Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Nativity Poem by Boris Pasternak

Cover for the 1st Italian edition of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago / Image courtesy of the Hoover Institution

[NOTE: As I have done in previous years, I'm posting a nativity poem for the Christmas season. I've translated this one (into a lazy vers libre) from the selection of Zhivago poems at the back of Boris Pasternak's 1957 novel.]

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Star of the Nativity
by Boris Pasternak

Winter had set in.
Wind blew in from the steppe
and the child was cold in a dark den
on the slope of a hill.

He was kept warm by an ox’s breath.
Other beasts also
stood in the cave.
Above the manger floated a warm haze.

After shaking bits of straw and millet
from their thick furs,
herdsmen gazed sleepily
into the midnight distance from a cliff.

Far off lay a snowfield and churchyard,
fences and headstones,
a plank in a snowdrift,
and a sky full of stars above the graves.

Nearby, unknown until that night,
more timid than a candle
in a watchman’s window,
a star glimmered on the road to Bethlehem.

It flared up like a dry hayrick, apart
from God and heaven,
like an arson’s gleam,
like a farm and threshing-floor in flames.