A Girl Was Singing
A girl was singing in the choir with fervour
of all who have known exile and distress,
of all the vessels that have left the harbour,
of all who have forgotten happiness.
Her voice soared up to the dome. Glistening,
a sunbeam brushed her shoulder in its flight,
and from the darkness all were listening
to the white dress singing in the beam of light.
It seemed to everyone that happiness
would come back, that the vessels were all safe,
that those who had known exile and distress
had rediscovered a radiant life.
The voice was beautiful, the sunbeam slender,
but up by the holy gates, under the dome,
a boy at communion wept to remember
that none of them would ever come home.
(translated from the Russian by Jon Stallworthy and Peter France)
Another fine Russian poet, this time by request (though I’ve been meaning to include Blok for a while). I love the vividness of this poem, the searing image of “the white dress singing in the beam of light”; and also the way in which Blok, having spent the first three stanzas building a sense of something approaching grace, plunges us, with the very last line of the poem, back into the terrible reality of the mortal world. Yet there’s nothing didactic or rhetorical about this turning back – Blok isn’t trying to make a point against faith – it’s simply the natural return of the uplifted heart to its accustomed weight. This is a glorious poem about the transient beauty of the religious experience, indeed, about the transience of beauty, and therefore of art, itself.
P.S. Wikipedia entry on Blok here (with an alternate translation of the poem; I like the translation posted here better, though obviously I can’t vouch for its fidelity to the original)