Leonid Aronzon: The Selection of A.Altshuler, the best friend of poet. Translated by Richard McKane

aвтор визуальной работы - L.A.

'In Memory of my Brother, Andrew'.


In the open, I breathe the open.
Sudden sadness. Stream. Bank.
Don’t I sense the sounds
of my sadness in the wings of a beast?
It’s flown away... I am alone.
I see nothing any more.
Ahead is only the sky.
The air is black and motionless.
There where I stood, a naked girl
in some far-off childhood.
What is there? A tree, a horse
or someone completely unknown?
1967 (?)

The park is cold, and autumn lasts all day,
and nets are drying, but it’s not clear where,
and the autumn is my window into the heavens,
I look at it. I revel in someone’s dream:
the park is stretchet out till it almost hurts,
now I see a mansion among the trees
and myself in its every window.
October 6, 1966


I was so notably lonely
as I strolled through the morning landscape,
that the children took to their heels
shouting ‘Jesus, he’s so frightening!’
But having seen everything: the pond, the tree,
the garden vacant of strollers;
Eve looked up out of the water,
having looked back at heaven.
1967, Spring


This leaf-page with lines ruled on it. Peace.
There is such volume in the mirrors in the autumn forest,
and it’s easy for me to go through changes like a cloud,
in search of salvation,
when, staring fixedly at a point,
talking to me in the dark,
you will ask, snuffing out the candle:
isn’t that our planet earth?
1963 (?)


For Rita

I even fell out of love with nature:
the lakes dark with forests
the beautiful hindquarters of mares,
which I stared at for hours.

Even sadness oppresses me,
the landscape decorated with Danaea,
or an obese bee at midday
winging to the fields to collect its tax:

all this, not brightening my thoughts,
irritates, bores me to death,
and the gardens, riotously thick
with August, don’t involve me.


Sleeplessness all day. Sleeplessness since morning.
Sleeplessness till evening. I walk
around the circle of rooms. They’re all like bedrooms.
Sleeplessness is everywhere nevertheless it’s time for me to sleep.

If I’d died yesterday,
today I would be happy and sad,
but I wouldn’t be sorry for living in the beginning...
But I’m alive: my flesh did not die.

Six more lines, which don’t exist yet,
I’ll drag out of preexistence into a sonnet,
not knowing what this torture is for.

Why do such thoughts and letters
blossom in bouquets from corpses of souls?
But I evoked them – and let them live.
May, in day time, 1968


Alas I’m alive. Deadly dead.
Words are filled with silence.
The gift rug of nature I rolled up
into a primordial roll.

In front of all nights I lie,
staring at them.
Glenn Gould, the pianist of my fate,
plays with note signs.

Here is the consolation for my melancholy
but it brings more dread.
Thoughts are swarming without meetings.

An airy rootless flower,
here is my tame butterfly.
Here is my life – what can I do with it?
November, 1969

There is a silence between everything. One.
One silence. A second, a third.
Full of silences. Each of them is:
the material for a net of poems.

And a word is the thread. Pass it through
the needle and you make a window with word-threads –
now silence is framed
and it is the cell in the net of a sonnet.

The greater the unit, the larger
the dimensions of the soul that’s caught up in it.
However abundant the catch it will be less

than that of the fisherman, who dares to dare
to tie such a gigantic net
in which there would only be one space.

How good it is in abandoned places!
Abandoned by men but not by gods.
It’s raining: and the beauty of the ancient grove
raised on hills is soaked.

It’s raining: and the beauty of the ancient grove
raised on hills is soaked.
We’re alone here, no people are our equals.
Oh, how blessed it is to drink in the mist.

We’re alone here, no people are our equals.
Oh, how blessed it is to drink in the mist.
Remember the path of a fallen leaf
and the idea that we go on after us.

Remember the path of a fallen leaf
and the idea that we go on after us.
Who rewarded us, my friend, with these dreams
or did we give ourselves this reward?

Who rewarded us, my friend, with these dreams
or did we give ourselves this reward?
To shoot oneself here one needs no devil:
nor aching in the soul, nor powder in the gun.

Nor even a gun. God sees that
to shoot oneself here one needs nothing.
September, 1970


For Rita

How good it is in summer: spring is all around!
Now the pine tree is put against my head,
now one cannot fully decipher
the Chinese text of the night reeds,
now more frenzied than a pea-whistle
the bumble-bee hangs over the vessel of the flower,
then suddenly makes my words sound highflown,
it buzzes over you, making a delicate simile.
Summer, 1966

Rainy weather. I gaze at a candle
that does not exist. I don’t know of
any situation in which I’d like to find myself,
but I have no desire to pass away.

