Zhukovsky's Poem Lalla Ruk

Many of the poems of Vasily Andreyevic Zhukovsky (1783-1852) were translations of European pieces, or 'in the manner of', which is the case here. 'Lalla Rookh' was a long poem of Thomas Moore's, wildly successful in its day, which mixed the spice of eastern romance with exotic locations. The poem was published in 1817, with the title taken from the name of the heroine of the tale, the fictional daughter of the 17th-century Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. 'Lalla Rookh' boasts four narrative poems connected by prose. The verse is typical of its period: rhymed couplets and tetrameters, not over-accomplished but quite adequate for the purpose. The opening lines give the flavour:

In that delightful Province of the Sun,
The first of Persian lands he shines upon.
Where all the loveliest children of his beam,
Flowerets and fruits, blush over every stream,
And, fairest of all streams, the MURGA roves
Among MEROU'S bright palaces and groves;-- .

translating Zhukovsky's Lalla Ruk

Zhukovsky’s poems are made to high standards: his translations are often better verse in Russian than the originals were in English. {1-3} In Mirsky's words, his expressive, emotional poems have an 'aetherial lightness. . . melodiousness of verse and . . . exquisite purity of diction . . . that put them in 'the highest reach'. {2} Our translation clearly has to reflect that quality.

Russian Text

Лалла Рук

Милый сон, души пленитель,
Гость прекрасный с вышины,
Благодатный посетитель
Поднебесной стороны,

Я тобою насладился
На минуту, но вполне:
Добрым вестником явился
Здесь небесного ты мне.

Мнил я быть в обетованной
Той земле, где вечный мир;
Мнил я зреть благоуханный
Безмятежный Кашемир;

Видел я: торжествовали
Праздник розы и весны
И пришелицу встречали
Из далекой стороны.

И блистая и пленяя —
Словно ангел неземной, —
Непорочность молодая
Появилась предо мной;

Светлый завес покрывала
Отенял ее черты,
И застенчиво склоняла
Взор умильный с высоты.

Все — и робкая стыдливость
Под сиянием венца,
И младенческая живость,
И величие лица,

И в чертах глубокость чувства
С безмятежной тишиной —
Все в ней было без искусства
Неописанной красой!

Я смотрел — а призрак мимо
(Увлекая душу вслед)
Пролетал невозвратимо;
Я за ним — его уж нет!

Посетил, как упованье;
Жизнь минуту озарил;
И оставил лишь преданье,
Что когда-то в жизни был!

Ах! не с нами обитает
Гений чистой красоты;
Лишь порой он навещает
Нас с небесной высоты;

Он поспешен, как мечтанье,
Как воздушный утра сон;
Но в святом воспоминанье
Неразлучен с сердцем он!

Он лишь в чистые мгновенья
Бытия бывает к нам
И приносит откровенья,
Благотворные сердцам;

Чтоб о небе сердце знало
В темной области земной,
Нам туда сквозь покрывало
Он дает взглянуть порой;

И во всем, что здесь прекрасно,
Что наш мир животворит,
Убедительно и ясно
Он с душою говорит;

А когда нас покидает,
В дар любви у нас в виду
В нашем небе зажигает
Он прощальную звезду.


Poem structure

The poem is simply written in iambic tetrameters rhymed AbAb:

Ми́лый сон, души́ плени́тель,  4A
Гость прекра́сный с вышины́,   4b
Благода́тный посети́тель    4A
Поднебе́сной стороны́,    4b

A TTS (text to speech) recording is:

Other Translations

Ruverses have a rendering by M. Denner, I. Kutik and A. Wachtel. I give their opening stanzas:

Dearest dream, my soul's enchantment
Lovely guest from heav'n above,
Most benevolent attender
To the earthly realm below,

You gave me blissful satisfaction
Momentary but complete:
Bringing with you happy tidings —
Like a herald from the skies.

In contrast, I feel the charm of the piece lies in Zhukovsky's verse, in which rhyme plays an integral part. We also have to be careful with literal renderings. насладился does indeed mean 'enjoyed', but not 'satisfaction', which has sexual overtones foreign to the piece and period. In fact, Zhukovsky touches on Lalla Rookh only obliquely: in elation if not theme he's much closer to Keats:

Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature's patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth's human shores,

English Translation

As usual, it's best to do the translation in stages. First we rough out the sense in reasonably acceptable rhymes:

Lalla Ruk

A dream she was, the soul’s delight;
drawn in beauty, half divine,
a visitor from some great height
that down on this dark earth will shine.

