Yesterday’s aerial acrobats were swallows. Today’s are swifts. This poem by the great Russian writer Boris Pasternak comes from a volume of translations given to me by his son Evgeny in Moscow a quarter of a century ago. It remains a treasured possession, together with its companion volume of French translations. Both The Swifts and the little accompanying piece are translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater (Raduga Publishers, Moscow).

                         THE SWIFTS

The swifts have no strength any more to retain,

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To check the light-blue evening coolness.

It burst from their breasts, from their throats, under strain

And flows out of hand in its fullness.


There is not a thing that could stop them, up there,

From shrilly, exultedly crying,

Exclaiming: The earth has made off to nowhere,

O look! It has vanished – O triumph!


As cauldrons of water are ended in steam

When quarrelsome bubbles are rising –

Look – there is no room for the earth – from the seam

Of the gorge to the drawn-out horizon!



Under osiers with ivy ingrown

We are trying to hide from bad weather.

I am clasping your arms in my own,

In one cloak we are huddled together.


I was wrong. Not with ivy-leaves bound,

But with hops overgrown is the willow.

Well then, let us spread out on the ground

This our cloak as a sheet and a pillow.