September 21, 2004 by AK

Temptation (1929), by Nikolai Zabolotsky

Death comes to man,

Tells him, “Master,

“You’re like a cripple,

“Bitten by insects.

“Quit living, follow me:

“It’s quiet at my place, in the grave;

“With a white shroud I will cover

“All from the young to the old.

“Don’t grieve that there will be a pit,

“That knowledge will die with you:

“The field will till itself,

“Rye will rise without the plough.

“The sun will get fierce at noon,

“Cool towards the evening,

“And you, taught by experience,

“White and mighty,

“With a little square copper cross

“Will sleep in a neat coffin.”

“Death, don’t touch the master,”

The peasant replies,

“For the sake of my wretched old age

“Spare me for a moment,

“Give me a brief respite,

“Let me go. And then

“I shall give you my only daughter

“For your good works.”

Death neither weeps nor laughs,

Takes the maiden in his hands

And rushes like a flame,

And the grass is bending ‘neath him

From the log hut to the gate.

There’s a hillock in the field,

In the hill, the maid is fussing:

“Oh, to lie here in the coffin!

Both my bonnie hands have blackened,

Locks are dust,

Feather-grass grows from the breasts.

Hard to lie here in the grave,

My thin lips have rot away,

Circles two instead of the eyes,

And my sweetheart’s gone!”

Death is flying above the hillock,

Laughing out and sad,

Shoots a gun at it

And leaning over, says:

“Nonsense, baby, ‘nough of it,

Enough bawling in the grave!

There’s a world above the world,

Get yourself out of the coffin!

Hear the wind blow in the field–

Night is setting in again.

Caravans of sleepy stars

Have flown by, have rushed away.

Done’s your fasting underground,

Hey, why don’t you try and rise?”

The maiden threw up her bonnie hands–

Could not believe her ears–

Knocked out the board, sprang up,

Plop! and burst along the seams.

So the poor thing’s flowing and flowing

In the shape of little guts.

In the place of her chemise

Powder’s left.

From all openings of her body

Little worms timidly peer,

In the shape of little grubs

Drinking the pink fluid.

‘Twas a maiden–’tis now shti.

Laughter, don’t laugh, wait a wee!

The sun will go up, the clay will crack,

All at once will the maiden arise.

From the cannon bone

A young tree will grow,

The young tree will murmur low,

Will sing songs about the maid,

Sweet voice ringing:

“Lull-a-bye, lull-a-bye,

“Nighty-night, my sweet child.

“The wind has flown off to the field,

“The moon has turned white in the sky.

“Good folks sleeping in their huts,

“Kittens a plenty they have got,

“And each tom cat

“Had red gates,

“Blue fur-coats they wear,

“All in golden boots,

“All in golden boots,

“Very, very pricey…”

Fin. Oh, and Death is a she in Russian.


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