An absolute ‘no’. As though I went to
the doctor to show him my suffering
and instead of saying ‘aaaaa’ I bellow ‘nooooo’
and it’s not in my power to break off the bellowing.

But we are able to master the sonnet:
to hammer the planks of lines with the nails of rhyme,
and having killed a couple of half hours in this labour,

we were not mistaken: there’s a coffin and a skeleton.
We place the killed hour in the coffin
and before shutting the lid, kiss it on the forehead.
1968 (?)

I woke up – so I’m not dead yet!
Who is dancing in the moonlight
in the architecture of hilly winters
with his back turned to me?

We are all awfully tired,
everything is dreadful if one does not drink,
my little double, poor soul, Alex,
but you remain a poet-drinker.

I say goodnight
to Russia, to a tree, to a beetle.
Meanwhile your comfy eyes read
a line of Pushkin in bed.

Oh my God, how beautiful it all is!
Every time, as never before.
There is no break in the beauty.
Shall I turn away? But where to?

The trembling wind is cool
for it comes off the river.
There’s no world behind –
everything is before me!
Spring (?), 1970

Water in the gardens, gardens in water.
Peaceful walks beside them.
The empty castles of Petersburg,
and the one-starred sky.
Everything is so tragically beautiful.
I wander through man-made nature
like a kinless youth
or Pushkin with a beard.


A girl sat round me,
and facing her and with my back to her
I stood leaning on a tree,
and a carp swam to the watering hole.

The carp swam, a maquette of sunset,
the cockchafer of the swampy waters,
and as if a green patch
a water-lily leaf closed the entrance.

The swan was a vessel of the morning,
brother to the white flowers,
it bobbed here and there.

Its breast curved
sharply like a bow:
it was a nightingale without a song!


There’s a green light on the leaves, like film,
and they fly around, and then the light
disappears with the fallen leaves,
like crowns that fall with heads.

The plants sprinkled me with dew:
I tore them up, scattering the dew,
and I climbed over their roots, like up steps
to the height which was revealed by the fall.

The earth slept, and rocky masses,
slippery as fishes, sloped and oval as foreheads,
froze over the ages,
splitting into dew and dust by the centuries.

The wave lived the life of a nomad in the rock.
The yellow moss grew, and the flowers
lowered their halos and dropped their gathered dew,
so the long forest broke over in them.

Hush, forest, and fill
the stillness with memorable silence,
to sparkle like this lake,
as with the upset sadness
of the trees, with their leaves,
bending their slender branches,
and of the grass, rocking the countless
dragonflies and moths.

Hush, forest, and break,
clouds, like slender glasses,
into the crescents of mute glass
of the lakes crowned with mist.

You can see through the belfry windows.
The cathedral shines under the sun.
Trees, as though on a pilgrimage,
lift their twigs and the carwed
branches of the garden merged with the mist.
The sun ebbs, the cathedral is quiet,
and somewhere the gloomy flock
lies down and wanders round the lakes.
1961 (?)

A borzoi, a continuation of the hare,
was longer than a drawn out ‘Aah!’
A horn sounded to one: ‘Escape!’
and to the others, the savage ‘Tally-ho!’

The beautiful race of the forest hunt
drew me into the chase,
but I stayed silent and calm
as if I were watching a galloping dream.

Not only because of our frivolous meeting,
not only because of your antique profile,
and not just because Bacchus
shared with me the tribute of the south,
did I pronounce a rapturous “Oh!”
You opened up the autumn park,
within which the somehow forgotten
morning shone bright,
when I, like a deer on its wedding night,
hurried, taking you for a gentle doe.

My beauty, my goddess, my angel,
the source, the estuary of all my deepest thoughts,
you are my stream in summer, my fire in winter.
I am happy that I lived to see that spring
when you appeared before me
in your sudden beauty.
I knew you as whore and saint,
loving all that I recognised in you.
I would prefer to live in yesterday, not in tomorrow,
so that life should retrack to our beginning
in the time we have left together,
and roll out again if the years permit.
But since we are going to live on further,
and the future is a cruel desert,
you are the oasis that will save me,
my beauty, my goddess.
Beginning, 1970

I look on my being alive
with calm joy already.
I will go down on my knees in the damp grass
before every creature.

I shall prolong this night with poems,
which lie like a nightingale at night.
There is a goodness in music, in breathing,
in sadness and in your favour.

All pleasures are open to me,
if all that are around are they.
By lofty, wordless singing
days come coming back.
1967 (?)

For Al. Al.

