Gumilev Gates of Paradise

Gumilev's poetry is not as slight as first seems. Certainly he has been overshadowed by Mandelstam and Akhmatova, who offer scholars more to get their teeth into. And Gumilev's work can also lack facility and immediate appeal. {2} But even this charming little piece, 'The Gates of Paradise', is articulating something Gumilev held very dear, indeed built his poetry around: that life is a journey which has to be undertaken with special sensitivity and understanding. {3}

Gumilev often dedicated his works to travelers, and people close to him in spirit. To fellow Acmeists, the road or journey is associated with two worlds, marked by a door, gateway, stairway, threshold and boundaries of space. The door to this space is always open to those who are spiritually inclined, i.e. it has objective reality but opens to areas beyond the physical world. That 'golden door', as Gumilev never tired of explaining to Akhmatova, was the object of his continual travel overseas, but which, by 1915, he'd accepted was beyond his reach.

gumilev's poem: gates of paradise translation

'The Gates of Paradise' comes from Gumilev's 1910 collection 'Pearls'. This was in a more personal style than poetry in the first two books, and here has a moral dimension, castigating the rich and proud. The Russian theme of our common humanity, prevalent even in Chekhov's mischievous tales, here continues even through the post-Symbolist era. {1}

Russian Text

Ворота рая

Не семью печатями алмазными
В Божий рай замкнулся вечный вход,
Он не манит блеском и соблазнами,
И его не ведает народ.

Это дверь в стене, давно заброшенной,
Камни, мох, и больше ничего,
Возле — нищий, словно гость непрошенный,
И ключи у пояса его.

Мимо едут рыцари и латники,
Трубный вой, бряцанье серебра,
И никто не взглянет на привратника,
Светлого апостола Петра.

Все мечтают: «Там, у Гроба Божия,
Двери рая вскроются для нас,
На горе Фаворе, у подножия,
Прозвенит обетованный час».

Так проходит медленное чудище,
Завывая, трубит звонкий рог,
И апостол Петр в дырявом рубище,
Словно нищий, бледен и убог.

The TTS Audio Recording is:

Analysis of Poem The Gates of Paradise

The poem is written in iambic pentameters rhymed AbAb:

Не семью́ печа́тями алма́зными    5A
В Бо́жий рай замкну́лся ве́чный вход,   5b
Он не ма́нит бле́ском и собла́знами,   5A
И его́ не ве́дает наро́д.   5b

Interestingly, the feminine rhyme has two terminal unstressed syllables:

neh sem-YOO peh-CHAH-tyah-mee ahl-MAHZ-nih-mee    5A
v BAW-jiy rye zahmk-NOOL-syah VECH-niy vhhod,    5b
on neh MAH-neet BLES-kom ee sob-LAHZ-nah-mee,    5A
ee yeh-VAU neh VEH-dah-yet nah-ROD.     5b

Previous Translations

There are four translation on the Internet, variously rhymed and faithful to the Russian. I give the first stanza of each.

1. Evgenny Bonver.

The eternal entrance into Eden
Is not locked with seven precious seals;
It has no charms nor light of heaven,
And the people don't know that it is.

2. H. Мохлманн

There are no seven diamond seals to close
the eternal gates of God's great paradise
it has no tempting charms, no beckoning glow
and to the people remains unrecognized.

3. Бартон Раффел & Алла Бураго

The eternal entrance to Heaven is not
locked with seven diamond seals;
it does not glitter, no one is tempted,
and so no one knows it.

4. Harry Willets.

The eternal entrance into God's paradise is not closed with seven diamond seals; it has no brilliance nor enticing charms, and the people do not know it.

5. Evelyn Bristol's unrhymed version: {2}

Not with seven seals that shine with diamonds
Is the lofty gate to heaven locked.
Neither does it tempt with light or pageant,
And the passing people know it not.

First Translation of Gumilev's Poem

'The Gates of Paradise' is not a difficult poem, and a first draft is not far off the sense:

Not with seven diamond seals is locked
the eternal entrance to God’s paradise.
It's not with glitter and temptations stocked,
nor does an ignorance of Him suffice.

This is the door. Forsaken walls attest
to moss on rocks, but nothing else had grown.
Nearby a beggar, an uninvited guest
was sat, the keys on belt there plainly shown.

Knights and men at arms were riding by,
the trumpets howling, silver gleaming there:
The gatekeeper is catching no one’s eye,
St. Peter the Apostle is clearly no one’s care.

Yet all still dream that at the Tomb of God;
for us the gates of paradise are opening.
Beside Mount Tabor there is nothing odd
the hour that’s promised us will promptly ring.

A monstrous crowd flows by, to brag
to world’s accomplishment in trumpet sound:
The apostle Peter in a tattered rag
sits as poor sad beggar on the ground.

Final Translation of Gumilev's The Gates of Paradise

We now have to give the piece a final polish, not neglecting any critical material that exists. {3}

The Gates of Paradise

Not by seven diamond seals is locked
eternally the gate to paradise.
It's not with glitter or temptation stocked,
and may be absent to unknowing eyes.

This is the door. The mossy walls attest
to long neglect, for nothing else has grown.
A beggar's here, an uninvited guest,
though clearly on his belt the keys are shown.

Knights and men at arms go riding by,
a howl of gold and silver's in the air.
Who keeps the gate is catching no one’s eye:
for the Apostle Peter none to care.

Yet all still dream that at the Tomb of God
the gates of paradise are in their power.
Beneath Mount Tabor there is nothing odd
for peal to answer at their promised hour.

A monstrous crowd flows by, to brag
of earth's accomplishment in blaring sound:
The Apostle Peter in a tattered rag
is sat, a poor pale beggar on the ground.

Two points. One: why consult the critical literature rather than simply transcribe the words on the page? Because all translation is an interpretation, which has to be done with understanding. I had first translated line 4 as 'nor does an ignorance of Him suffice', which continues the thread of line 3 and picks up the rhyme on line 2. But the Russian is much simpler, and is as the previous renderings indicate: 'and the people do not know it.' In fact, for Gumilev, all gates lead to knowledge and revelation but only to those who are worthy of the insight, i.e. initiates. Entering another world is not the goal of the path, moreover: the portal opens in unexpected places, and not everyone can even see it. {3}

Two: why try to write decent verse in the translation, as I have here? Perhaps the reason lies in what Jan Swafford said of Ravel. 'Yet Ravel is one of the most beloved of twentieth century composers because he turned his genius and patient labors not towards technical novelty but towards what worked: what sounded best from the instruments, what entertained, charmed, dazzled the ears and imagination.' Prose won't normally give us those qualities.

References and Resources

1. Russian text of the poem.

2. Bristol, E., A History of Russian Poetry (1991, O.U.P.) 208.

3. Пинаев С.М., Дмитриева Ю.Ю. — «Двери рая вскроются для нас…»: семантика медиальности в поэзии Н.С. Гумилева // Litera. – 2021. – № 5. – С. 15 - 24. DOI: 10.25136/2409-8698.2021.5.35509 ("The doors of paradise will open for us...": the semantics of mediality in the poetry of N.S. Gumilev. Extended article in Russian with good references.)

4. Stafford, J. The Vintage Guide to Classical Music (Random House, 1992) 377.