The bliss afforded me was short,
a moment only, but was full:
a self-made messenger athwart
the earth of ours and the heaven’s pull.

This was the land long promised us,
that land that is eternal peace;
I thought to ripen there, and thus
transpire in Kashmir’s fragrant lease

What celebrations there I saw,
what festivals of springtime rose,
how beautiful she was, but for
what foreign things were looks as those?

Brilliant, captivating, like
an angel from some other place,
the young and pure had come to strike
my sudden vision of this grace.

She had a thinnish veil or gown
that hid that lovely face from sight.
The eyes were modestly cast down;
the gaze was sweet but from a height.

All within her bashfulness,
the crown that made a glowing trace,
that innocence, that liveliness,
and majesty in such a face —

And feelings only depths confess
what silence in itself will say.
And all was with an artlessness,
a beauty more than words convey.

I watched; the apparition passed
(carrying the spirit on).
Irretrievable, from first to last
I followed but the girl had gone.

It was as though some hope
had but alighted for that time:
convention given greater scope,
a moment only on life’s climb.

And now it was no longer here,
inherent beauty gone from sight,
that’s only visiting, cannot stay near,
but come to us from heavenly height.

And no more lasting than a dream
will linger on the morning air,
But a Holy Remembrance we deem
inseparable from longing there.

A moment only, its purity
being where that Happening starts:
revelation as an entity
that’s beneficial to our hearts.

Which know the heavens, and will in turn
discern the dark parts here below,
It is a veil through which we learn
what glimpses of this earth will show.

And all that’s beautiful down here,
that in our world gives life to us,
that is convincing and is clear,
is soul at large and generous.

And when at last we go our way
and as a gift, as mind will tell,
the sky lights up and there will stay
a star to bid us here farewell.

A fair amount of rewriting is required to get Zukovsky's airy rightness. There are many ways of going wrong here, most readily by expressing each tuck and turn of the Russian with clichés of English romantic verse: Zukovsky is saying something different. The poem's more in the nature of an aesthetic manifesto.

Lalla Ruk

She was a dream, the soul’s delight;
a guest possessing heaven's worth,
a visitor that in our sight
brought things celestial to the earth.

It was a moment only, then
that golden happiness was gone:
a generous messenger to men,
but with that insight faring on.

It was the promised land I saw,
the one that knows eternal peace:
where ripening in myself I'd draw
on Kashmir's long and fragrant lease.

Triumphantly I saw displayed
the rose and springtime festival
from lands yet far away, which made
a strange and alien spectacle.

A captivating brilliancy,
in being from no earthly skies,
when youth's unclouded purity
appeared before my startled eyes.

A thin, transparent veil or gown
concealed that lovely face from sight.
Modest, with her eyes cast down:
a gaze as gathered from great height.

And all within a naturalness,
a crown that threw a shimmering trace
on innocence, on liveliness:
what majesty informed that face —

And feelings only depths confess
or calm serenity will say.
As such it was an artlessness
more beautiful than words convey.

I watched; the apparition passed,
(still carrying the spirit on).
That very action could not last:
I followed but the shape was gone.

The vision was a fleeting hope
that lit up life a moment there,
a legend merely where we mope
forever after one affair.

For not with us will spirit stay,
where beauty soon is lost to sight.
It visits but then fades away
being born of some more heavenly light.

Impetuous may be the dreams,
that take on airy morning's part,
a Holy Remembrance that seems
inseparable and one with heart!

In moments only do we see
that entity where Happening starts:
a revelation that must be
a benefice to our fond hearts.

It is our feelings probe the skies
through these vast darknesses below.
We look as through a veil that lies
athwart what any earth can show.

And all that’s beautiful down here,
that's life-enhancing, true and whole
to our full senses, is thus clear,
must speak the language of the soul.

When we at last will go our way
with thoughts of love, that gift will tell
how sky lights up and long will stay
that star to bid us its farewell.

Simple verse craft will get us through, provided we enter into the themes and spirit of the times. Unwelcome as it will be to scholarly ears, to translate poetry adequately we have to write poetry. Not at Zukovsky's level, unfortunately, but poetry of a sort.


1. Wachtel, M. The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (CUP 2004) 83-5.

2. Mirsky, D.S. A History of Russian Literature (Knopf 1926/Vintage 1958) 75-9.

3. Bristol, E.B. A History of Russian Poetry (O.U.P. 1991) 94-97.

4. Lalla Rookh. Good Wikipedia introduction.

5. Fran Printchett's Lalla Rookh crafted for the Internet

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.