Eugene Dubnov


The way, upon lifting your eyes,
by chance
you saw in the window
a little sky of snow
flying to somewhere
as though
avoiding the glance.

(New Quarterly XX-4)


The world is a house
As cold as ice —
Impossible to keep warm.

Behind the wall
A sick old man trembles
Between white sheets.

I am slowly freezing
In this crypt of a house.
Can he survive?

I hear his rasping cough;
No medicine can help him now.
Winter is closing in.

(New Statesman, 16 September 1983; Quadrant, August 1985; Centennial Review XXX-4)
[I am grateful to Derek Mahon for suggesting some changes in my translation of this poem, written in Moscow in 1969, before printing it, in his capacity of editor of The New Statesman; Derek's generosity and modesty as both editor and poet was manifest in his unwillingness to credit his help when publishing the poem as written by me in English - ED.]


The Road

The road crosses wet ground,
raised on a causeway,
over buried ditches or pits,
near the spread of grasses and heather,
and moss-grown stones in an unfamiliar field,
under unending rain,
through the wet wind,
during the period of dormancy in seeds,
on a dark night when months and years are numbered.

The Tide

The tide begins at four,
and at six
the stones are covered with water
and the way to the shore is gone.

And he got up and went
knowing the rightness of the way
where the birds gather
in the wake of the wind
across the restless waves
breaking over the stones.

Coming to the Water

With the pain
warping the tongue
where the light depends on the wind
coming to the water
watching the light and listening to the wind
under the smart of the language.

(Published as a sequence in Partisan Review, LIII-1; Ambit 123;
parts had previously appeared in
Cumberland Poetry Review, Country Life, Mattoid, Cencrastus)


  For Tim Graham
The way leaves crackle, snow crunches on the ears,
The way the dog scrabbles at the rustling leaves and the snow.
He drags me to smells I cannot sense.
He knows the smell I have and do not know.
Back in the heart of the city,
I swallow pills, sell my book, file my letters
And take an old lady's dog out.
For a walk.
Once a week, on Wednesdays,
I converse with someone,
Who, selectively, takes notes —
I, as they tactfully put it,
Am seeing someone.

(Pacific Quarterly Moana, 6-2, Antigonish Review, 65,
The Yearbook of American Poetry, Beverly Hills, CA, 1985)



To restrain
the wavering leaves

between woodlands

the pre-dawn rippling of the grasses

between fields
between woodlands and fields

to avoid
the approach of the horses
to pass the horses by

between meadows
between woodlands and meadows and fields

under bridges
under the tent of the heavens


letting fall
the bright waves of her hair
betraying her beautiful tresses


Between green fields
beneath the extending tent of the sky

Translated from the Russian by the author
*Der Strom (The Stream) — a song by Schubert (Author's Note).

(Raritan Review, XXVII-3)



The dawn chorus — have you noticed — is
no longer heard: gone, they are all gone,
back into the trees and bushes of the woodland,
to moult and rest, make ready for next spring.
Milk-bottle tops are safe now that the tits
have left who used to pierce them when they needed
the extra energy to feed their young.
I miss these birds — I never did begrudge them
their badly needed portions of the cream,
thinking how they work eighteen hours a day
in order to provide for their large broods —
and feeling privileged to be of use to them.


"O mournful season that enchants the eye!"
A time of extra work for gardeners:
those in city parks are busy raking out
the leaves that choke margins of ponds and lakes;
on country estates they sweep the drives and mention,
matter-of-factly, different arbour species
shed their leaves at different times ("a man
who could devise a fluid which, injected
into the trees, would make their foliage fall,
would be a millionaire," opines the gardener's boy).
The walnut and the chestnut were among
the very first to go this autumn here;
beech, and London plane tree, and swamp cypress followed.
The elms still hold: their various shades of yellow
attract the eye among the conifers..
But it of course depends how much they're sheltered:
the sycamore that stands here, in the open,
is now completely bare, whereas the other
nearby the house beside the river still
has a few leaves. And then, what kind of autumn
we get should likewise be considered: thus,
last year it was sun and frost, the trees' pattern
was different: this chestnut, for example,
which now has taken some three months, then shed
most of its foliage on just one morning,
after a frosty night, within three hours
of sunrise — and a sumptuous glittering circle
of its own leaves formed on the ground about it.


The path is slippery, covered with rotting leaves;
as I come near, moorhens shoot out of the rushes
and race across the water. It is sometimes hard
to shuffle your feet through all those layers of red
and yellow scales, piled densely on your way.
Some thought half-stirs, some recognition dawns
as inter-city trains speed by and leave
silence behind — but, then, it's quickly filled
by the indigenous sounds of the river.


Necks outstretched, wings vibrant, Whooper Swans
flew overhead, calling each to each,
so clear and loud — the wintering flocks
above the Round Pond. Far away
was their registered address — in Arctic
Russia, in desolate tundra regions, pools and marshes,
nearby gigantic undeviating rivers
in northern forests, thousands of kilometres
distant from here... And then another flock,
And yet another, crying overhead.
(The New Welsh Review, 14)



Here in this park where five years ago
I ran in the early morning, brushing
A branch in white blossom with my hand,
The leaves fall now, abandoning their boughs,
Swirl gently, with light motion gliding downwards,
And lie upon the ground or stand upright,
Held by the living greenness of the earth.


