Will you leave me alone? I implore you!
Dusk is ghastly. Life's noises subside.
I am helpless. And I am dying
Of the blind touch of your whelming tide.
He who freely abandons his country
on the heights to bewail it is free.
But now I am down in the valley
and now do not come close to me.
I'm prepared to lie hidden forever
and to live without name. I'm prepared,
lest we only in dreams come together,
all conceivable dreams do forswear;
to be drained of my blood, to be crippled,
to have done with the books I most love,
for the first available idiom
to exchange all I have: my own tongue.
But for that, through the tears, oh, Russia,
through the grass of two far-parted tombs,
through the birch tree's tremulous macules,
through all that sustained me since youth,
with your blind eyes, your dear eyes, cease looking
at me, oh, pity my soul,
do not rummage around in the coalpit,
do not grope for my life in this hole
because years have gone by and centuries,
and for sufferings, sorrow, and shame,
too late—there is no one to pardon
and no one to carry the blame.
Written in Russian and translated by VN himself
Not the sunset poem you make when you think
with its linden tree in India ink
and the telegraph wires across its pink
not the mirror in you and her delicate bare
shoulder still glimmering there;
not the lyrical click of a pocket rhyme—
the tiny music that tells the time;
and not the pennies and weights on those
evening papers piled up in the rain;
not the cacodemons of carnal pain;
not the things you can say so much better in plain prose—
but the poem that hurtles from heights unknown
—when you wait for the splash of the stone
deep below, and grope for your pen,
and then comes the shiver, and then—
in the tangle of sounds, the leopards of words,
the leaflike insects, the eye-spotted birds
fuse and form a silent, intense,
mimetic pattern of perfect sense.
Written in English.
Excerpted from Selected Poems by Vladimir Nabokov. Copyright © 2012 by The Estate of Vladimir Nabokov. Introduction and editorial material copyright © 2012 by Thomas Karshan. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.