A poem by Alexander Blok

by Alexander Blok
trans. Samuel Muratov


Nightingale Garden


I break the layered rocks
In the hour when the silty day
Is moulded, and my tired mule carries
The weighty lumps on its shaggy back.

We carry them to the railroad,
Put them in a heap, — and to the sea again
The hairy legs lead us,
And the mule starts braying.

And it brays, blares, — joyfully,
That it walks light again, even though back.
And by the road — a cool
And shady garden extends.

Along the hedge, stretching tall,
Odd roses droop toward us.
The nightingale doesn’t grow silent,
The rivulets and leaves whisper to us.

The bray of my mule resounds
Every time by the garden’s gate,
And in the garden, somebody laughs
Quietly — and then sings aside.

Penetrating the restless song,
I stare, spurring the mule,
At how on the rocky and torrid shore
The blue darkness descends.


A hot day dies out tracelessly,
Dusk creeps through the bushes;
And the poor mule wonders:
“What are you thinking of, master?”

Or does the mind get turbid from the heat,
Have I daydreamed away in the gloom?
It’s only that I observe more relentlessly
Another life — mine, and not my own…

And what am I, a wretched pauper,
Waiting for in this small cabin,
Repeating the unknown melody
That chimes in the nightingale garden?

The accursed life doesn’t come
To this garden, enclosed by a wall,
In the blue dusk a white dress
Streaks behind the fretted trellis.

Every evening in the sunset fog
I pass by these gates,
And she, light-footed, beckons me
With her swirling and singing.

And in the summoning swirl and song
I catch something forgotten,
And begin to love the languor,
The inapproachable hedge.


The weary mule is resting,
The iron lies cast on the sand under the crag,
And the master is wandering, in love,
Beyond the nocturnal, torrid murk.

The familiar, empty, rocky,
But today — mysterious path
Again leads to the shady hedge,
Fleeing into the blue haze.

And the yearning becomes more desperate,
As one hour follows another,
The thorny roses today
Bent down from the tug of the dew.

Is there a punishment waiting for me
Or a reward if I deviate from the path?
How to knock on the nightingale garden’s
Door, and is it even possible to enter?

The past seems strange indeed,
And the hand will not return to its labour:
The heart knows that I shall be
A welcome guest in the nightingale garden…


My heart spoke the truth,
And the hedge wasn’t frightful.
I didn’t knock — it opened
Its inapproachable doors by itself.

Along the cool road, among the lilies,
The rivulets began to sing alike,
Deafening me with sweet song,
The nightingales have taken my soul.

A foreign corner of unknown happiness
These arms have opened for me,
And the wrists rang, falling,
Louder than in my beggarly dream.

Drunk on golden wine,
Seared by golden fire,
I forgot about the rocky path,
About my poor friend.


Even if the wall, drowned in roses,
Sheltered from the worldly grief, —
The nightingale’s song could not
Muffle the hum of the sea!

And the disquiet which entered the song
Brought the hum of the waves to me…
Suddenly — a vision: a wide road
And the weary plod of the mule…

In the fragrant and hot gloom
Coiling with a warm hand,
She repeats uneasily:
“What is it, my beloved?”

But, peering orphaned into the gloom,
Hurrying to inhale the bliss,
The soul cannot not hear
The noise of the remote tide.


I awoke in the sombre dawn,
Unaware which day it is.
There she sleeps, smiling, as children do, —
She had a reverie about me.

How the face, bewitched
By morning twilight, is beautiful!…
From the distant and cadenced blows
I found out that the tide was approaching.

I opened the blue window wide,
And it seemed as though beyond
The faraway roar of the breakers
A pleading and mournful cry was heard.

The mule’s cry was long and lingering,
Penetrating my soul as a groan,
And I pulled the canopy gently,
To prolong the spellbinding dream.

Descending down the stones of the hedge,
I disturbed the flowers’ oblivion.
Their thorns, as hands from a garden,
Caught hold of my gown.


The familiar and previously short
Path is flinty and heavy this morning.
I step on the desolate shore,
Where my house and mule were left.

Have I lost my way in the fog?
Or is someone playing a joke on me?
No, I recall the stones’ outline,
The weedy bush and the crag above water…

Where is home? — With a slipping leg
I trip over the cast-away iron,
Heavy, rusty, under a black rock
With a thin coat of wet sand…

Swinging in a familiar motion
(Or is it a dream still?),
I hit the layered rock
At the bottom with the rusty iron…

And from there, where grey tentacles
Waver in the azure cracks,
Clambered a startled crab
And sat on the gritty shoal.

I edged aside, — it raised itself,
Opening its claws wide,
And instantly encountered another,
With whom it scuffled and disappeared…

And from the trail, trodden by me,
There, where the cabin stood before,
A worker with a pickaxe began his descent,
Hurrying another man’s mule.


Samuel Muratov is a Russian-American translator and art historian. He studied Russian literature and history at Moscow State University and completed his PhD, Black Sun: The Shadow of Kazimir Malevich, at Rutgers University.