I walk towards the square and sweat in the heat.
Tomorrow I have to collect a new pair of glasses
From the optician’s across the road.
I had a haircut at the local barber’s,
and people say now the thin patch
is much less obvious.
I think more often of sleep –
And with greater terror and despair.


Having parted from her friends, at the corner,
She turned to the left; the wind of spring
around her knees wrapped tightly
her green dress – and her coat,
unbuttoned, violently flapped
against her nylon stockings.


The old man who has been selling papers
around this precinct for nobody knows how long
has aged. He stumbles more and more. His cry
is even hoarser and less clear
than when I first heard it
thinking he was shouting, “Spiders!”
On this November night, cold by London standards,
I buy a paper which I don’t want,
giving him an extra fivepence.
“Well done,” he says – and passes on his way.


There are some buildings – council blocks – round here
That look like ships, with thick-set porthole windows
And storeys tapering towards the roof.
For some strange reason, it’s on rainy days
That they seem sailing – heading south,
Then down the Thames, to tack nor’-eastward there –
And further on, towards the Baltic Sea.

(Lines Review, 128; anthology Poesie Europe, Frankfurt am Main, 1988)


I ran along a narrow country lane
At the first light, towards the sunrise. Gloom
Was drifting restlessly, as if it grudged
To go away. A dunnock or a titlark
Flew suddenly ahead — or rather darted,
Covering some five yards in one long bound.
And then it waited, and as I approached
Again flew forward; and there was another
Already waiting next to it — they seemed
To play a kind of game...
Meanwhile the gaps between
The clouds were reddening. Everything looked strange.
Wind blew. Corn swayed. Mist lifted. The birds were gone —
And awesomely the molten sun arose.
Mongewell Park, Oxfordshire
(Ariel 32-4, Denver Quarterly 34-3, anthology Poesie Europe, Frankfurt am Main, 1988)


And in the summer
the soft grass in your garden,
with its bench,
its view over the city lights below,
and the shrubbery near the fence
where once I kissed a girl;
and the light
shining on the white table on the porch
when the garden was dark,
in the very heart of the city,
the flowers which remained open at night,
and the house,
your husband's photograph on the side-board,
and your daughters,
your grandchildren
playing tennis on the lawn.

And now the house and the garden are sold.
The summer is over.
Here the trees are swept by the wind,
the wind which sways the large grasses
and throws deep unquiet shadows.
The wings of the flowers are falling,
and the long and narrow leaves are wet.
The perishing of the branches is near.

(Arc 34, Cyphers 17)


  Walking the hills of Judaea with the
beautiful gentle God by my side...
  Walt Whitman
Walking the hills of Judaea
with the beautiful gentle God by my side
father I said
and gave a start upon hearing my voice
on the windy beach in Pirita
by the monument to a sunken ship at Kadriorg
by the Mermaid seamen and officers
ten times eighteen names
the sacred number
so many lives
only one death may God
rest their souls in peace
on the hills of Judaea with the beautiful
may rest in peace on the bottom
I said father
and did not recognise my voice
pushing off on Finnish sledges
in the crisp December night
just wait till father comes home
the three kopeck coin for a soft drink
was always given me
now no matter how you comb it still can be seen
sympathy laughter impatience of the doctors
the first question
and is your
can't be helped
the genes
I've got the right coins but the machine's broken
in the lively snapshot at the monument
when young
together with mother
with the beautiful gentle
a cut-off half
God by my side
cried father and could not
hear my voice
my head out of the window
of the railway carriage
walking the hills of Judaea

Translated by the author from his own Russian
(Iron 45)

DECEMBER, 31, 1977

  For Chris Newman
And in this foul weather,
when my throat is dry
and life passes by, passes by
without the foot of verse —

the ship is driven on the rocks,
the father's daughters are not kind,
and horses twitch, and scuff their hooves,
look down and listen to the night.

Tr. by the author
(Pacific Quarterly Moana 6-2, Cencrastus 8)


Where did I come from, who were my forebears, with what
cults of household gods, you ask in the name of our friendship.
If you are cognizant, Tullus, of the Perugian sepulchres,
cemeteries of the Italian fields in the time of our troubles,
strife when the townsmen of Rome were tearing the city apart
(for me the ashes of Tuscany bring a particular pain:
there the remains of my neighbour are lying not covered by earth,
there his bones are scattered, desolate under the sky) —
Umbria, contiguous, on the very edge of that plain,
Umbria, rich with its vineyards, gave me my birth.

(Ambit 162, Chicago Review 36-2)


See how the rivers are halted,
gripped by the ice, and in candour
mountains are standing; below them
see how the forests are weary.

