»  Boris Pasternak's "Hamlet"



by Boris Pasternak, 1890-1960


•  Background

I mentioned this poem in my National Review Online diary for November 2007. Several Russian readers emailed in to tell me how much they loved the poem. One of them kindly sent me this sound clip of an actual Russian reading it.

The Wikipedia page gives an adequate account of Pasternak. For the poet's death, it records the following:

Pasternak's post-Zhivago poetry probes the universal questions of love, immortality, and reconciliation with God. Pasternak died of lung cancer on May 30, 1960. Despite only a small notice appearing in the Literary Gazette, thousands of people traveled from Moscow to his funeral in Peredelkino. "Volunteers carried his open coffin to his burial place and those who were present (including the poet Andrey Voznesensky) recited from memory the banned poem 'Hamlet'."

(The quote in the quote there is from Pasternak: Selected Poems, trans. Jon Stallworthy and Peter France.)


•  Play the reading


•  Text of the poem


Гул затих. Я вышел на подмостки.
Прислонясь к дверному косяку,
Я ловлю в далеком отголоске,
Что случится на моем веку.

На меня наставлен сумрак ночи
Тысячью биноклей на оси.
Если только можно, Aвва Oтче,
Чашу эту мимо пронеси.

Я люблю твой замысел упрямый
И играть согласен эту роль.
Но сейчас идет другая драма,
И на этот раз меня уволь.

Но продуман распорядок действий,
И неотвратим конец пути.
Я один, все тонет в фарисействе.
Жизнь прожить — не поле перейти.


Here it is in English, from Eleanor Rowe's translation of Pasternak's novel Doctor Zhivago, in which the poem appears.


The rumbling has grown quiet. I walk out on the stage.
Leaning against a door jamb,
I try to catch in a distant echo
What will happen in my lifetime.

At me is aimed the murkiness of night;
I'm pinned by a thousand opera glasses.
If only it is possible, Abba, Father,
May this cup be carried past me.

I cherish your stubborn design
And am agreed to play this role.
But now a different drama is underway;
This time, release me.

But the order of the acts has been determined,
And the ending of the journey cannot be averted.
I am alone; all drowns in Pharisaism.
To live life is not to cross a field.