Our nights are whiter for you,
that means the whole world is whiter:
whiter than swans and clouds,
and daughters’ necks.

What is nature? A first draft
of the languages of heaven? And Orpheus
is not the poet, not Orpheus,
but Gnedich, Kashkin, a translator?

And really, just where is the sonnet?
Alas, it’s certainly not in nature.
It has woods, but not the Tree:

it is in the gardens of non-existence:
and Orpheus flattering Eurydice,
was singing of Eve rather than Eurydice.
June, 1967

Outside the window are the night and the frost.
I look out through the gap.
And you are sitting, my wife and daughter,
not hiding your breast.

You are sitting happily in your beauty,
as if in long ago days,
when your anxiety
had nothing to do with the body.

Your sadness was free
of fetters and flesh:
no words were needed to express it –
it was just the vast distance.

And in this morning distance
there already appeared
like a wonderful garden.
the peaks and heavens of the earth

You were dissolved
in the world space.
Waves had not yet turned to foam
and you were all around.

You were the breath of a winged beast,
you were his water in a river,
and you were so beautiful,
beautifully unformed.

Since those times, I believe,
from those very sorrows,
there remained in you some groan
and a body with its beauty.

That is why I shut the hole
in the window, I go to my divan
where you are sitting not hiding your breast
and all other ecstasies of yours.
1969 or 1970


There is a light gift – as if for the second
happy time it repeats one’s experience.
(The paths of images and metaphors of the tall rivers
raised by the mountain are light and flexible.)

But I am allotted a different gift:
at times poems are a whisper of exhaustion
and I do not risk a rhyme for Europe like Pushkin,
let alone come to terms with the game.

Work, alas, will always be shameful
where roses, getting prettier, are blooming
and with breath-sounds of the reed-pipe

of clarinets, drums, trumpets
all make music – plants and wild animals
ruining the corpse with the roots of their souls.
May, evening, 1968

We can now see
the worlds that once were hidden.
We stand and stare in admiration,
and process like a retinue of an icon.
This artist has revealed
such a miracle on the icon-board,
that we, full of love,
ask: ‘Where did he get that from?’
All that we create by our work,
was created before us,
but the thick smoke of ignorance
kept it all from our eyes.
Everything is the genius of the Divine:
sounds, colours, words,
their combinations and themes;
but as one cannot see a picture
from behind a dark window,
so the eye can see nothing,
but Bohemian crystal
wipes the dirt off the dark glass.
1967 (?)


Having lost the intimacy of words,
I treat writing seriously,
and I connect God’s bright words
to touch you,
not by meditation on eternal torture,
or by rivalry with the authorities or people.
Accept these works of mine
as an attempt of long standing
on the twisting paths of poems,
taking on the guise of the shepherd,
go where there is no weather,
where only I am before me,
and discover the harmony of nature
within poetry itself...

It was such ahole day today,
wishing to get across into tomorrow,
to the morning in tomorrow, the food in tomorrow.
The landscape was somewhat poor,
lifted by an old rain mist
over its empty landscape.
I cursed such a lustreless day,
not liking sleep or being awake.
My anguish like Daphne,
had still not worn out the greenery.
To that extent now I don't know
by whom, but I do know that I am pursued
on the steps of day and night,
and that, a named nymph,
I dodged around within nature,
having abandoned my shield in her depth;
suddenly I entered there, where autumn
does not change the landmarks of the year:
surrounded by someone's will
the park stretched out till it hurt,
like an old ode,
and the park seemed to me
to be filled with the Way of the Cross.
There, inside, they were carrying an icon,
but I couldn't see it from here:
and the broad light from the windows
created a dish for a feast,
as though they were carring there
a Judas kiss, covered in a horse-cloth.
Another autumn behind my back,
made of nets still green,
mudding the crown of trees,
threshed like a wounded salmon.
March - April (?) 1967

Dawn is two paces behind you.
You stand by the beautiful garden.
I look, but the beautiful is not there,
it is just quiet and happy next to you.

Only autumn has cast its net
to catch souls for the alcove of heaven.
Oh God, let us die right now,
and, God, let us remember nothing.
Summer, 1970

It flickers – then nothing.
Death of a butterfly? The candle flame?
The hot wax streams
over my arm and shoulder.

I raise the candle over my memory
and fly, fly astride my lady.
(What a butterfly are you!)
I fly to see death.

Everywhere is as in the soul:
it’s not yet August, but it is already.
Spring 1970


To Rita

Depression or joy is all the same:
the weather’s beautiful today.
A landscape, or a room, or a window,
youth or maturity of a year,
my house was not empty when you were in it
for just an hour, just passing through.
I bless all nature
for your coming into my home!

