The cattle is furrier
The mountains are sharper
The birds cry louder
The houses are homelier
And the women
A few nights ago, I dreamed that I was elected President of the United States. Not an unusual dream, as the job of the most powerful person in the world is naturally appealing to the subconscious apparatus that processes our experiences while we sleep. And given the condition of our world, it is no surprise either that our dreams touch on the delusional.
What was remarkable though, was the vehemence with which my mind clung to the idea. I was presented in front of a room of people with constantly shifting faces. Ronald Reagan was there, the Clintons, a host of fired Trump personnel, Nancy Pelosi, among others. I just stood there in a hastily imagined suit, unkempt Robert Redford hair, looking hazily at the audience.
“It can’t be!” I recall myself thinking. “I am not associated with any of the grand old political parties. I am not even an American citizen. How was I of all people chosen to…”
“Nothing is impossible! Well, provided you believe in yourself. You do believe in yourself, don’t you? Or do you have issues with your self-confidence?”
– “No, no… I mean…”
“Such issues are deadly now you know. They can not be had. What matters theory? What matters history and politics? You are here now. You stand before us as our President.”
Sweating on my pillow, I frantically searched for proof as I witnessed my own inauguration. I improvised a commencement speech promising I would do my very best to serve the nation. Soon thereafter, I woke up and went down to the living room. It was a cold, silent morning and the room was dimly lit. I wondered, after coffee, how my brain could have convinced me so thoroughly of the ridiculous proposition that I was, against all logic, the President of the United States.
And I realized how dangerous it is when I would refuse to wake up from this dream.
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.
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?