Bring in the logs for the crackling
fire, and pour out the vintage
wine, and be warmed, and the worries
leave to the gods. Once they break up

furious winds and the maddened
spume of the sea, then the beech tree
will be assuaged, and the cypress
cease from its fretting. Be grateful,

boy, for what may be tomorrow,
flee from the search for the future,
do not repudiate love and
dances of summer, while whiteness

is still so far from your boyish
hair, when the fields and sweet calls of
night must be sought at the trysting
hour, in the time of the hasty

youthful embraces, of running,
laughing and teasing and hiding,
pour into life to the brim ful-
filment and relish of love.

(New Quarterly VIII-1, Country Life, December 22, 1983)


In what brief-spoken grass
On the north of the earth
Is the cold wind
Brushing your name?
The gusts of wind
Bend the unyielding sounds.
Your grass is firm,
Like breath forced from the throat.
Who wants to feel the taste of grass,
To bend the grass,
Who treads on the unbending grass
Of foreign names,
Who touches, who tries out the words
With the infirm hand, infirm lips?
Your grass stands up
In all its height.
Up to the height of grass
The hard hot sounds are to rise
And freeze against the northern wind.
From syllables my strength
I draw, I breathe out the name
In its entire height,
Sound following sound —
And now, already, my throat begins to burn
And, even as it burns, to ask for breath.

  July, 1979
(Colorado North Review XXVII-2, Ambit123)


                                        For Carol Rumens

How the snow’s dry prickles lash across
The lips and how the frost with iron band
Constricts the temples, I’m beginning now
Quite to forget in this unwintry land
Whose speech has room for everything except
The gnash of cold and rolling “r” in words:
Russia, frost, December, January,
Organ of utterance and the threat it risks,
Throttle, and blizzard, and the creaking trees,
Shudder in the breast around the heart,
Burning reddened fingers, blundering
In the nor’wester, and the vaporous breath
Inside the door, farewells, the rime that runs
Down eyebrows, throat and scarf, rightness and truth,
Fatherland, overcoat, the traitor snowdrifts,
Peril, fur-wrap, birth and mortality,
Metre and rhythm, warning and rank terror,
Frolic, severity and martyrdom,
A country’s degradation and foredooming,
Tyrant, prison-barracks, rattling fetters,
Incarceration, empire, spirit, road,
Nostrils, metropolis where burrows squirm,
The firmament and, at short range, the storm.

 Translated by the author, with thanks to John Heath-Stubbs for his advice 1982
(Southwest Review 70-3, Lines Review 128)


And all the sparrows
came greedy for crumbs
like poets for words —
as impertinent
and as vulnerable.

(Mid-America Poetry Review VI-1)


When I came back from jogging, John Heath-Stubbs
(An expert ornithologist, mind you)
Remarked to me: “Some joggers in Australia,
The radio says, have lately been molested
By magpies.” I was frightened and enquired
Further of him: “Why do you think, O John,
You great bird-expert, they attacked the joggers?”
“Because I think,” he answered, “they were looking
For some material with which to line
Their nests – and the dishevelled joggers’ hair
Must have appeared to them to be just right.”
“John,” I enquired further, “I’m half-bald:
What do you think then – would these birds be tempted
By my scant bits of hair – will they attack me?”
“No,” he answered, having thought, “I guess
Your head will not attract them – and besides,
The Australian magpie is much more aggressive,
Belonging to a different family,
The Piping Crows, or Cracticidae.”

(Overland 103)


How a poem is born
from a casual glance,
from an awareness of death,
from a feeling of shame —
as a play of wings,
an over-generous reward,
along the brief way
where cities are full of parks.

Tr. by the author
(Poetry Canada Review 7-4)


To fear
the opaque ground
And hear
how the flutes sound,

And dance
when the seeds harden —
To glance
at the golden garden —

Swelling from life into death like a cluster of grapes,
Taking the vault of the sky as perpetual reward.

Tr. by the author
(Poetry Canada Review 7-4, Country Life, 19 January 1984)


What richly perfumed boy with a good figure
flirts with you in an arbour of roses,
for whom do you now bind up
your yellow hair?
How often will he repine,
for broken faith and fickle gods
and harsh waters in dark winds —
unused as he is to them —
who now thinks you all pure gold
and hopes you'll always be there,
always ready for love.
How unaware he is of the treacherous breeze!..
Wretched are they
who never tried you out,
for whom you are still glittering.
As for me, I have hung up my soggy clothes
votive to the God of the Sea.

(Ariel 32-4)


A mixture of deciduous trees and conifers
Shadows the window.
Early evening.
Some birds crisscross between the various trees
That have now shed so much of their foliage.
I count the weeks between the autumnal equinox
And the winter solstice and discover
We are at the midpoint — I with one
Who died in sleep when seasonable gales
Could waken a dead man.
He'd asked to be cremated,
And so there is not much that's left of him —
Just what myself and a few other people
Hold in our minds.
He's still alive
When I recall his voice or his loose, baggy trousers,
Or his tobacco's smell, or handshake grip —
And watch him stroll off among the trees.

(The Mid-America Poetry Review VI-2)