Alexander Pushkin (1799-1837): Worldly Power

Translated by Timothy Adès

The Russian title is Mirskaya Vlast (Мирская власть). Pushkin has seen two armed guards in front of a large crucifixion, or an image of it. This poem could not pass the censor during his lifetime.

Когда великое свершалось торжество,
И в муках на кресте кончалось божество,
Тогда по сторонам животворяща древа
Мария-грешница и пресвятая дева,
Стояли две жены,
В неизмеримую печаль погружены.
Но у подножия теперь креста честнаго,
Как будто у крыльца правителя градскаго,
Мы зрим – поставлено на место жён святых
В ружьё и кивере два грозных часовых.
К чему, скажите мне, хранительная стража? –
Или распятие казённая поклажа,
И вы боитеся воров или мышей? –
Иль мните важности придать царю царей?
Иль покровительством спасаете могучим
Владыку, тернием венчанного колючим,
Христа, предавшего послушно плоть свою
Бичам мучителей, гвоздям и копию?Мирская власть
Иль опасаетесь, чтоб чернь не оскорбила
Того, чья казнь весь род Адамов искупила,
И, чтоб не потеснить гуляющих господ,
Пускать не велено сюда простой народ?

When the grand, when the solemn celebration was in train
And the Lord on the cross was expiring in His pain,
At the side of the life-giving Rood
Sinful Mary, and the Virgin most holy and good,
A pair of women, stood;
Who could reckon up their anguish? No-one could.
But to-day at the foot of the hallowed Rood,
As it might be the city governor’s entry,
We see not women but men: not saints,
But with rifles and shakos, two fearsome sentries.
Say, why the custodial vigilance?
Is the Crucifixion a Treasury fief?
Were you nervous of mice, or perhaps of a thief?
Would you add to the glory of the Tsar of Tsars?
Or are you the master’s rescuers,
A security force for the thorn-crowned Christ
Who subjects his flesh to the nails and spears
And the flails of his executioners?
Is the common herd not sufficiently nice
For the one who saved mankind by His sacrifice,
And the sauntering scions of the civilised class?
Will you suffer not the people in freedom to pass?

Translation: Copyright © Timothy Adès

Published in Modern Poetry in Translation, 2001.

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