To My Friends by Andrey Bely

Andrey Bely (born Boris Bugaev: 1880-1934) was the most innovative of Symbolist poets, but his poems take second place to his prose in most reader's minds now. 'To My Friends' is an appeal from beyond the grave. As with Bryusov, and the Symbolists generally, Bely remained unappreciated for years, the mixture of serious theme and whimsical treatment making Bely seem insincere if not an outright mountebank.

translating Bely's To My Friends

Bely is rarely without some humour, but here the self-consciousness comes a bit close to sentimentality. 'What the public liked in the Symbolists was their verbal splendour and their caressing melodies.'{3} The main challenge for the translator here is to convey the tone correctly without losing the melody of the piece.

Russian Text


Золотому блеску верил,
А умер от солнечных стрел.
Думой века измерил,
А жизнь прожить не сумел,

Не смейтесь над мертвым поэтом:
Снесите ему цветок.
На кресте и зимой и летом
Мой фарфоровый бьется венок.

Цветы на нем побиты.
Образок полинял.
Тяжелые плиты.
Жду, чтоб их кто-нибудь снял.

Любил только звон колокольный
И закат.
Отчего мне так больно, больно!
Я не виноват.

Пожалеете, придите;
Навстречу венком метнусь.
О, любите меня, полюбите —
Я, быть может, не умер, быть может, проснусь —

January, 1907. Paris

The TTS (text to speech) recording is:


The poem is basically a amphibrachic trimeter, but rather irregular:

Золото́му бле́ску ве́рил,    u u – u – u – u    3A
А у́мер от со́лнечных стрел.    u - u u - u – u    3B
Ду́мой века́ изме́рил,    - u u – u – u    3A
А жизнь прожи́ть не суме́л,    u – u – u u –   3b

Не сме́йтесь над мёртвым поэ́том:    u – u u – u u – u   3C
Снеси́те ему́ цвето́к.    u – u u – u -   3d
На кресте́ и зимо́й и ле́том    u u – u u – u – u   3C
Мой фарфо́ровый бьётся вено́к.    u u – u u – u u -   3d

Цве́ты на нем поби́ты.    u – u u – u – u   3E
Образо́к полиня́л.    - u – u u -   3f
Тяжёлые пли́ты.    - u – u – u   3E
Жду, чтоб их кто-нибу́дь снял.    - u u – u – u   3f

Люби́л то́лько звон колоко́льный    u - - u u – u -    3G
И зака́т.    - u -   2h
Отчего́ мне так бо́льно, бо́льно!    u u – u u – u – u   3G
Я не винова́т.    - u – u -    3h

Пожале́ете, приди́те;    u u – u – u – u    3I
Навстре́чу венко́м метну́сь.    u – u u – u -    3j
О, люби́те меня́, полюби́те —    u u – u u – u u – u   3i
Я, быть мо́жет, не у́мер, быть мо́жет, просну́сь —   u u – u u – u u – u u – u   4j
Верну́сь!    u -    1j

Previous Translations

Ruverses have one translation of this poem. I give the first two stanzas:

Vladimir Markov and Merrill Sparks:

He believed in a golden radiance,
And he died from the arrows of the sun.
He measured centuries with his thinking,
But could not live his life — this one.

Don’t laugh at the dead poet:
But come, bring him a wreath.
On the cross — winter, summer
There bangs my porcelain wreath.

Evelyn Bristol has a most useful translation, echoing the ternary rhythms of the original. Again I give just the first two stanzas:

He believed in golden sunshine,
But shafts from the sun were his death.
He could scan in thought the ages,
But life — he could never learn.

O ridicule not the dead poet:
No, bring him a fresh bloom.
On my cross is a wreath of China
That bangs, winter, summer alike.

Approaches to the Translation

Suppose, without researching the poem, we worked directly from the Russian and insisted on tight rhyming. This is the inanity we are likely to get.

