Russian Poems: Nekrasov: At the Entrance

Nekrasov's main theme was, as he put it, 'the suffering of the Russian people.' In this he was entirely sincere, though his own life was often very different from what he espoused — a reason perhaps for the bitter irony, gloom, distraction and guilty conscience that featured prominently. Yet, though subjective, that tortured compassion for his fellow men allowed Nekrasov to get inside his characters, identifying with their humour and native cunning as much as with the monstrous suffering they received at the hands of land-owners and officialdom. Sometimes he idealized the serfs, which could lead to sentimentality, and that flaw is not entirely missing from the later stages of this poem, where  Nekrasov turns his savage invective on:

translating Nekrasov's 'At the Entrance'

You inhabiting great luxury
will in your deepest slumber see . . .
Who say that’s life’s a blessing all the same
with comfort and a need for name . .

The poem ends with:

Wherever people are, you’ll hear them sigh
and groan, so have the heart to ask them why.
You will wake and see and, gathering strength,
observe your destinies, obey what’s right
All you could have done is here at length
set down: I’ve made this aching song to light
the spirit on to its eternal strength.

Russian Text

Russian Text, starting at line 40 of the 120 line poem:

Размышления у парадного подъезда

40. Вот парадный подъезд. По торжественным дням,
Одержимый холопским недугом,
Целый город с каким-то испугом
Подъезжает к заветным дверям;
Записав свое имя и званье,
Разъезжаются гости домой,
Так глубоко довольны собой,
Что подумаешь - в том их призванье!
А в обычные дни этот пышный подъезд
Осаждают убогие лица:
50. Прожектеры, искатели мест,
И преклонный старик, и вдовица.
От него и к нему то и знай по утрам
Всё курьеры с бумагами скачут.
Возвращаясь, иной напевает "трам-трам",
А иные просители плачут.

Раз я видел, сюда мужики подошли,
Деревенские русские люди,
Помолились на церковь и стали вдали,
Свесив русые головы к груди;
60. Показался швейцар. "Допусти",- говорят
С выраженьем надежды и муки.
Он гостей оглядел: некрасивы на взгляд!
Загорелые лица и руки,
Армячишка худой на плечах,
По котомке на спинах согнутых,
Крест на шее и кровь на ногах,
В самодельные лапти обутых
(Знать, брели-то долгонько они
  Из каких-нибудь дальних губерний).
70. Кто-то крикнул швейцару: "Гони!
Наш не любит оборванной черни!"
И захлопнулась дверь. Постояв,
Развязали кошли пилигримы,
Но швейцар не пустил, скудной лепты не взяв,
И пошли они, солнцем палимы,
Повторяя: "Суди его бог!",
Разводя безнадежно руками,
И, покуда я видеть их мог,
С непокрытыми шли головами...


The poem is written in the ternary metre, generally amphibrachic (u-u), sometimes a little less regularly. In the more lyrical sections the metre is probably better called dactyllic (- u u). The rhyme scheme is aBBa or AbbA:

Вот па рад ный подъ езд. По тор жест вен ным дням, 4a
О дер жи мый хо лоп ским не ду гом, 4B
Це лый го род с ка ким-то ис пу гом 4B
Подъ ез жа ет к за вет ным две рям; 4a
За пи сав сво е и мя и звань е, 4C
Разъ ез жа ют ся гос ти до мой, 4d
Так глу бо ко до воль ны со бой, 4d
Что по ду ма ешь - в том их приз вань е! 4C
А в о быч ные дни э тот пыш ный подъ е зд 4e
О саж да ют у бо ги е ли ца: 4F
Про жек теры, ис ка те ли мест, 4F
И прек лон ный ста рик, и вдо ви ца. 4e

A TTS Audio Recording of the opening stanza:


A pentameter is suggested by the ternary rhythm — is indeed required to capture the content and strict rhyme. Nekrasov's verse is also a little rough, which I've tried to keep with:

40. We’re at the entrance now. A solemn date.
As though beneath the will of some enslaving rite,
the town compelled them go there out of fright,
they drive up to that all-compelling gate.

Thence, having written down their name and rank,
our visitors will go on home; each one
delighted with the self-importance won
you’d think their status was the thing to thank.

On other days this most imposing entrance sees
a press of squalid faces, each of which aware
50. just what mere words will do. An old man there,
or widow cursed by life’s infirmities.

Indifferent to them, shuffling papers, come and go
the buzz of various flunkies. Still they wait
all morning sometimes on this specious show,
while more petitioners besiege the gate.

And once I saw a group of men, our nationhood
of good plain rural Russian folk, each blest
by church attendance. They at distance stood
respectfully, with blonde head bent to chest.

60. They begged admission of the porter; he
observed how hope and terror had unmanned
each features. Ugly too, for one could see
the skin on hands and head was rudely tanned.

Armchyushka’s shoulder bones poked through, but shored
up the heavy knapsack on his back.
One had a cross, another’s legs were scored
with blood, and sported peasant shoes of bast.

(In fact they’d walked a goodish length, and some
indeed had come from distant provinces)
70. but someone shouted at the ragged scum,
affronted by life’s wearied instances.

The porter, therewith, in a proper fright,
rammed shut at once the door on such affray,
refused entreaties, and the pilgrim’s mite,
and thereby roundly sent them on their way.

‘May God who judges truly show what’s right,’
so said the hands there flailing helplessly.
I watched them quietly filing out of sight;
it seemed their heads were bared eternally.


Sunday Reading at a Village School by Nicklay Bogdanov-Belsky 1895. Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)was active in St. Petersburg to the early 1920s, but then worked exclusively in Riga, Latvia. He became a member of several prominent societies, including the Peredvizhniki from 1895, and the Arkhip Kuindzhi from 1909. Most of the work is genre paintings, notably of the education of peasant children, portraits, but also includes some impressionistic landscapes and commissioned portraits, including those of the nobility and royal family. He died in Berlin.

References and Resources

References can now be found in a free pdf compilation of Ocaso Press's Russian pages.

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.