Voloshin: Holy Russia

Maksimilian Voloshin, Holy Russia. 1917

Translated by Bernard Meares

The Symbolist poet Voloshin (1877-1932) lived through the Civil War years in Koktebel, Crimea. Struggling to understand the history unfolding before him, and to find value in the destruction that it wrought, he placed the Revolution in a broad panorama of Russian history, in which the greatest progress often came at the price of great suffering.

It was for your sake, was it not!
That Suzdal and Moscow towns
Gathered the land in great domains
And garnered coffers abrim with gold,
Heaping your dowry high with store
And raising you as a royal maid
In your cramped but gilded halls?

It was for your sake, was it not,
That the carpenter Emperor
Built his house both broad and long
With casements opening on the earth’s five seas?
Bride, by beauty ever pledged,
Taken by the force of arms,
Were you not always the most desired
By sons of princes overseas?

But you gave your love from childhood’s end
To wood-walled monasteries in forest stands,
The ascetic’s chain or the nomads’ camps,
To freemen from the trackless steppes,
Wild pretenders and unfrocked monks,
Lawless cossack, and robber bands,
The nightingale’s wild call and dungeon cell.

You did not wish for orb or throne
Although that was your appointed lot.
The devil whispered: Scatter, squander,
Yield up your treasure to the strong.
Power to the vessels, might to the enemy,
Honor to the serfs and to the traitors–keys.

You yielded to passion’s beckoning call
And gave yourself to bandit and to thief,
You burned your barns and fired your mansions,
Pillaged your ancient house and home
And went your ways reviled and wretched,
The handmaid of the humblest slave.

Shall I be first to cast a stone,
Condemn your passion, your unbridled flame?
I’d rather kiss the mud before you
And bless the imprint of your naked feet:
My Russia, besotted. wandering, roofless,
Blessed fool in Christ.

19 November 1917
Koktebel, Crimea

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