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The Stray Tram

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The street I walked was unfamiliar,
Suddenly I heard crows caw,
And a lute clink, and distant thunder, —
In front of me a tram flew.

How I leaped up on its rail
Puzzled me a great deal,
For in the air, its fiery trail
Persisted through the light of day.

It tore off like a dark winged storm.
It lost its way in the abyss of time...
Driver, make this thing stop,
Right now, driver, make it stop.

Too late. We just overtook a wall,
Brushed alongside a palm grove,
And at three bridges on Nev , Nile
And the Seine, we rumbled right over.

And, flashing out the window frame,
An old beggar cast up questioning eyes, —
Of course, he is the same,
Who, a year back, in Beirut, died.

A signboard... the letters are blood shot
And say “green grocer” — I know that
Instead of cabbages and rutabagas
They market in dead heads.

In a red shirt, with a face like an udder,
The executioner cut my head off,
It lay alongside all the others,
There, at the very bottom of the slimy trough.

And a plank fence in an alley,
A three-windowed house, lawn turned gray...
Driver, make this thing stop,
Right now, driver, make it stop.

Mashenka,** here you sang and lived,
Wove me rug, your fiancé,
But where are your voice and body
Now, it could be that you are dead!

While you shrieked in your parlor,
Already, with powdered plaits of hair,
I had gone to the Empress to submit,
Never again to catch your sight.

Now I have it solved: our freedom
Is only light smashing down,
People and shadows stand at the entrance
To a zoological garden of the planets.

At once, a scent well known and sweet,
As from the bridge, to me it blows,
Where the rider with iron gloves sits
On his horse with two raised hooves.***

The true stronghold of the Orthodox
On top of St. Isaac’s is fixed,****
For Mashenka chants will be sung there,
For me a requiem will be said there.

Forever, with gloom, my heart strives,
It is taxing to breathe, painful to live...
I never guessed there is so much love,
Mashenka, and so much sadness.
* McKane translates the title “The Tram That Lost Its Way”, Raffel and Barego, “The Lost Tram”; Sampson, “The Streetcar Gone Astray”; Basker “The Lost Tramcar” (376-377). Each offers, as does mine, the reader a different nuance which doubtless reflects the translator’s view of the poem as a whole.
** Sampson argues “Whatever Gumilev’s reasons for using the name, we understand the poem better if we do not try to associate Mashenka with anyone in his biography. She is not any individual woman, but an image of the ideal love that he had sought throughout his life and poetry” (137).
*** The Bronze Horseman is also the name of the equestrian statue of Tsar Petr I the Great, made by Étienne Maurice Falconet (1716-1791) is counted among the best of French 18th sculptors. It stands in front of St. Isaac’s Cathedral in Petersburg and depicts the horse rearing up showing its front hooves. In Pushkin’s great poema The Bronze Horseman (1833), an in Aleksandr Benua’s (Benois) (1870-1960) famous illustration to the poems (1904), the house rearing back with his hooves in the air are figures of surreal terror — a fitting allusion for Gumilev in this poem.
**** The famous Petersburg landmark, the Cathedral of St. Isaac of Dalmatia. Under construction from 1818 to 1858, it was designed by the architect Richard de Montferrand (1806-1823) in the French Empire style.

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