These lyrical snippets by Boris Pasternak (1890-1960) come from a book of English translations of the great writer’s poetry given to me by his son Evgeny, whom I met In Moscow in 1991, at the time of glasnost. Evgeny had given up his career as an engineer to prepare his father’s unpublished work for release. (In 1958 the author of Doctor Zhivago had to decline the Nobel Prize at the behest of the Soviet authorities who had banned his novel). These early poems have a tremendous brio.


The swifts have no strength any more to retain,

To check the light-blue evening coolness.

It burst from their breasts, from their throats, under strain,

And flows out of hand in its fullness.

There is not a thing that could stop them, up there,

From shrilly, exultedly crying,

Exclaiming: The earth has made off to nowhere,

O look! It has vanished – O triumph!

As cauldrons of water are ended in steam

When quarrelsome bubbles are rising –

Look – there is no room for the earth – from the seam

Of the gorge to the drawn-out horizon!

1915 – Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater


It’s a whistle blown ripe in a trice,

It’s the cracking of ice in a gale,

It’s a night that turns green leaves to ice,

It’s a duel of two nightingales.

It is sweet-peas run gloriously wild.

It’s the world’s twinkling tears in the pod,

It is Figaro like hot hail hurled

From the flutes on the wet flower bed.

It is all that night hopes to find

On the bottom of deep bathing pools,

It’s the star carried to the fish-pond

In your hands, wet and trembling and cool.

This close air is as flat as the boards

In the pond. The sky’s flat on its face.

It would be fun if these stars guffawed –

But the universe is a dull place.

1917 – Translated by Sergei Roy