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Two Poems


The Mother

Night falls. He has been executed.
From Golgotha the crowd descends and winds
between the olive trees, like a slow serpent;
and mothers watch as John downhill
into the mist, with urgent words, escorts
   gray, haggard Mary.

To bed he'll help her, and lie down himself,
and through his slumber hear till morning
   her tossings and her sobs.
What if her son had stayed at home with her,
and carpentered and sung? What if those tears
   cost more than our redemption?

The Son of God will rise, in radiance orbed;
on the third day a vision at the tomb
will meet the wives who bought the useless myrrh;
Thomas will feel the luminescent flesh;
the wind of miracles will drive men mad,
   and many will be crucified.

Mary, what are to you the fantasies
of fishermen? Over your grief days skim
   insensibly, and neither on the third
nor hundredth, never will he heed your call
and rise, your brown firstborn who baked mud sparrows
   in the hot sun, at Nazareth.


The Poets

From room to hallway a candle passes
and is extinguished. Its imprint swims in one's eyes,
until, among the blue-black branches,
a starless night its contours finds.

It is time, we are going away: still youthful,
with a list of dreams not yet dreamt,
with the last, hardly visible radiance of Russia
on the phosphorent rhymes of our last verse.

And yet we did know—didn't we?—inspiration,
we would live, it seemed, and our books would grow,
but the kithless muses at last have destroyed us,
and it is time now for us to go.

And this not because we're afraid of offending
with our freedom good people; simply, it's time
for us to depart—and besides we prefer not
to see what lies hidden from other eyes;

not to see all this world's enchantment and torment,
the casement that catches a sunbeam afar,
humble somnambulists in soldier's uniform,
the lofty sky, the attentive clouds;

the beauty, the look of reproach; the young children
who play hide-and-seek inside and around
the latrine that revolves in the summer twilight;
the sunset's beauty, its look of reproach;

all that weighs upon one, entwines one, wounds one;
an electric sign's tears on the opposite bank;
through the mist the stream of its emeralds running;
all the things that already I cannot express.

In a moment we'll pass across the world's threshold
into a region—name it as you please:
wilderness, death, disavowal of language,
or maybe simpler: the silence of love;

the silence of a distant cartway, its furrow,
beneath the foam of flowers concealed;
my silent country (the love that is hopeless);
the silent sheet lightning, the silent seed.


Vladimir Nabokov

Selected Poems
Alfred A. Knopf


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