»  From Boris Pasternak's "The Waves"


From "The Waves"

by Boris Pasternak, 1890-1960


•  Background

In December 2011 I was invited to give some talks in Moscow. One of the venues was the Lectorium of the Polytechnic Museum, a historic place whose stage has been trodden by many great names in Russian science and literature.

Out of respect for all that, I opened my presentation with the following brief introduction in English. (An interpreter was translating into Russian as I spoke.)

I have been told that this Lectorium of the Polytechnic Museum has been a venue for many great names in modern Russian culture, including poets: Mayakovskiy, Blok, Yevtushenko, Voznesensky, and others.

It is a great honor to speak at a place associated with such immortals; but I have the superstitious feeling that I should try to win a little favor with their ghosts before proceeding with my talk.

In a spirit of humility, therefore, I offer a few apt lines from Boris Pasternak. I beg you, and any ghosts who may be listening, to excuse my poor Russian.

I then read some lines, in Russian, from Boris Pasternak's meditative, atmospheric poem "The Waves." The lines are reproduced below. They were suggested to me by a Russian friend; and it is his voice you hear on the reading.


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem

Есть в опыте больших поэтов
Черты естественности той
Что невозможно, их изведав,
Не кончить полной немотой

В родстве со всем, что есть, уверясь
И знаясь с будущим в быту,
Нельзя не впасть к концу, как в ересь,
В неслыханную простоту

Но мы пощажены не будем,
Когда ее не утаим.
Она всего нужнее людям,
Но сложное понятней им.


Here it is in English, from George Reavey's book The Poetry of Boris Pasternak (New York, 1959).

In the experience of great poets
Some traits proclaim such naturalness
That, having found them, we can't do more
Than end by being completely numb.

Assured of kinship with all things
And with the future closely knit,
We can't but fall — a heresy! —
To unbelievable simplicity.

But to be spared we can't expect
If we do not conceal it closely.
Men need it more than anything,
But complex things are easier for them …