Katherine E. Young – Five Poems about Moscow

Mikhail Lermontov 


(fragment of the poem’s first chapter)


Moscow, Moscow! I love you like a son,
I love you like a Russian – strongly, ardently,
Tenderly! I love the sacred shine
Of your gray hairs and your crenelated Kremlin
Serene. A foreign sovereign thought in vain
To match wits with you, age-old Russian
Giant, to deceive and throw you down.
The stranger struck at you to no avail:
Because when you shuddered – down he fell!
The universe fell silent…. Majestic, only
You live, the inheritor of our glory.


You live! You live, and every stone of yours
Is a legend cherished by generations.
I used to sit in the shade of a corner
Tower and watch an autumn ray of sun
Play with moss that grew in a damp fissure,
And from their nest hidden in the eaves,
Out flew swallows – strangers to human beings –
Up and down, circling, swirling, dashing
Around. And I, so full of the will of passions,
Envied them their life of obscurity,
A life celestial, like hope – and free.

Between 1836 and 1839


(фрагмент первой главы поэмы)


Москва, Москва!.. люблю тебя как сын,
Как русский, – сильно, пламенно и нежно!
Люблю священный блеск твоих седин
И этот Кремль зубчатый, безмятежный.
Напрасно думал чуждый властелин
С тобой, столетним русским великаном,
Померяться главою и – обманом
Тебя низвергнуть. Тщетно поражал
Тебя пришлец: ты вздрогнул – он упал!
Вселенная замолкла… Величавый,
Один ты жив, наследник нашей славы.


Ты жив!… Ты жив, и каждый камень твой –
Заветное преданье поколений.
Бывало, я у башни угловой
Сижу в тени, и солнца луч осенний
Играет с мохом в трещине сырой,
И из гнезда, прикрытого карнизом,
Касатки вылетают, верхом, низом
Кружатся, вьются, чуждые людей.
И я, так полный волею страстей,
Завидовал их жизни безызвестной,
Как упованье вольной, поднебесной.

<Между 1836 и 1839>

Mikhail Lermontov (1814-1841) wrote more than 600 poems, five plays, and the novel A Hero of Our Time during his short career, which ended in a fatal duel. The poem “Sashka,” from which these two fragments are taken, runs to 149 stanzas; “Sashka” is one of 30 long poems written by Lermontov. Both a Romantic and, later, a realist writer, Lermontov is among Russia’s greatest poets.


Lev Mei  (1822-1862)



Beyond blue mountain chains,
Beyond fields spreading wide,
There, where weary eyes
See only earth and sky –
There sleeps the giant-city,
Resting its elbows on hills,
Bending to lowland dales,
Wrapping itself in mist;
It wears a golden crown
Made all of cupolas;
The wind plays with its belt,
Its river-belt of blue,
This holy daughter of greatness,
Head of all of Russia,
Golden-domed Moscow,
Our beloved mother!
The sky’s plain sprang to life
As daybreak’s chariot
Of ruby, silver, amber
Darted its way along;
It stole through fog to the city
Along its fiery path,
And there Dawn touched the giant
With a pale-rose hand….

1840‒1841 (?)



Там, за синей цепью гор,
За широкими полями,
Где усталый видит взор
Только землю с небесами –
Там спит город-великан,
На холмы облокотившись,
К долам низменым склонившись,
Завернувшися в туман;
Весь из куполов, блистает
На главе венец златой;
Ветер с поясом играет,
С синим поясом-рекой,
То величья дочь святая,
То России голова,
Наша матушка родная,
Златоглавая Москва!
Ожила небес равнина,
Вот помчалася заря,
В колеснице из рубина,
Серебра и янтаря;
Пробралась, среди тумана,
К граду огненной тропой
И коснулась великана
Бледно-розовой рукой…

<1840 – 1841?>

Lev Mei (1822-1862) was a dramatist, poet, and translator active in both Moscow and Petersburg literary circles. Composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov created three operas, including The Tsar’s Bride, from Mei’s historical dramas. Tchaikovsky composed music to accompany a number of Mei’s poems and translations.


Karolina Pavlova  (1807-1893)


Day of quiet dreams, grey and sad;
In the sky, a foul haze of clouds
And on the air a distant pealing,
Bells ringing in all Moscow’s towers.

And, called forth unexpectedly
By the power of this hour’s daydream,
A different hour – a clear night when
I tore on horseback across the fields.

Faster! Faster! And stopping the obedient
Horse on a ridge, I looked down into
The valleys’ expanses: it seemed
The sun, burning, already touched them.

There shone the city of palaces,
Cathedrals, stretching out below,
As if not made by human hands,
And in me something suddenly woke.

Moscow! Moscow! What’s in that sound?
What heartfelt echo lies within?
Why such kinship with a poet?
So much power over peasants?

Why does it seem that here, in you,
All Rus’ awaits us in plain sight,
Awaits us, loving? Why do I look
On you, Moscow, with shining eyes?

