Saturday, April 19, 2014

a Boris Pasternak poem - In Holy Week

All the world's still wrapped in gloom. 
At such an early hour 
How many stars - no man can know, 
And each like daylight is aglow, 
And could it choose, then all the globe 
Might well have slept all Easter through 
To the chant of psalm and prayer. 

Still all the world is wrapped in gloom. 
An age must pass till early dawn. 
Eternally the square has lain, 
Outstretched to the crossing of the roads. 
Before the light and warmth return 
Must pass a whole millennium. 

The earth lies there, exposed, laid bare, 
Bereft of its attire 
For swinging bells in empty air 
In echo to the choir. 

And from Maundy Thursday through 
Till Holy Saturday 
Water eddies swirl and scoop 
And etch the banks away. 

The woodland too is stripped and bare, 
And now, during Christ's Passion, 
Like solemn worshippers at prayer, 
The pine trees pay attention. 

And in a lesser space, in town, 
As at a public meeting, 
The naked trees all stand and strain 
To peer through churchyard railings. 

Their gaze is stricken with dismay. 
There's reason for such terror - 
As gardens flood and fencing breaks 
And all the earth's foundations quake, 
A God is being buried. 

Then light gleams within the altar gates, 
Black scarves and candles are held ready, 
And tear-stained faces look about, 
To welcome the procession. 
And as they carry forth the Shroud, 
Two birches at the entrance 
Are forced to yield and bow them out. 

They all process around the church, 
Then back along the pavement, 
Bringing spring and springtime talk 
From open road onto the porch, 
With a heady vernal air 
And breath of communion wafers. 

March throws a scattering of snow 
To the cripples on the portico, 
As if somebody brought forth 
A reliquary and disposed of 
All down to the final thread. 

The singing lasts until the dawn. 
And now that every tear is spent, 
The Apostles and the Psalms 
Exit and depart, now calm, 
Through lamp-lit emptiness. 

At midnight man and beast fall dumb 
On hearing springtime's revelation: 
Once the weather clears, then just as soon 
Can death itself be overcome 
By the power of Resurrection.

--Boris Pasternak

This translation by Christopher Barnes 
first appeared here.

Christ with Martha and Mary, Mikhail Nesterov (1911)

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