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The Swallow

Gift for Igor Kozunov

Featuring the poem, Ласточки (The Swallow) by Afanasiy Fet (1884). Translation below.

The poem is about a swallow, a beautiful bird known for its swift and mesmerizing aerobatic flight. The swallow is playing over the surface of a dark water, repeatedly dipping down to grace its great unknown before deftly swooping away once more. The speaker of the poem sees human nature in the scene.  

Though I originally found the poem in Vladimir Nabokov's Verses & Versions, a publication of his own translations, I later discovered here this translation I prefer: 

Calm Nature’s idle spy, I follow
In joy her pathways; free and fond,
I watch the arrow-winged swift swallow
Who curves above the dusking pond.

It dashes forward, lightly skimming
The glassy surface, half in fear
Of alien clutching waters—dimming
The lightning wings before they veer.

And once again the same quick daring,
And once again the same dark stream… 
Is not this flight our human faring?
Is not this urge our human dream?

Thus I, frail vessel, am forbidden
To take the foreign road, and dip
To scoop a drop; the ways are hidden
Of alien streams I may not sip.

And Nabokov's version:

When prying idly into Nature
I am particularly fond
of watching the arrow of a swallow
over the sunset of a pond.

See–there it goes, and skims, and
the alien element, I fear, 
roused from its glassy sleep might
black lightning quivering so near.

There–once again that fearless shadow
over a frowning ripple ran.
Have we not here the living image
of active poetry in man–

of something leading me, banned
to venture where I dare not stop–
striving to scoop from a forbidden 
mysterious element one drop? 

The meaning in the poem is about human instinct-curiosity for unknowables. How we "strive" to taste the flavors beyond the capacities of our "banned mortal" tongues, to hear the music imperceptible to mortal ears. (Well now I'm just writing my own poem...)

St. Louis, USA
December 2017 

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