Your palaces stand downcast, your brilliance
Is extinguished, your voice now mute.
No trace of fashion’s left in you,
No famous deeds, no mundane doings.

What kind of secret understanding
Is laid down in a Russian heart
That arms stretch out in warm embrace
When you gleam white, seen from afar?

Moscow! Not for nothing did
We give our lives for you, give
Our blood in times of fear and sadness,
Preserving thus a sacred love.

Not for nothing did the people
Lay down their lives in battle’s roar
And fall on Borodino plain,
Saying, “Have mercy on Moscow, Lord!”

Blessed was the seed then sown,
Because it carries a splendid bud,
And we, the fledgling tribe, will preserve
Our father’s gift, command of love.



День тихих грез, день серый и печальный;
На небе туч ненастливая мгла,
И в воздухе звон переливно-дальный,
Московский звон во все колокола.

И, вызванный мечтою самовластной,
Припомнился нежданно в этот час
Мне час другой, – тогда был вечер ясный,
И на коне я по полям неслась.

Быстрей! быстрей! и, у стремнины края
Остановив послушного коня,
Взглянула я в простор долин: пылая,
Касалось их уже светило дня.

И город там палатный и соборный,
Раскинувшись широко в ширине,
Блистал внизу, как бы нерукотворный,
И что-то вдруг проснулося во мне.

Москва! Москва! что в звуке этом?
Какой отзыв сердечный в нем?
Зачем так сроден он с поэтом?
Так властен он над мужиком?

Зачем сдается, что пред нами
В тебе вся Русь нас ждет любя?
Зачем блестящими глазами,
Москва, смотрю я на тебя?

Твои дворцы стоят унылы,
Твой блеск угас, твой глас утих,
И нет в тебе ни светской силы,
Ни громких дел, ни земных.

Какие ж тайные понятья
Так в сердце русском залегли,
Что простираются объятья,
Когда белеешь ты вдали?

Москва! в дни страха и печали
Храня священную любовь,
Недаром за тебя же дали
Мы нашу жизнь, мы нашу кровь.

Недаром в битве исполинской
Пришел народ сложить главу
И пал в равнине Бородинской,
Сказав: «Помилуй, бог, Москву!»

Благое было это семя,
Оно несет свой пышный цвет,
И сбережет младое племя
Отцовский дар, любви завет.


Karolina Pavlova (1807-1893) was a poet, translator, and novelist. She spoke four languages and wrote her own first poems in German and French; her translations of Schiller (into French) were published in Paris. As a young woman, she was at one time engaged to Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz. A highly educated and cultured woman, she was never fully accepted as a poet in Russian literary circles; she lived the last four decades of her life in Dresden. Her novel A Double Life is written in both poetry and prose.


Aleksei Khomiakov (1804-1860)


Under night’s chasuble, in silence,
Moscow waited; and the holy hour
Arrived: a mighty ringing swept
The earth, and the air, humming, quivered.
The thunder, melodious, silver,
Brought news of holy exultation;
And, hearing that voice, so well-known
To her soul, great Moscow arose.
It’s still the same voice: it knows neither
Our worries nor our petty cares,
And, herald of redemption, from above
It sings to us a single song –
Song of victory, of the end
Of bondage. We listen; but how
Do we heed? Do stubborn knees
Bend? Do haughty minds bow down?
Will we open our arms to those
Who suffer, brothers in need? Will we
Recall that this word – brothers – is dearer
Than all earthly words, and most holy?



В безмолвии, под ризою ночною,
Москва ждала; и час святой настал:
И мощный звон промчался над землею,
И воздух весь, гудя, затрепетал.
Певучие, серебряные громы
Сказали весть святого торжества;
И, слыша глас, её душе знакомый,
Подвиглася великая Москва.
Всё тот же он: ни нашего волненья,
Ни мелочно-торжественных забот
Не знает он, и, вестник искупленья,
Он с высоты нам песнь одну поёт, –
Победы песнь, песнь конченного плена.
Мы слушаем; но как внимаем мы?
Сгибаются ль упрямые колена?
Смиряются ль кичливые умы?
Откроем ли радушные объятья
Для страждущих, для меньшей братьи всей?
Хоть вспомним ли, что это слово – братья –
Всех слов земных дороже и святей?


Aleksei Khomiakov (1804-1860) was a poet, artist, theologian, and philosopher who co-founded the Slavophile movement that rejected Western philosophy in favor of Russian ideals of spirituality. As a young man he wrote poetry and drama and studied painting in Paris; much of his writing was published only after his death.


Afanasii Fet  (1820-1892)

* * *

A marvelous May day in Moscow:
The church crosses glittered,
Swallows circled beneath the window
And resonantly twittered.

I sat beneath the window, in love,
Young and sick at heart.
Distant sounds from the bell towers
Buzzed like bees from afar.

Suddenly, like an organ, the far-off
Sounds swelled in harmony;
At that harmonious song, my own
Soul shook instinctively.

