Khodasevich translations

Here are some samples of my translations of Vladislav Khodasevich (1886-1939). A book of them will be published by Angel Classics in the autumn of 2013. You can see his work in Russian at

This is my translation of the poem “Gold”,  first published in PN Review, May 2010.


Go: now we place gold in your mouth, and we place poppy and honey in your hands.  Salve aeternum. – Krasinski

A gold coin in the mouth; hands full of poppy and honey:
these are the final gifts of your earthly business.

And don’t let them incinerate me like a Roman:
I want to taste my sleep in the womb of the earth.

I want to rise again as the spring corn,
circle the ancient track that the stars follow.

In the darkening grave, poppy and honey will rot,
the dead man’s mouth will swallow the gold coin…

But after many many years of darkness
a stranger will come and dig my skeleton up,

and inside the blackening skull that his spade
smashes, the heavy coin will clang –

and the gold will flash in the midst of bones,
a tiny sun, the imprint of my soul.

     7 January 1917

This is Khodasevich’s “Ballad of the Heavy Lyre” – my title, because there’s another poem of his also called “Ballada”. This also appeared in PN Review May 2010 (slightly tweaked since).

Ballad of the Heavy Lyre

I sit where the light is above me,
my circular room is my sphere;
I gaze at a plasterwork heaven
where the sun is an old chandelier.

And likewise illumined around me,
the chairs and the table and bed.
Should I sit with my hands in my pockets,
or where might I put them instead?

Silently, frost on the window
grows palm-trees and icy white flowers;
my watch ticks away in my waistcoat,
metallically counting the hours.

O my life is so worthless, a quagmire
where I’m stuck with no way to get free!
And who can I tell of my pity
for the things that I own, and for me?

And hugging my knees where I’m sitting,
I’m rocking, quite gently at first,
when out of the trance that I’ve entered
a chorus of verses has burst.

It’s nothing but passionate nonsense!
Whatever it means, it’s absurd,
but sound is more honest than meaning,
and strongest of all is a word.

And a music, the music of music
is twined in the song of my life,
and piercing me, piercing and piercing,
is the blade of the slenderest knife.

I find myself rising above me,
from where I exist but am dead;
my feet are in underground fire,
and a galaxy streams at my head.

I watch with my eyes ever wider –
how a serpent might see through the gloom –
I see my wild song is entrancing
the comfortless things in my room,

and the things begin dancing a measure,
with gracefully circling charms;
and somebody’s heavy lyre comes
from out of the wind to my arms.

And there is no plasterwork heaven,
no chandelier sun any more;
but the blackness of slippery boulders
and Orpheus, his feet on the shore.

     9–22 December 1921


2 thoughts on “Khodasevich translations

  1. […] he could still call on what he’d learnt from Symbolism – like Yeats in that respect. His poem “Gold” is about being dug up in the future, and at the risk of self-importance it feels as if I’m the […]

  2. Terese Coe says:

    These are bittersweet, Peter! Happy to find them. Ballad of the Heavy Lyre is something one of the characters in The Cherry Orchard could have (or should have) said.

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