translated by Josephine von Zitzewitz


The night sky hasn’t been that starred in a long time.
It’s all just autumn, autumn, clouds and yet more clouds.
The turning point of epochs is more drastic
The more the people need to see the doctor.
I’m unaffected by the common cold.
Although I’m freezing now I mourn a different cause.
I watch the vortex in vain hunger for a wonder,
But our vessel is not destined yet for shipwreck.

The night sky hasn’t been that starred in a long time.
It’s all just wind, wind, darkness and foul weather.
Let the bad weather play, and toss about the rigging,
This is no storm, the rain is just a trifle.
I feel so gloomy that I’m yearning for the harbour,
But the coastline now lies so far behind us.
Our journey can’t turn back to the beginning
When immortality is that which lies ahead.

The night sky hasn’t been that starred in a long time.
It’s all just candles flickering dimly in the cabin.
The sails are flying high, they know no haven.
Rust eats away at every hero’s sword.
And freedom brings a bitter taste of terror
When calm is far off like a distant spectre.
The spirit’s not appeased by the foul weather.
There’s always just the sail beside the moon.

The night sky hasn’t been that starred in a long time.
It’s all just flight, more flight, my room and all these bookshelves.
Space hosts the royal storm cloud regiment.
Time holds but sorrow for the all-perceiving eye.
Only the deck of the old Flying Dutchman
Is safely beyond time, and law, and change.
But even here you mustn’t lose your balance.
The spirit’s free, yet wandering is jail.


first published in Notre Dame Review 43, 2017



In August there are certain evenings.
With clouds reflecting softly off the roofs,
Your Leningrad seems outlined, as of old,
In one accomplished flourish of the pen.

Your unpretentious soul then sees again
The city’s ancient beauty, austere charm.
Unthinkingly, you stop while on a bridge
As you can’t understand where you are sailing.

In August there are certain evenings
Like stories about Dostoevsky’s Nevsky archways.
The thieves’ old dens appear, the coachmen,
A fisher brings his sail, a pennant creaks.

The wind blows from the the gulf as in the old days,
But now it carries whiffs of factory smoke.
The gallant waters of Varangian Ladoga
Bring downstream secret slicks of heavy oil.

In August there are certain evenings.
The melting sun’s last stub is gleaming.
And everything that yesterday was lovely
Is yours again, an unexpected gift.

You contemplate the slowly setting sun
Not knowing what else you should hope for.
The past seems infinitely dearer
Than your own century whose language you don’t speak.


first published in Notre Dame Review 43, 2017



Go to sleep now, stop your tired mumbling and murmuring.
Don’t sit by the window! You’ll get lost in the autumn night’s gloom.
Stop whispering poems to make your body stop trembling.
Turn away from the moon! Wrap yourself up, sit over there.

Breathe with more care! Listen closely how the trees outside breathe!
Try to grasp the invisible clouds’ dissolution!
Then entrust yourself and your silence to midnight and nature,
Don’t take the world’s wordlessness closely to heart.

Don’t breathe, like a yogi, exhaling to space all concerns!
Take your heart in your hands! May it have a brief rest!
Even out your pulse. You’ll forget yourself a bit more.
To listen to your own heart… can be a heavy yoke.

Stop tossing and wait! Once the pain has released you,
You can glide off into that silence above.
Don’t fear grief without reason bursting in on your sleep.
That’s the memory of soul, now a prisoner of breath.

That’s the memory of love – the faraway shore you abandoned –
The memory of all shores from which you were carried away.
That’s the grief of horizons, of unavowed waves and New Worlds.
That’s the memory of birth. Consider that you’ve been lucky.


first published in «Okhapkin Readings» almanaс №1, 2015


August, autumn… Fan the fire,
Once midnight comes, be still, a shadow.
Summer hid behind the hillside.
The polar day is fading now.

Sit by the river and lament,
Stay till the first autumnal snow
Out in the taiga by yourself,
Don’t count your pennies for the trip.

Don’t look at dates but to the distance.
Don’t keep a diary… The North
Is the best diary. And grief.
Mosquitoes buzz around your temple.

Don’t think now of the place you’ve come from,
Don’t guess where you’ll go, be still.
And if the city did forget you
Learn to forgive mosquitoes here.

And also learn to love the fire,
The stones’ quick prattle with the river.
Summer hid behind the hillside.
August, autumn, grief, and peace.

first published in «Okhapkin Readings» almanaс №1, 2015


Oh what a sun! And how much sky!
How hot and flushed the forest is,
Adazzle with the sparkling shards
From high above. The sky is glass.

Bright flaming maple trees are trembling.
A linden drops an ardent leaf.
The birches’ highest crowns are rustling.
The air is crisp and dry and clean.

Surroundings suddenly expand
And every sound around rings out,
Be that a tit’s peep or a curse,
An axe’s blow, a laugh, a cough.

And if this conflagration ever
Cuts short eternity’s long breath
Under the axe’s ringing blow
I’d know that now my time had come.

But I don’t burn though I catch fire.
I slowly breathe the smoke of time
That smells autumnal and elusive.
Hot tears keep falling on my kerchief.

In anguish I ask God, ‘Oh why
Am I a stranger to your world?
Just like your world I am on fire,
Just like your world I’ll always sin.


first published in «Okhapkin Readings» almanaс №1, 2015


More translated poems available — seeking publisher

© Josephine von Zitzewitz
© Vitaly Afanasiev/ photo
© «Russian culture»/2018