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Susan Ye Laird, poetry magazine, poetry translations
     with S. Ye Laird

This month we feature poems by Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev (1886-1921), translated by Don Mager. As July 4th coming around,  what is on our readers mind? I finished watching Seasons of "TURN:  Washington's spy ring Culper" and Seasons of 'House of Cards'.  I can't help but wonder on this theme 'Death comes to war poets', during my absentee years since American Revolutionary War in 1776...


by Nikolai Gumilev

translated by Don Mager

Today I see your gaze is especially sad,

And your hands embracing your knees, especially thin.

Listen: far, far away on Lake Chad*

A slender giraffe is grazing.

Bestowed with the luxury of harmonious grace,

Its skin is decorated in patterns, so magical

That only the shadow patterns of moonlit nights

Across the dashing waves of the wide lake rival.

From a distance it’s like a ship’s colored sail,

Its gait is smooth like the joyful flight of birds.

I know earth will witness wonders at nightfall

When it flees to its grotto of marble and hides.

I can tell quaint tales of far exotic lands,

Of a black maiden and a young chief’s passion,

But for too long you have been breathing in

This heavy fog trusting in nothing but rain.

And I can tell you of a tropic garden’s shade

With harmonious palms and aromatic grasses . . .

Are you crying? Listen . . . far away on Lake Chad

A slender giraffe is grazing.



Сегодня, я вижу, особенно грустен твой взгляд,

И руки особенно тонки, колени обняв.

Послушай: далеко, далеко, на озере Чад

Изысканный бродит жираф.

Ему грациозная стройность и нега дана,

И шкуру его украшает волшебный узор,

С которым равняться осмелится только луна,

Дробясь и качаясь на влаге широких озер.

Вдали он подобен цветным парусам корабля,

И бег его плавен, как радостный птичий полет.

Я знаю, что много чудесного видит земля,

Когда на закате он прячется в мраморный грот.

Я знаю веселые сказки таинственных стран

Про черную деву, про страсть молодого вождя,

Но ты слишком долго вдыхала тяжелый туман,

Ты верить не хочешь во что-нибудь, кроме дождя.

И как я тебе расскажу про тропический сад,

Про стройные пальмы, про запах немыслимых трав...

Ты плачешь? Послушай . . . далеко, на озере Чад

Изысканный бродит жираф.


by Nikolai Gumilev

translated by Don Mager


Today I saw the strangest dream,

I dreamed I sparkled in the sky:

But life, the grim Madame,

Had cast bad fate my way.

I’d been changed into a jaguar,

I burned with mad desires,

My heart flamed dreadful fire,

My muscles shook and shuddered.

And in a desolate field

I crept to a human house

To catch my midnight food

As god ordained I must.

Abrupt in the dark shadows

I saw a gentle maiden,

Her earrings dangling glowed

With doe-like queenly glance.

“A figment of bliss, the White Bride” . . .

Trembling and my thoughts confused

“Stop where you are,” she said

With a look full of love and peace.

Silently I obeyed her command,

I lay as if snared by her words;

Like a jackal I was pinned

By voracious dogs set loose.

She entered the shade of a copse

With light silent doe-like steps,

The moon made her earring glow

And stars communed with her pearls.

Nikolai Stepanovich Gumilev (1886-1921) was an adventurer and poet, and

became Akhmatova’s first husband.  They were married in 25 August 1910,

separated in 1913 and finally divorced in 1918. They had one son, Lev.  While married both engaged in other relationships, but their commitment to each other as writers never flagged, and when the Bolsheviks arrested him on 3 August 1921 executed him on 25th August as a monarchist, she grieved deeply.  He was one of the founders of the Poet’s Guild, which enunciated the principles of the Acmeist movement, and along with Mikhael Kuzmin wrote important essays and reviews that argued the Acmeist aesthetic particularly in opposition to Russian symbolism.  His poems are of interest and have been republished in Russia and translated into English.  Sponsored by the Imperial Russian Geographic Society, he went to Africa several times visiting Egypt, east and central regions.  He brought back artifacts housed in several Russian museums.   African subjects are featured in many of his poems—the first Russian poems to feature such themes.  After his early volumes in the Acmeist mode he later returned to a style closer to symbolism.  In his last unpublished poems, he developed new style akin to later surrealists.  The late poems are much admired by Russian critics.



Странный сон увидел я сегодня:

Снилось мне, что я сверкал на небе,

Но что жизнь, чудовищная сводня,

Выкинула мне недобрый жребий.

Превращен внезапно в ягуара,

Я сгорал от бешеных желаний,

В сердце — пламя грозного пожара,

В мускулах — безумье содроганий.

И к людскому крался я жилищу

По пустому сумрачному полю

Добывать полуночную пищу,

Богом мне назначенную долю.

Но нежданно в темном перелеске

Я увидел нежный образ девы

И запомнил яркие подвески,

Поступь лани, взоры королевы.

«Призрак Счастья, Белая Невеста»...

Думал я, дрожащий и смущенный,

А она промолвила: «Ни с места!»

И смотрела тихо и влюбленно.

Я молчал, ее покорный кличу,

Я лежал, ее окован знаком,

И достался, как шакал, в добычу

Набежавшим яростным собакам.

А она прошла за перелеском

Тихими и легкими шагами,

Лунный луч кружился по подвескам,

Звезды говорили с жемчугами.

Ошибка в тексте? Выделите

Lake Chad *

by Nikolai Gumilev

translated by Don Mager

On mysterious Lake Chad

Among the ancient baobabs**

Guided by majestic Arabs

The carved-out feluccas scud

Among the trees along the banks

And from foothills spread with green,

To terrible gods, the maidens chant,

Priestesses with ebony skin.


I was the wife of a mighty warrior,

The daughter of a great chief in Chad,

And I only throughout the rains of winter

Performed the sacred rites due to our god.

They said — a distance of a hundred miles

No woman’s glowing splendor was my like;

I never took the bracelets from my arms,

My amber necklace never left my neck.


A warrior, white and handsome, came,

His lips were red, his look was calm,

He commanded like a king;

He opened the doorway to my heart

And when a heart is whispering,

Do not fight and do not wait.

He said how unlikely was the chance

That any woman in all of France

Was seductive and fine like me

And so, as sun began to rise,

He saddled up his Berber steed

To carry away the two of us.


My husband pursued us with his ready bow,

Ran through the thickets and the underbrush,

Swam across the shallow murky lakes

Leaped over crevices on the plateau

And lived in agony of flesh and soul.

Only the eye of the sun’s fierce crush

Watched the nomad warrior’s corpse

In the fury of his shame where his body fell.

And on a swift strong camel’s back

Encased in caressing folds of fabric

And precious skins of wild beasts,

I was carried north like a rare bird,

Fluttering my fan into the air

And relishing the expected delights.

I parted the delicate folds that hid me

Inside the many-colored canopy

And daringly bent to the peep-hole

Where I saw how the sun glowed

In the European’s blue eyes.

Now like a dead fig tree in an oasis

Whose leaves have fallen and blown away,

I am the useless and boring mistress

Cast off like a mere thing in Marseilles.

In order to feed on scraps and leftovers,

In order just to live, I have to dance

Before the vulgar crowds of drunk sailors

And let them have what way with me they choose.

My timid mind grows weak with suffering,

My gaze is fading with each hour I live . . .

When will I die? Buried in fields forgotten,

My husband waits but never will forgive.

Chad is the name of a region, the Chadian Basin, a lake, and now a modern nation. It is not the name of a tribe or ethnic group. A Chadian is a citizen of Chad, regardless of ethnicity, religion, region or language. The modern countries of Chad, Cameroon, Niger and Nigeria border upon 520 square mile large and shallow Lake Chad in central Africa

Озеро Чад


На таинственном озере Чад

Посреди вековых баобабов

Вырезные фелуки стремят

На заре величавых арабов.

По лесистым его берегам

И в горах, у зеленых подножий,

Поклоняются страшным богам

Девы-жрицы с эбеновой кожей.


Я была женой могучего вождя,

Дочерью властительного Чада,

Я одна во время зимнего дождя

Совершала таинство обряда.

Говорили — на сто миль вокруг

Женщин не было меня светлее,

Я браслетов не снимала с рук.

И янтарь всегда висел на шее.


Белый воин был так строен,

Губы красны, взор спокоен,

Он был истинным вождем;

И открылась в сердце дверца,

А когда нам шепчет сердце,

Мы не боремся, не ждем.

Он сказал мне, что едва ли

И во Франции видали

Обольстительней меня,

И как только день растает,

Для двоих он оседлает

Берберийского коня.


Муж мой гнался с верным луком,

Пробегал лесные чащи,

Перепрыгивал овраги,

Плыл по сумрачным озерам

И достался смертным мукам;

Видел только день палящий

Труп свирепого бродяги,

Труп покрытого позором.

А на быстром и сильном верблюде,

Утопая в ласкающей груде

Шкур звериных и шелковых тканей,

Уносилась я птицей на север,

Я ломала мой редкостный веер,

Упиваясь восторгом заране.

Раздвигала я гибкие складки

У моей разноцветной палатки

И, смеясь, наклонялась в оконце,

Я смотрела, как прыгает солнце

В голубых глазах европейца.


А теперь, как мертвая смоковница,

У которой листья облетели,

Я ненужно-скучная любовница,

Словно вещь, я брошена в Марселе.

Чтоб питаться жалкими отбросами,

Чтобы жить, вечернею порою

Я пляшу пред пьяными матросами,

И они, Смеясь, владеют мною.

Робкий ум мой обессилен бедами,

Взор мой с каждым часом угасает . . .

Умереть? Но там, в полях неведомых,

Там мой муж, он ждет и не прощает.

** The baobab is a tall distinctively shaped long lived tree native to Africa that produces an edible coconut-sized fruit. The felucca is a traditional wooden ship with one or two sails with a shallow keel used on the Nile, the Red Sea and other inland east African lakes and rivers.

Biography of our translator/Poet

Don Mager’s chapbooks and volumes of poetry are: To Track the Wounded One,

Glosses, That Which is Owed to Death, Borderings, Good Turns and The

Elegance of the Ungraspable, Birth Daybook Drive Time and Russian Riffs. He

is retired with degrees from Drake University (BA), Syracuse University

(MA) and Wayne State University (PhD). He was the Mott University Professor

of English at Johnson C. Smith University from 1998-2004 where he served as

Dean of the College of Arts and Letters (2005-2011). As well as a number of

scholarly articles, he has published over 200 poems and translations from

German, Czech and Russian. He lives in Charlotte, NC. 

Us Four Plus Four is an anthology of translations from eight major

Soviet-era Russian poets. It is unique because it tracks almost a half

century of their careers by simply placing the poems each wrote to the

others in chronological order. The 85 poems represent one of the most

fascinating conversations in poems produced by any group of poets in any

language or time period. From poems and infatuation and admiration to anger

and grief and finally to deep tribute, this anthology invites readers into

the unfolding lives of such inimitable creative forces as Anna Akhmatova,

Boris Pasternak, Marina Tsvetaeva and Osip Mandelstam.

                                       Voice clips of Russian Poets 

The Right Way

Birth of the word is by agony molded,
Through earthly life it is quietly going, 
It is a stranger, which drinks from the golden           
Pitcher the drops of the savages’ mourning.

Go to Nature! The Nature is hostile,
All here is frightening, all is in fullness,
There are the trumpets here, singing the docile 
Psalms to the Lord, apathetic and useless.

Death? But before you must weight with exactness,         
This tale of poets, and be very clever – 
You won’t be sorry for light and life’s greatness
But – for a thought which is reigning forever.

There is the way that is high and severe:
Bitterly cry with the winds, wild and bitter,
Live with the beggars in dens of a bear,                     
Frame the dark dreams in a mold of the meter.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, May, 2000

Selected poems by Nikolay Gumilev from PoetryLover's page 

Agamemnon's Warrior


A queer and fearful question is tight,
Oppresses my soul and tosses:
Can one be alive if Atreus has died --
Has died on a bed of roses.

All that we dreamed of and everywhere praised,
All our longing and fear --
Were fully reflected in those calm eyes,
As were in a glass of a tear.

Ineffable power dwelt in his hands,
A saga of feet was retold;
A beautiful cloud he was for his land
Mycenae -- the country of gold.

What am I? A fragment of ancient dread,
A javelin, fallen on earth --
Atreus, the leader of nations, is dead, --
But I have been spared by death.

The down is full with reproachful flame,
The waters enticingly sing,
It’s hard to exist with the horrible shame,
If one had forfeited one's king.

Translated by Yevgeny Bonver, October, 1995

Archive of  Translations: 

2017:                                                                                                           2016:

June,  May,  April,  March, Feb.,   Jan.                                                   Oct. , Nov., Dec.     

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