The wall is full of shadows
of the trees. (Many dots).
I woke at dead of night:
life is given, but what can one do with it?

I was allowed into heaven in absentia,
and flew to it in my dream,
but I woke at dead of night:
life is given, but what can one do with it?

Although the nights are longer and longer,
twenty four hours is still twenty four hours.
I woke at dead of night:
life is given, but what can one do with it?

Life is given, but what can one do with it?
I woke at dead of night.
O, my wife, in reality
you are beautiful as in a dream.

Was it you, who, crazy from tenderness,
indefatigably like a camel
crossed the sea by the shore
in a blizzard of night thoughts?

Wasn’t it for you that
the naked, unarmed angel came down
with the utopian hope
of an entrancing friendship?

So, was the mind of the sea
just the wind, just the waves’ roar?
I saw your angel, not hiding,

flew in slow meditations
to its allotted place in the desert,
depressed by your apostasy.
Spring (?), 1970

There's a feeling of unhappines in Petersburg...
I look at the sky and can’t find it.
Only the dead carcass of summer
is the guest of my empty lorgnette.
I half lie, I half fly,
who is half-flying to meet me?
We fly to greet each other,
on parted lips.
No, one cannot write even with a pen
of an angel at such a time:
‘The trees are locked in,
but from where is this rustle of leaves, of leaves?’
November, 1969

I happened to see the sparkle,
the shining of the Divine eyes.
I know we are in heaven,
but that same heaven is in us.

It seems those who live unbelievingly
are not punished;
but no, each one is punished
by ignorance of the Divine shining.

One cannot prove who You are by example:
there is a shield between You and the world.
You can be proved only by faith:
the believer will see You.

I don’t need Your favour:
not this life nor another –
forgive me, o Lord, the sin
of being depressed in Your world.

We are the people, we are Your targets,
and cannot escape Your blows.
I am afraid of one heavenly retribution:
that You will force me to the resurrection.

It makes me so alone to think
depressively as I look out of the window,
You are standing there too. A complete stranger
and in someone else’s coat.

I live in those sort of houses
which are empty, in which everything is terrifying,
and where one is impotent with fear,
where each door opens new phobias.
I loved in them, and was loved,
and there was also a fear of losing love.

Any of Notre Dame’s freaks
would be trivial in comparison, with, say,
a lady painted on the canvas
by someone out of medieval times,
then photographed for me
as a sign that the world lives by love.

I’m not talking about other utensils,
but every one could be a misery,
without any visible rival:
any thing has so many faces,
that one has to fall face down on the floor before it;
there is no measure in anything, everything is in secrecy.

I do not dare to trust emptiness
with its primordial lying simplicity,
in it are so many souls, invisible to the eyes,
but one only has to glance to the side
and to see a few of of them, or one of them,
instantaneously or later on.

And if even the eye is unable to see them
(bad sight, alas, is not a shield)
then it’s obvious fear that will show those souls to you.
One is powerless to step over the line
that separates the world into light and darkness,
even light is a poor guard.

It’s not death that’s frightening me.
I would not have wanted to live,
then what scares me in the dark?
Has my maturity still not conquered
my infantile alarm?
And I find terrifying what is ahead of me
and what appeared on the road behind me.
1966 or 1967

Am I here? God, though, is by my side,
and it’s easy for me to say to Him:
‘Oh, how beautiful is the boundlessness
and the solitude of everything!’

Wherever time would flow
I don’t care. I do see joy,
but in that which makes me not need it,
I even don’t want to be seen in dreams.

However at daybreak
I like to raise an eyelid
to look at you, my friend,
to look at God and think thus:
‘Who could clip my wings
when You are my protector?’
1969 or 1970

It’s good to stroll along in heaven,
what a heaven, and what is beyond it?
I never ever was
so handsome, so enchanted!

The body moves without support,
naked Juno is all around,
and the non-existent music,
and an uncomposed sonnet!

It’s good to stroll along in heaven,
barefoot for better exercise.
It’s good to stroll along in heaven,
reciting Aronzon out loud.
Spring, morning, 1968

These translations were first published in Leonid Aronzon Death of a Butterfly: A Bilingual Russian-English Edition, Translations by Richard McKane, Gnosis Press and Diamond Press © Gnosis Press, © Richard McKane; some of them were republished in Ten Russian Poets: Surviving the Twentieth Century, Edited by Richard McKane, Anvil Press and Survivors’ Poetry © Richard McKane. The translator would like to thank Arkady Rovner of Gnosis Press and Peter Jay of Anvil Press for permission to reprint them in this limited edition of Reflection.

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