Three Poems

Arseny Tarkovsky

The Cricket

To tell the truth, I'm kin
          to the house cricket.
I sing a secret song
          above the oven's ash.
For me, one brings
          the water to a fierce boil,
For me, another
          prepares a hearth of gold.

A traveler will recall
          my voice in a distant land,
Even if he's traded
          me for the heat cicada.
I don't know who planed
          my poor violin,
but I know that I'm rich
          as a cicada in songs.

How many Russian consonants
          in my midnight language,
How many sayings
          I place in the bast box
So a child can rummage
          In this box of bast,
In the old oven violin
          with its sole brass string.

You can't really hear me,
          my voice like a clock
Behind a wall, but take heed
          and I'll lead you.
I'll rouse the whole house:
          I'm the night watchman.  Arise!
Your people across the river
          will trumpet their reply.


Valya's Willow

Before the war Valya walked along the creek,
Where a willow grew for who knows who.

Though why it lay on the creek, no one knew
Valya owned that willow.

Killed in action, Valya came back
Under his willow, in his military cloak.

Valya's willow,
Valya's willow,
Like a white boat floating on the creek.


My sight, which was my power...

My sight, which was my power, now blurs
Two invisible diamond spears;
My hearing subsides, full of ancient thunder
And the breathing of the house of my father.
The knots of tough muscles slacken
Like grey oxen, lax in the ploughed field;
The wings behind my shoulders yield
No light when evening darkens.

I am a candle. I burned at the feast.
Gather my wax when morning arrives
So that this page will prompt you
How to be proud, and how to weep,
How to give away the last third
Of happiness, and to die with ease—
And beneath a temporary roof
To burn posthumously, like a word.


translated from the Russian by Philip Metres and Dimitri Psurtsev