To My Friends

In golden radiance believed,
from golden arrows died,
of centuries of thinking conceived,
he failed to live, but tried.

Don’t laugh at the dead poet
but bring to him a bloom.
The season’s cross will show it
wrecked porcelain on his tomb.

Broken down of late,
the flowers, the icon grey.
Such heavy stones: I wait
their being hauled away.

He loved the sound of bells,
the sunset, this . . .
Why such painful spells
as though the fault were his?

Pity, come to me:
I’ll rush a wreath to you.
Love me, love me, see
I’m not yet dead, may come back too
to you!

This is pretty dreadful. Bely enjoyed being enigmatic, but there was always some sense in the lines. We need to read critiques {4} and previous translations, particularly with На кресте и зимой и летом / Мой фарфоровый бьется венок. Vladimir Markov and Merrill Sparks have 'On the cross — winter, summer / There bangs my porcelain wreath.' Evelyn Bristol has 'On my cross is a wreath of China / That bangs, winter, summer alike.' Both renderings are acceptable, of course, but what is Bely really saying? French graves were often decorated with majolica, porcelain or ceramic flower ornament, and бьется does indeed mean 'beats, struggles, thrashes, throbs', etc. The overall meaning, I think is that the decoration, like the poet himself, is contesting the passing seasons by staying unchanged. I'm going to stick with this interpretation since 'bangs' as such makes little sense. We should start with a prose draft.

He believed in golden radiance,
and he died from solar arrows (i.e. golden cupid's darts).
He could scan the assembled / thinking centuries,
but could not live his life.

Do not ridicule the dead poet,
but bring him a fresh flower.
His cross has a porcelain wreath
unchanged by summer or winter.

The flowers on it are broken.
The icon is faded.
The flagstones are heavy.
I'm waiting for someone to lift them off.

He only loved the ringing of bells
And the sunset.
Why is it so painful, so painful?
I am not to blame.

If you would pity me, come;
I'll rush to you in my wreath.
Oh, love me, do love me —
Maybe I'm not dead, maybe I'll wake up —
and then come back!

Bely was thinking back to his unhappy affair with Blok's wife, {4} and indulging in a little self-pity. It's not going to be possible to convey both the ternary rhythm and the rhyme in the first attempt, and rhyme is probably better left till we rework and polish the lines.

He believed in the lustre of gold,
but shafts of the sun brought his end.
Though scanning the thought of ages
he could not live his life.

Laugh not at the dead poet;
but lay a fresh bloom out for him.
his tomb has a porcelain wreath
whatever the season be.

The flowers on the grave are broken.
The icon has faded from sight.
How heavy the flagstones. I'm waiting
for someone to lift them away.

The sound of the bells he loved
the sunsets too.
Why is life now so painful?
Surely I'm not to blame.

Come, please, show me some pity;
I'll hurry to you in my wreath.
Only I'd ask that you love me —
When what is now dead may awaken and come —
back to you!

Now we can rephrase for limited rhyme:

Beliefs had the lustre of gold,
but sunlight's arrows brought his end.
Though large in the thought of old
he could not live his life.

Don't laugh at the poet beneath;
but dedicate a bloom to him.
On his tomb is a porcelain wreath
loud summer and winter long.

To flowers there's now no relating,
and icon has faded from sight.
How heavy the flagstones. I'm waiting
for someone to haul them away.

He loved the sound of bells,
the sunsets too.
Why is life only painful spells?
Surely I'm not to blame?

Reflect what your pity will do,
I'd hurry to you in my wreath.
Tell me your love anew —
when what is now dead could awake and return —
to you!


1. Bristol, E. A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P., 1991) 187-91.

2. Mirsky, D.S. Contemporary Russian Poetry. (Alfred A: Knopf, 1926) 225-35.

3. Mirsky 236.

4. Analysis of Andrei Bely's poem "To My Friends" in Russian.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.