Boris Pasternak
In remembrance of the demon

He arrived back, a blue glacier,
Those nights from Tamara,
And then and again his wings marked
Where whir and nightmare should end.

He did not sob, did not bind up
The exposed lash-striped scars.
His slab has survived beyond
The fence of a Georgian church.

How strange that his humpback
Showed no shadow beneath the rail.
Where the zurnal2 laid near the icon-lamp,
The princess scarcely thought to breathe.

But sparkles ripped through
His hair and, like phosphorus, crackled.
The colossus had not yet heard
How the Caucasus went gray with grief.

An arshin3 away from her window,
He skulked in his woolen cloak,
And swore to the icy summit:
Sleep, dear, I’ll return — avalanche.

1. This is the opening poem in My Sister — Life (1917) and refers to Mikhail Lermontov’s (1814-1841) great romantic poema The Demon, published the year of his death. My Sister — Life is “Dedicated to Lermontov”;
Lermontov, like Byron and Goethe, relished in heroes who mixed grand over-reaching, dejection, pride and cruelty. In The Demon there is distinctive vitalism and vibrancy in the language, especially describing the rivers and mountains of Georgia that are unforgettable. These qualities perhaps were part of Pasternak’s deep admiration and honor of him. The Demon is the poema’s hero, a tormented spirit cursed for eternity to seek love. The Georgian tribal princess, Tamara is the heroine who resists and then succumbs to his seductions, only to die. Mikhail Vrubel’ (1856-1910) the great symbolist painter did a cycle of paintings of The Demon; he was a friend of Pasternak’s father, the painter Leonid Pasternak.

2. Lermontov uses the word “зурна” (“zurnal”) explaining in a footnote that it is a Georgian instrument akin to the bagpipe.

3. An old Russian measurement equal to 71 centimeters.

Translated by Don Mager

Борис Пастернак
Памяти демона

Приходил по ночам
В синеве ледника от Тамары.
Парой крыл намечал,
Где гудеть, где кончаться кошмару.

Не рыдал, не сплетал
Оголенных, исхлестанных, в шрамах.
Уцелела плита
За оградой грузинского храма.

Как горбунья дурна,
Под решеткою тень не кривлялась.
У лампады зурна,
Чуть дыша, о княжне не справлялась.

Но сверканье рвалось
В волосах, и, как фосфор, трещали.
И не слышал колосс,
Как седеет Кавказ за печалью.

От окна на аршин,
Пробирая шерстинки бурнуса,
Клялся льдами вершин:
Спи, подруга, — лавиной вернуся.

Стихотворение Бориса Пастернака «Памяти демона» на английском.
(Boris Pasternak in english).