Translation Tuesday: Xenia Emelyanova, Untitled

“Once upon a time,” I hear. “We were alive, we lived, bred impassability in our heads,

Xenia Emelyanova’s luminous “A golden cloud goes to fetch / the evening star” is dedicated to Russian punk singer Yanka Dyagileva who drowned under mysterious circumstances in 1991. Dyagileva’s final recording, “Pridyot voda” (The Water is Coming), includes the refrain “The water is coming / I will sleep.”

In this poem, as in her other work, Emelyanova explores what it means to be a woman, mother, and artist alienated from her surroundings and, at the same time, inextricably bound to them. Emelyanova’s poems resonate with an inner spirituality tied to nature, motherhood, and a certain faith in eternity and rebirth that shines through even the deepest suffering. For the translator, these poems present particular problems of register because their simplicity, sincerity, and spirituality are qualities difficult to render in contemporary English, where so much of our poetic discourse is highly self-conscious and skeptical.

Untitled [“A golden cloud goes to fetch / the evening star”]

Dedicated to Yanka Dyagileva


A golden cloud goes to fetch

the evening star, as if fetching water,

the heavens brighten above us,

a bell, a hum,

the shoulder yoke rocks,

your eyes are closing, closing.

“Once upon a time,” I hear. “We were alive, we lived,

bred impassability in our heads,

only we didn’t see that we stood on peace, that under our feet

was water without bottom, deep water,

that slept and didn’t remember its banks.”

And that’s where your eternal bed was spread….

Wind catches in the chest, but no matter what song you start to sing,

a lullaby spills out, all the same.

The banks rock.


I tell you with my voice, but what do the words say?

How I walk in spring, brush a strand of hair from my face,

but the hands are my mother’s.

And I’m frightened, and I laugh.

A golden cloud goes to fetch the evening star,

over the spilled heavens, over the grassy fields.

A hill rises from the field to meet us, on the hill there’s a church,

on the church a cross, on the cross a star.

That’s not a church, but a well, that’s not a bell, but water.

Having drunk a dipper-full, thawing, I drifted with the four winds.

In the morning, a cloud will gather berries from the fields,

gather my head –

there’s enough of me for everyone.


Translated from the Russian by Katherine E. Young


Russian poet Xenia Emelyanova published her first poems in the summer of 2014 in the journal Iunost’, for which she won the journal’s Anna Akhmatova Prize. Also in 2014, her poems were longlisted for the PEN/International New Voices Award. In 2015, she won the Russian Rhymes award. Her first full-length collection, Lepet, was published in 2016. Emelyanova’s work has appeared in English translation in Waxwing and From the Fishouse and was featured online during National Translation Month (2017). Emelyanova, a graduate of Moscow’s Gorky Literary Institute, lives in Moscow.

Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards, 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize finalist, and two chapbooks. Her poems have appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Subtropics, and many others. She is the translator Farewell, Aylis by Azerbaijani political prisoner Akram Aylisli (2018), as well as Blue Birds and Red Horses (2018) and Two Poems (2014), both by Inna Kabysh. Her translations of Russian and Russophone authors have won international awards and been published widely in the U.S. and abroad; several have been made into short films. Young was named a 2017 National Endowment for the Arts translation fellow and from 2016–2018 served as the inaugural poet laureate for Arlington, Virginia. Her website can be found here.


Read more translations from the Asymptote blog: