NIGHT DESCENDED ON US WITH A CHILL
by Tomas Venclova
For Marina Kedrova
Night descended on us with a chill.
The low-roofed and soot-blackened archways
Looked onto ten stations as well
As ten parks, or more, sunk in November—
That settlement, circle, or zone
Where on the blind brickhouse wanders
A moving one-hundred watt beam:
In the labyrinth, mentor and escort.
Temporarily we make our home
In the kingdom of Ariadne and Minos.
Because of the fog and the gloom
For hours not a single plane takes off.
Every day again all trains are jammed—
How much space, how much air and unhappiness.
So those prisoners who returned home
Sometimes longed for the eye of the cell-guard.
Like a debt repaid to the void
Some familiar places stood opened:
I repeated inside my head: "bus,
University, monument, island."
I said: "Tomorrow I'll go,
I'll go or at least I'll try to."
And along the hither world's brow
My soul hurried on into limbo.
Old addresses grew suddenly near.
The alphabet changed form and meaning.
Voices grew faint and dead, I could hear,
Unable to find us two in either
This house's locked-up, empty cell
Where the paintings don't recognize me,
Nor in dreams, nor in heaven, nor even
Dante's second circle of hell.
Thus time is stopped; to be exact,
One ceases existence gradually.
It's just that each year, in effect,
You hear the phone ring more remotely,
And memory, day after day,
Shifts diameter like a compass
Till the past's a straight line on the page,
First pretending to turn into distance.
What you hear and see, I can't tell,
In reality chipped from reality.
The paved banks of Acheron withheld
The unfelt swell. Each nullity
Is separate, all on its own.
And the world lives its life without us.
There exist, in the end, alone
Dead silence and the nine muses.
Where the capital slowly revolves,
And the snow's games make us weary,
Where the fog hides all objects' selves,
Thank God for the dictionary.
In the kingdom where a friend's hand
Will never hurry to help you,
The void or the supreme power
Sends the angel—rhythm and language.
I ask not one moment's respite,
Neither death, nor forgiveness for sinning
—Only leave the primordial drumming
Over stone and the ice of the night.
(translated by David McDuff with the autbor)
See also Nel Mezzo Del Cammin