And the singing choir arose and walked –
And, with inexplicable strength,
The silence of the grave then merged
In my soul with the face of heaven.

And the singing choir arose and walked –
And a black row of people,
Walking with their heads uncovered,
Stretched out piously.

And then the singing choir went past,
Passed beneath my eyes,
And then the pink-lined coffin passed
Behind the noisy choir.

A warm breeze was blowing then,
Causing the pall to sway,
And then to me it seemed, indeed,
A young soul hovered there.

Spring brilliance, all the noise of spring,
Harmonious sounds of prayer –
Everything fluttered with quiet wings
Above sad separation.

Behind the coffin the mother walked,
Unsteady – the funereal
Wailing! But to me it seemed
The suffering felt easy.


* * *

Был чудный майский день в Москве;
Кресты церквей сверкали,
Вились касатки под окном
И звонко щебетали.

Я под окном сидел, влюблен,
Душой и юн и болен.
Как пчелы, звуки вдалеке
Жужжали с колоколен.

Вдруг звуки стройно, как орган,
Запели в отдаленьи;
Невольно дрогнула душа
При этом стройном пеньи.

И шел и рос поющий хор, –
И непонятной силой
В душе сливался лик небес
С безмолвною могилой.

И шел и рос поющий хор, –
И черною грядою
Тянулся набожно народ
С открытой головою.

И миновал поющий хор,
Его я минул взором,
И гробик розовый прошел
За громогласным хором.

Струился теплый ветерок,
Покровы колыхая,
И мне казалось, что душа
Парила молодая.

Весенний блеск, весенний шум,
Молитвы стройной звуки –
Всё тихим веяло крылом
Над грустию разлуки.

За гробом шла, шатаясь, мать.
Надгробное рыданье! –
Но мне казалось, что легко
И самое страданье.


Afanasii Fet (1820-1892), often called Russia’s “greatest lyric poet,” was a close friend of Leo Tolstoy. He believed in a firm distinction between the “real” and the “ideal,” writing poetry that extolled the latter. He also wrote essays, memoirs, short stories, and novellas, but he is best remembered as the man Tchaikovsky called “a musician-poet.”

Author’s Statement on Beauty

The city I love most in the world is Moscow. The first sight I had of the city came in the late summer of 1981, on an orange Intourist bus that chugged along from the airport through a seemingly-endless caravan of trucks belching smoke: dirty, sprawling, drab. And yet, amid the grimness and repression of the last decade of Soviet power, I found a vibrant, colorful, resilient city thronged, like all great cities, with adventurers and dreamers. The city has been conquered, burned, brutalized, and pillaged, not least by those who claim to love it best – but it endures. For some, the city’s beauty lies in its geography, in its rivers and hills; for others, it is the monasteries, palaces, and bell towers. For me, it lies in the shades of people, real and imagined, who stroll around Patriarch’s Pond in June, when the nights are clear and cool, and puffs of pukh (cottonwood seed) float out across the water.

The various beauties of Moscow suffuse a new anthology of poems, 100 стихотворений о Москве. Антология (100 Poems about Moscow: an Anthology), which is forthcoming in early 2017 from OGI. The anthology’s editor, Russian poet Maksim Amelin, has collected some of the most beautiful and beloved poems written about the city and commissioned a number of translators, including me, to bring them into English. The five poems presented here, which were written during the twenty-one-year period from 1836 to 1857 by some of Russia’s greatest nineteenth-century poets, depict a city far different from the one that exists today. At that time, the capital of imperial Russia had been moved to St. Petersburg and, as Karolina Pavlova (a rare female voice in nineteenth-century Russian poetry) laments here, addressing the city, “Your palaces stand downcast, your brilliance / Is extinguished, your voice now mute. / No trace of fashion’s left in you / No famous deeds, no mundane doings.” And yet. And yet. Each of these poets, from Mikhail Lermontov to Afanasii Fet (either of whom could fairly claim to be Russia’s greatest poet after Alexander Pushkin), finds remarkable power and beauty in the ancient city, its physicality, its religious and moral authority, its inhabitants. Moscow is the beating heart of a proud and complex people who walk the earth in their own way: these poems give us at least an inkling of why.


Katherine E. Young is the author of Day of the Border Guards, 2014 Miller Williams Arkansas Poetry Prize finalist, and two chapbooks; she currently serves as the inaugural Poet Laureate for Arlington, VA. Young is also the translator of Two Poems by Inna Kabysh; her translations of Russian poets Xenia Emelyanova and Inna Kabysh won third prize in the Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender competitions in 2014 and 2011, respectively. Young’s translations have appeared in Notre Dame Review, The White Review, Words without Borders, and The Penguin Book of Russian Poetry; a full-length collection of Inna Kabysh’s poems was a finalist for the 2016 Cliff Becker Book Prize in Translation. Young was awarded a 2017 Fellowship in Translation by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Author Photo Credit: Samantha H. Collins