Blok, 1903

Alexander Blok wrote this poem aged twenty-two, in 1903, two years before the start of the first Russian revolution. This is not a word-by-word translation but, I hope, one accurate enough, if thoroughly unpoetic.

– Is everything quiet among the people?
– No. The emperor has been killed.
Someone is talking about a new freedom
In the squares.

– Is everyone ready to rise?
– No. They are turning to stone and waiting.
Someone has ordered to wait.
They are roaming and singing songs.

– Who, then, is appointed to rule?
– The people want no rule.
Civic passions are slumbering.
Someone is heard coming.

– Who is he, then, the tamer of the people?
– He is dark, and wicked, and fierce.
A monk, by the entrance to a cloister,
Has seen him and gone blind.

To unexplored abysses
He is driving men like herds,
Driving them with an iron staff.
– God! Let’s run away from the Judgment.

I should add, perhaps, that Alexander II was only assassinated 22 years before Blok’s poem. A Russian emperor dying at the hand of a revolutionary, rather than a courtier, was no longer a merely theoretical possibility. This is not to pedestrianize Blok’s extraordinary vision and intuition, of course.

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