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Lyrics translations

Porcelain Pavilion
All lyrics by Nikolai Gumilev


Porcelain Pavilion

translated by: Maya Jouravel

Amidst the waters of a man-made lake,
A porcelain pavilion rises high.
The way to it is lead by jasper bridge
That's cambered like a tiger's back.

And that pavilion houses friends tonight,
They are attired for the holidays;
The dragon patterns on their chalices,
They glitter with the warmed-up wine.

Friends turn from chatting their happy chats
To jotting down their happy songs;
They push off foreheads their yellow hats,
And roll up their yellow sleeves.

Transparent lake reflects so clearly
The bridge curved in as if the jasper moon, And friends who gathered at this hour
See their reflections upside down.

Chinese Girl

translated by: Richard McKane
source: N.Gumilev. 1999. The pillar of fire and selected poems

A pale blue summer-house
in the middle of a river,
like a wicker cage
where butterflies live.

I look at the sunset
from this summer-house,
sometimes I look
at how the twigs rock,

how the twigs rock,
how the boats slide by,
bending past the summer-houses
in the middle of the river.

In my dungeon I have
a bush of porcelain roses,
the tail of a metal bird
sparkles with gold.

Not believing in enticements,
I write on silk
serene tankas
about love and anguish.

My fiancé is more and more in love,
although he's bald and tired,
recently he passed
all his exams in Canton.


translated by: Richard McKane
source: N.Gumilev. 1999. The pillar of fire and selected poems

The small lake is calm
like a cup full of water.

Bamboos just like huts,
trees like a sea of roofs.

Sharp rocks, like pagodas,
rear up among the flowers.

I am happy to think that
eternal nature learns from us.


translated by: Maya Jouravel

I heard from the garden a woman singing,
But I… I gazed at the moon.

My thoughts never wondered about that woman —
Since I fell in love with the moon.

No stranger am I to the beautiful goddess —
I do sense her gaze in return.

And neither tree branches or bats in the darkness
Will ever conceal me from her.

She likes her reflection in eyes of the poets,
Who have long forgotten their wives.

They look like the glittering scales of the dragons —
The hallowed bards of the seas.

Moon Over the Sea

translated by: Maya Jouravel

The moon relinquished sharp-edge cliffs at sea line,
And with transparent gold: the waters shine;
On board of their pointed boat, this evening
The friends enjoy their heated glass of wine.

When looking at the clouds passing swiftly
Through the reflection of the moonlight post;
Some of the friends will find those clouds closely
Resembling the holy women's ghosts.

Another group imagine those clouds
As heaven bound souls of pious men;
The third of friends insist without doubts,
The clouds resemble caravan of swans.


translated by: B. Raffel & A. Burago
source: Selected Works of Nikolai S. Gumilev, 1972

My words spawned giants,
and they sat guzzling wine
all night, crimson wine,
horrible wine.

I would not have known such weariness
had they been drinking my blood;
Dawn's fingers were running across
my back when I fell asleep.

I woke when it was evening.
The swamps were breathing mist,
a heavy, uncomfortable breeze
blew warm from the southern gates.

And suddenly I felt an immense wound,
an intense sorrow that there had been a day
without me, a day that passed while I slept,
passed and was gone where it pleased . . .

If I could run where the light went, and catch it!
But I have no power
to rip up this sinister notebook,
my book of dark phantoms and visions of night.


translated by: Maya Jouravel

Dear girl, your cheeks are soft and tender,
And your breasts, like little hills, are slender,

Fall in love with me and from this instance
We will never live apart in distance.

My piragua, we will board together,
And the wind will set our sail untethered.

Should you wish to ride an elephant, dear,
I will be your loyal karnak there.

Should you turn into the moon one evening,
I'll become a cloud so to be near you.

Should you be liana of the jungle
I will turn into a bird or a monkey.

On the mountain peak you climb, my dear,
Looking into the abyss with awe and fear

Even if they put my feet in irons,
I will climb that peak despite all tyrants.

Yet my skills are useless for tomorrow
I am destined for a bitter sorrow.

You don't love me; so I soon start perish
Like a bull deprived of juicy daisies.

With no single kiss that I could cherish
On that cheek of yours so fresh and rosy.

The Road (Way)

translated by: Maya Jouravel

I stared at the unfolding road,
Beneath the shadow of grand oaks, —
Such a familiar old road,
Surrounded by flower fence.

The evening fog starts slowly setting,
Uneasy sadness brings me tears,
When every pebble on this road
Seems so familiar and dear.

Why would I ever take the road —
It will not bring me to the place
Where air gets stifled in my throat —
The house where my beloved lives.

When she was born, her feet were strangled
They put them in the iron gyves.
And she grew up to be a stranger
To shady roads' calling vibes.

When she was born, her heart was strangled
They put it in the iron gyves.
And she, who's been my heart's desire,
Will never be my dear wife.


translated by: Richard McKane
source: N.Gumilev. 1999. The pillar of fire and selected poems

These days flared brighter than gold
and the Great Bear-night ran.
Catch her, prince, catch her,
lasso her and strap her to your saddle!

Through the woods and over the ditch
She was running to see the wizard,
So together they could tell fortunes
And destroy the youthful spring.

Lasso her and strap her to your saddle,
and then in the pale blue tower
show the Great Bear-night
to your knightly Dog.

The Dog holds on with deadly grip,
he is brave, powerful and cunning,
he has been bearing a beastly anger
for bears from time immemorial.

The great Joy will step on the porch,
And whisper with a smile,
“I love you, prince, and for you
I revealed my face”.

© 2011 Little Tragedies