Time takes center stage appearing

Rounded like the letter O

And the whole time screaming O

This makes life so very dreary

For me and everyone I know


O if only time were different

For example like a square

Life for me and everybody

Would be grand beyond compare


I’d hide in a corner and

Never make a sound again



Lives of the Poets


Over a lone bee’s fuzzy noise,

I hear a long-dead poet’s voice.

We thought alike, we thought as one,

Although, of course, he is long gone.

He was unknown, not very great;

He saw no volumes into print.

He must have seemed a bit untrained.

(Who needs more volumes, anyway?)

And now I’m writing up his life

And feel I’m writing up myself.

I love him with a sister’s love:

A ten-line entry is enough.

For if they publish those ten lines

I needn’t fear to live and die.



The Eyes’ Journey


I am only free when I allow

My eyes to roam unfettered in the night:

First they glimmer all about the house,

Then they soar across the open sky.

Let them cast their black-pupiled looks –

Then come rest, as I rise, in their specs.





Inside me is my soul’s long body –

A wooden pencil’s inner lead:

The more I write, or cross things out,

The shorter my soul gets.



For Boris


It’s nice to learn a dead tongue:

Might come in handy in Hades,

Or help me return, before long,

To my old trade as


A translator into


Of sundry






But will I

Make it

Sound the same?


I doubt

View Original Work ↓



Вот вперёд выходит время

Круглое как буква О

И кричит всё время О

И от этого живётся

Всем на свете тяжело


Если б только было время

Например квадратное

Жить бы было мне и всем ну

Не в пример приятнее


Я бы спряталась в углу

И оттуда ни





Слышнее, чем голос пчелы шерстяной,

Был голос поэта, что умер давно.

Я думала так же и с ним заодно,

Хотя он и умер давным-предавно.

Он был неизвестен; не очень велик,

При жизни своих не увидел он книг.

Казался, наверное, косноязык

(А может быть, и без него много книг).

И вот я о нём сочиняю статью,

Как будто про жизнь сочиняю свою.

Наверно, его я как брата люблю:

В словарь в десять строчек пишу я статью.

Ведь раз десять строчек стоят в словаре

Не страшно пожить и потом умереть.



Путешествие глаз


Я тогда свободна, когда ночью

Отпущу глаза свои на волю

Пусть сначала дома посияют

А потом по небу полетают

В мир уставят чёрные зрачки

А к утру вплывут себе в очки.





Внутри меня длинное тело души,

Как грифель карандаша:

Что ни зачёркивай, что ни пиши

Укорачивается душа.





Мёртвый язык изучать приятно:

Вдруг пригодится, когда в Аиде?

Или поможет вернуться обратно,

Может быть в этом же самом виде  –



На подземный







Только вряд ли смогу

Чтобы одинаково


Чтоб не


Translator Notes

In a brief essay on the Russian-American poet Julia Nemirovskaya published in 2016, I wrote that her delightfully inventive lyrics “have led me down curious routes of imagination and helped me arrive at a more humble and humane vantage point on the world.” In the years since, I’ve continued to follow those routes — they seem to be never-ending, yet each stop along the way reveals new wondrous views. In that essay I also noted that at the heart of Nemirovskaya’s poetic mission is “a radical extension of empathy,” which can only be accomplished by a feat of imagination. In order to understand anything from the inside — be it an inanimate object like a pencil, or the concept of time, or (most difficult of all) a fellow human being — she must imagine herself into the very core of the matter. When translating her work, I take my cue from Nemirovskaya and imagine myself into the core of each poem.

Speaking of cues, in rendering the first poem below — where the poet complains about a portly personified “Time,” which sucks all the air out of every room with its persistent cries of “O” — I added a dash of theatricality. In the original, the first line reads something like “here/now time steps out in front”; but all of Time’s actions — its grand entrance, its hammy hollering — felt so stagey that I brought in the stage itself: “Time takes center stage…” Everything about the poem is play-like and playful, down to the nursery-rhyme-style trochaic tetrameter, which I preserved in my version, and the “gu-gu” at the end (a Russian onomatopoeic word for a small sound or peep, usually used with a negation: “not a sound/peep”). And as in all good children’s games, meanings double and triple; the letter “O,” for instance, is used in two senses — as an utterance and as a shape. The first line of the second stanza features an irreproducible double entendre: when read in isolation, it could mean “if only there were time enough,” but in the context of the next line, it must be read as “if only time were / square in shape.” To compensate for the lost pun, I inserted one of my own, adding a third “O” with a new sense — an exclamation of frustration: “O if only time were different.” Since the poem reminded me of the childlike yet deadly serious voice of Stevie Smith, I hinted at a British manner. Compare “This makes life so very dreary” with the following lines from Smith’s “Bereavement”: “She had so much to do so very much / And used to shuffle round upon a crutch.”

In the poems that follow, Nemirovskaya takes us into the world of a forgotten poet whose life she is writing up for an encyclopedia of Russian authors (“Lives of the Poets”); into the dream-life of her own eyes (“The Eyes’ Journey”); into her own creative soul (“Inside”), which she brilliantly compares to the finite lead of a pencil; and, finally, into the inner world of translators, with all our aspirations and limitations. In each case, imaginative empathy leads the way. That last poem, set partly in the Underworld, is generously dedicated to me; it has now made its way into English, finishing its circular journey. But “finishing” isn’t the right word. As I said earlier, the routes down which Nemirovskaya travels are really never-ending. I can’t wait to see where she takes us next.

Boris Dralyuk


In the Classroom

Boris Dralyuk