In this city
which grew bitter saving people,
where so many neurotics were healed
where slippery dreams were
coaxed from the couch,
aging Europe's unloved
son thought of death:
such was its fate when he was not
accepted into the artists' estate,—
the whirlpool in the water
bends the boat, and the shore sways
under a double chain of chestnuts.
In a cafe, the congenital coughing
of rock and roll, no ruins, but the baroque
tilting a balcony
stuck with a star
bearing witness to the country's haughtiness.
Rhythm darkens consciousness. Into the eye
comes the concave air of the courtyard.
Its clarity is such that it seems
you will step and fall to your knees,
and only the amalgam of music
and pulse can help.
Blinded by the color of clouds,
you wade under arches, almost one
with the dust, granite and lilac leaves;
you can't find language for this harmony.
shaken from your time,
you still don't understand if this is
misfortune, or a gift.
Sisyphus, bent as he is,
gets to rest on the peak
of the hill, fearfully withdrawing his
hand from the shining rock—
the burden which for so many
eons tempered and tore him,
now sunk in gravel, nameless
It is calm and sunny in this place.
A blooming blackthorn foams,
and for the first time, you don't need
to grapple with fate.
On the shoulders of stone,
you rake grass, slip, go down to your knees,
and youth pales in a flash
And if a clipped sentence
still stirs in the soul,
it may just be the solid blows of a bell:
Bella gerant . . .
If at night
a ragged raft goes down to the sea
which the furious Auster will smash,
others will die there,
Blood pales while tanks turn to dust.
An era has ended, and the plague selects
new lands. To that station
at the border, where flame
is sister to space, where for Moses or Christ,
the Kalashnikov's Morse takes revenge,
the train doesn't go.
The Baroque sky collapses
over the Hapsburg fortress.
Just over the horizon, where air still wounds,
where a person nestles in a pit
among ragged mountains,
where lead so easily finds meat,
there is no gap between Franz Ferdinand's
days and our own.
The foliage, in shards,
glues mouths with blackened plaster,
and Saturn sates himself with his own seed
as at the beginning of time.
All the same, it is not here that nights
and mornings are melted into a lump
of suffering surpassing the fated limit
of what mortals can bear.
In the camp, on stone floors,
refugees taste the brittle air of freedom,
a signless dream, a few felt hours
and they, whose holes in their heads
saved them from earthly danger,
dream heavier dreams,
and could be, still, happier.
Death is not here, but walks alongside.
The bell's ringing answers more and more clearly:
death is in the granite, the heat, the wine and bread,
the web of chestnuts and acacia,
and in dreams. History is a piece of death.
Galileo was right, not Hegel:
Eppur si muove. Deaf and charred,
the wheel turns towards darkness.
What looked like the present to you
is really just the denial of time. Sleep
won't enliven. Outside the window, billows of
nothingness and clouds. Death is not here. Death
is alongside. It fusses about in the room's cell,
crosses out the next date in the notebook,
and then it looks in the mirror—and sees
And while death delays in the dark
and glassy air, Sisyphus should, in this city
not inclined to distinguish good
from bad, in this sleepless old city,
extract the essence from the appointed myth,
and vainly await God's trumpet
on the slope that is sharp like a diamond's edge.
Tomas Venclova is a Lithuanian scholar, poet, author, and translator. Since 1980 he has been a member of the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at Yale University. Venclova's poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages, with his selected poetry appearing in English in Winter Dialogue (1999), and The Junction (2009). In 2002 he was awarded the Prize of Two Nations, which he received jointly with Czeslaw Milosz.
Rimas Uzgiris' poetry has been published in Bridges, 322 Review, Lituanus, and is forthcoming in Prime Number Magazine, and his translations have appeared in The Massachusetts Review. He holds an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers-Newark University and a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His book Desire, Meaning, and Virtue: The Socratic Account of Poetry was published in 2009.
Original text: Tomas Venclova, Reginys iš alėjos. Vilnius: Baltos Lankos, 1998.