Translating Lermontov's Alone I Look Out

'Alone I Look Out on the Soundless Fog' is favourite of many Lermontov readers. It was written in the spring or early summer of 1841, shortly before Lermontov's death in a needless duel, which it seems to prefigure. Certainly there seems to be an acceptance of fate, even a passive fatalism on the part of the writer. The poem was published posthumously in 1843.

This a simple but effective poem that shows the gifts that Lermontov would sacrifice to his touchy vanity.

translating Lermontov's Alone I Look Out

The epithets are appropriate and moving: “flinty way", “cold sleep", “quiet voice", “dark oak”. Note also the personification – “the waste listens to God", “the star speaks to the star“ – which indeed speaks of the poet's loneliness, his knowledge and acceptance that he would always be a little different and cut off from ordinary consciousness.

Lermontov's Poem: Russian Text

Выхожу один я на дорогу . . .

Выхожу один я на дорогу;
Сквозь туман кремнистый путь блестит.
Ночь тиха. Пустыня внемлет богу,
И звезда с звездою говорит.

В небесах торжественно и чудно!
Спит земля в сиянье голубом...
Что же мне так больно и так трудно?
Жду ль чего? Жалею ли о чем?

Уж не жду от жизни ничего я,
И не жаль мне прошлого ничуть.
Я ищу свободы и покоя!
Я б хотел забыться и заснуть!

Но не тем холодным сном могилы...
Я б желал навеки так заснуть,
Чтоб в груди дремали жизни силы,
Чтоб, дыша, вздымалась тихо грудь,

Чтоб, всю ночь, весь день мой слух лелея,
Про любовь мне сладкий голос пел,
Надо мной чтоб, вечно зеленея,
Темный дуб склонялся и шумел.


Other Translations

Ruverses has 6 versions:

A.S. Kline

Alone, I come to the road.
The stony track gleams in the mist:
the calm night listens to God,
and star is speaking to star.

Andrew Alexandre Owie

I am going out on the road;
A stony way is glitt`ring in the fog;
Night is still. The waste attends Sabaoth.
And a star talks with a star atop.

Yevgeny Bonver

I come out to the path, alone,
Night and wildness are referred to God,
Through the mist, the road gleams with stone,
Stars are speaking in the shinning lot.

D. Smirnov-Sadovsky

I go out alone on the flint road
In the deep mist glimmering afar.
Silent night... The desert hears to God
And the star is speaking to the star.

Robert Chandler

I go outside to find the way.
Through broken mist I glimpse a flinty path.
I am alone. This empty place hears God;
and stars converse with stars.

Evgeny Sokolovskiy

I'm alone on the path just taken;
Glittering, it stretches through the fog;
Quiet night. All harkens to the Maker,
And two stars begin a dialogue

After J.S. Phillimore

Bowra's {4} compilation has:

Lone, I wander where the pathway glistens
In the mist with twinkling points of spar;
Night is still, to God the desert listens,
And in heaven star communes with star.

Solemn wonder holds the heights of heaven,
Earth in cold radiance sleep, and yet
Why am I with pain and anguish riven?
Why this expectation? This regret?

Not to be guessed from modern translations, the poem is in pentameters, rhymed aBaB:

Сквозь тума́н кремни́стый путь блести́т. 5a
Ночь тиха́. Пусты́ня внемлет бо́гу, 5B
И звезда́ с звездо́ю говори́т. 5a
В небеса́х торже́ственно и чу́дно ! 5B

A TTS (text to speech) recording of the first stanza is:

English Translation

It is not a difficult poem to translate but, since it is a mid-19th century poem, I suggest we keep the language fairly formal:

Alone, I look out through the wraiths of fog:
a flinty path is gleaming from afar.
A silent emptiness communes with God,
with all around conversing, star with star.

Magnificent the heavens’ solemnity,
though earth is wrapped in sleep and dark blue haze.
Why is there here such hurt? Such enmity?
What must I fear or wait for in the coming days?

I hope for nothing in this earth's short lease,
nor look for reparations I might reap,
no, all I seek is freedom and the peace
that's born of long forgetfulness and sleep.

But not the cold sleep of the grave, not death,
although I sleep forever nonetheless:
but with life’s strength continuing, my breath
there filling out my breast with tenderness.

Where all through night and day my ears would lean
toward love’s sweet and yearning melody,
when that dark oak tree, arched above and green
will bow and, murmuring, sing songs to me.

But also, because we are in the 21st century, break the rhythm a little, emphasizing the sense rather than the melody.

References and Resources

1. Vladimirovna, K. N. Анализ стихотворения «Выхожу один я на дорогу» Лермонтова Simple school essay (in Russian).

2. Bristol, E. A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P. 1991) 129-33.

3. Mirsky, D.S. A History of Russian Literature (Vintage, 1958) 136-44.

4. Bowra, C.M, A Book of Russian Verse (Macmillan, 1943) 43.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.