A click of window glass had roused me
Out of my sleep at early dawn.
Beneath me Venice swam in water,
A sodden pretzel made of stone.

It was all quiet now; however,
While still asleep, I heard a cry--
And, like a sign that had been silence,
It still disturbed the morning sky.

It hung--a trident of the Scorpion--
Above the sleeping mandolins
And had been uttered by an angry,
Insulted woman's voice, maybe.

Now it was silent. To the handle
Its fork was stuck in morning haze.
The Grand Canal, obliquely grinning,
Kept looking back--a runaway.

Reality was born of dream-shreds
Far-off, among the hired boats.
Like a Venetian woman, Venice
Dived from the bank to glide afloat.

Boris Pasternak--Venice, 1913 (revised 1928)
Translated by Lydia Pasternak Slater

"My concern has always been for meaning, and my dream that every poem should have content in itself--a new thought or a new image. And that the whole of it with all its individual character should be engraved so deeply into the book that it should speak from it with all the silence and with all the colors of its colorless black print.

"Thus I wrote a poem called 'Venice', and another called 'The Railway Station'.  What I saw before me as I was writing was the town standing on the water, the figures-of-eight and circles of its reflections drifting, multiplying, swelling like a biscuit soaked in tea. Or the distance of the railway station, where the tracks and platforms end in clouds and smoke and the trains vanish, and the skyline of departure ends the history of situations--meetings and farewells and events before and after them.

"I was concerned neither with myself nor with my readers nor with the theory of art. All I cared about was that one poems should contain the town of Venice, and the other the Brest (now called the Byelorussian-Baltic) railway station."

---from Pasternak's An Essay in Autobiography

This was intended to serve as the introduction for a 1954 collection of Pasternak's poems; the collection never appeared, but the introduction was translated by Manya Harari and published in London in 1959.

The watercolor is "Venetian Passageway" by John Singer Sargent, c. 1905, courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum.


  1. That's for your kind words, Kevin. I can't claim to be an expert, but I have loved Russian poetry for many years and found my way to some good English translations. Lydia Pasternak Slater's are among the best, I think.

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  4. I really love poem. This is very nice one.

    mary g (home remodeler)