria and abstractions.

There are very good Pasteleria’s in Lisbon, and the coffee is very cheap. I can work fast without caring too much about quality, about what the reader might think. I can’t put the bricks of words together when I know what the building must look like. I can’t guarantee you the building isn’t going to collapse when you enter it. The only thing: I put the bricks together as tightly as I can and I’m not going to make any windows for you.
Soon spring will arrive again. It’s true, here I’ve already seen blossoms and buds. Portuguese spring is early. And spring can change things, or at least nourish the childish vital believe in ‘real change’. Obama won his most important contest in the spring of 2008. The idea of a changed life, not only spare parts being exchanged, not only 180 degree rebellion kind of change, but the change of a life that organizes itself around some point that had existed before of course, but never functioned as a crucial joint. If you need an example for such a transformation, I am one. Today I found some old classmates of computer studies. They are all working in companies, as programming experts, CIO, CEO, software developer, JAVA-specialist and what have you, and I envie them in an abstract manner. Knowing who you are, what the joints are, the hinges of your life, and just turning the wheel around, perhaps they dream about something else but at least their dreams are organized around familiar points. Maybe they changed just as much as I did. You can’t tell from the outset. I have tried to explain that changing thing but it is like explaining why death has to prevail over life. Proclaiming your own detachment from everything that mattered in the past is a dirty scandal. You shall not begin a new life built on the barren abstractions you forced yourself to attach to your old life.
That night, I did not dream about big trunks of moldy wood that were all warm. Suddenly insects begin to crawl out looking at the spectator with huge eyes, they get bigger and bigger their eyes and the insects, they drag giant bladders behind them, human bladders filled with piss like warm balloons, they drag them out of the wood that breaks apart as they pass. They keep looking at the spectator as to scare him away but the spectator cannot move because he is stiffened by his fear of the crawling roaches. The insects place the bladders near the fresh wood the machine of the timber company just dropped next to the moldy wood. The giant bladders empty themselves over the wood that got all wet and start to rot in front of the spectator’s eyes. The fresh wood is already decayed and insects begin to crawl out with their big insect eyes that never close. The carry giant bladders with them and some uteruses too. That night I didn’t dream at all. I guess now you know better what I feel than I do.

February 10. Pasteleria and abstractions.

There are very good Pasteleria’s in Lisbon, and the coffee is very cheap. I can work fast without caring too much about quality, about what the reader might think. I can’t put the bricks of words together when I know what the building must look like. I can’t guarantee you the building isn’t going to collapse when you enter it. The only thing: I put the bricks together as tightly as I can and I’m not going to make any windows for you.
Soon spring will arrive again. It’s true, here I’ve already seen blossoms and buds. Portuguese spring is early. And spring can change things, or at least nourish the childish vital believe in ‘real change’. Obama won his most important contest in the spring of 2008. The idea of a changed life, not only spare parts being exchanged, not only 180 degree rebellion kind of change, but the change of a life that organizes itself around some point that had existed before of course, but never functioned as a crucial joint. If you need an example for such a transformation, I am one. Today I found some old classmates of computer studies. They are all working in companies, as programming experts, CIO, CEO, software developer, JAVA-specialist and what have you, and I envie them in an abstract manner. Knowing who you are, what the joints are, the hinges of your life, and just turning the wheel around, perhaps they dream about something else but at least their dreams are organized around familiar points. Maybe they changed just as much as I did. You can’t tell from the outset. I have tried to explain that changing thing but it is like explaining why death has to prevail over life. Proclaiming your own detachment from everything that mattered in the past is a dirty scandal. You shall not begin a new life built on the barren abstractions you forced yourself to attach to your old life.
That night, I did not dream about big trunks of moldy wood that were all warm. Suddenly insects begin to crawl out looking at the spectator with huge eyes, they get bigger and bigger their eyes and the insects, they drag giant bladders behind them, human bladders filled with piss like warm balloons, they drag them out of the wood that breaks apart as they pass. They keep looking at the spectator as to scare him away but the spectator cannot move because he is stiffened by his fear of the crawling roaches. The insects place the bladders near the fresh wood the machine of the timber company just dropped next to the moldy wood. The giant bladders empty themselves over the wood that got all wet and start to rot in front of the spectator’s eyes. The fresh wood is already decayed and insects begin to crawl out with their big insect eyes that never close. The carry giant bladders with them and some uteruses too. That night I didn’t dream at all. I guess now you know better what I feel than I do.

February 10. Pasteleria and abstractions.

There are very good Pasteleria’s in Lisbon, and the coffee is very cheap. I can work fast without caring too much about quality, about what the reader might think. I can’t put the bricks of words together when I know what the building must look like. I can’t guarantee you the building isn’t going to collapse when you enter it. The only thing: I put the bricks together as tightly as I can and I’m not going to make any windows for you.
Soon spring will arrive again. It’s true, here I’ve already seen blossoms and buds. Portuguese spring is early. And spring can change things, or at least nourish the childish vital believe in ‘real change’. Obama won his most important contest in the spring of 2008. The idea of a changed life, not only spare parts being exchanged, not only 180 degree rebellion kind of change, but the change of a life that organizes itself around some point that had existed before of course, but never functioned as a crucial joint. If you need an example for such a transformation, I am one. Today I found some old classmates of computer studies. They are all working in companies, as programming experts, CIO, CEO, software developer, JAVA-specialist and what have you, and I envie them in an abstract manner. Knowing who you are, what the joints are, the hinges of your life, and just turning the wheel around, perhaps they dream about something else but at least their dreams are organized around familiar points. Maybe they changed just as much as I did. You can’t tell from the outset. I have tried to explain that changing thing but it is like explaining why death has to prevail over life. Proclaiming your own detachment from everything that mattered in the past is a dirty scandal. You shall not begin a new life built on the barren abstractions you forced yourself to attach to your old life.
That night, I did not dream about big trunks of moldy wood that were all warm. Suddenly insects begin to crawl out looking at the spectator with huge eyes, they get bigger and bigger their eyes and the insects, they drag giant bladders behind them, human bladders filled with piss like warm balloons, they drag them out of the wood that breaks apart as they pass. They keep looking at the spectator as to scare him away but the spectator cannot move because he is stiffened by his fear of the crawling roaches. The insects place the bladders near the fresh wood the machine of the timber company just dropped next to the moldy wood. The giant bladders empty themselves over the wood that got all wet and start to rot in front of the spectator’s eyes. The fresh wood is already decayed and insects begin to crawl out with their big insect eyes that never close. The carry giant bladders with them and some uteruses too. That night I didn’t dream at all. I guess now you know better what I feel than I do.