Zhukovsky's Poem The Singer

Vasily Andreyevic Zhukovsky (1783-1852) was the pioneer of Russian poetry’s golden age, creating the themes and outlooks that Pushkin and others would take further.

translating Zhukovsky's Mysterious Visitor

Zukovsky’s 'Bard' or 'Singer' was written in 1811 and continues a well-known theme, that of the talented poet who meets with an early or tragic death. In fact, the period was a difficult one for Zukovsky: he had just lost his adoptive mother M.G. Bunina, and then his own mother E. D. Turchaninova.

Additionally, though he had survived the early death of his close friend, Andrei Turgenev, his hopes of marriage with Maria Andreevna Protasova were further dashed when she married someone else. {4}

The poem is somewhat repetitive, therefore, harping on the one theme of an early death, but is also an excellent example of Karamzin’s ‘sentimentalism’. {1-3} Death is welcomed, called literally in the Russian 'a welcome dream', and 'the harbour of sorrowful thoughts', an attitude that was to become Zhukovsky's calling card.

It's also instructive to compare Zhukovsky's output to Pushkin's, to note how restrictive it is in theme and treatment. Kukovsky wrote excellent verse, but it has nothing of the verve, balance and range of Russia's national poet.

Russian Text


В тени дерев, над чистыми водами
Дерновый холм вы видите ль, друзья?
Чуть слышно там плескает в брег струя;
Чуть ветерок там дышит меж листами;
На ветвях лира и венец...
Увы! друзья, сей холм - могила;
Здесь прах певца земля сокрыла;
Бедный певец!

Он сердцем прост, он нежен был душою
Но в мире он минутный странник был;
Едва расцвел - и жизнь уж разлюбил
И ждал конца с волненьем и тоскою;
И рано встретил он конец,
Заснул желанным сном могилы...
Твой век был миг, но миг унылый,
Бедный певец!

Он дружбу пел, дав другу нежну руку,-
Но верный друг во цвете лет угас;
Он пел любовь - но был печален глас;
Увы! он знал любви одну лишь муку;
Теперь всему, всему конец;
Твоя душа покой вкусила;
Ты спишь; тиха твоя могила,
Бедный певец!

Здесь, у ручья, вечернею порою
Прощальну песнь он заунывно пел:
"О красный мир, где я вотще расцвел;
Прости навек; с обманутой душою
Я счастья ждал - мечтам конец;
Погибло все, умолкни, лира;
Скорей, скорей в обитель мира,
Бедный певец!

Что жизнь, когда в ней нет очарованья?
Блаженство знать, к нему лететь душой,
Но пропасть зреть меж ним и меж собой;
Желать всяк час и трепетать желанья...
О пристань горестных сердец,
Могила, верный путь к покою,
Когда же будет взят тобою
Бедный певец?"

И нет певца... его не слышно лиры...
Его следы исчезли в сих местах;
И скорбно все в долине, на холмах;
И все молчит... лишь тихие зефиры,
Колебля вянущий венец,
Порою веют над могилой,
И лира вторит им уныло:
Бедный певец!


Poem structure

The prosody is a little irregular but mostly conforms to iambics, rhymed AbbAcDDc:

Он се́рдцем прост, он не́жен был душо́ю    5A
Но в ми́ре он мину́тный стра́нник был;    5b
Едва́ расцвёл - и жизнь уж разлюби́л    5b
И ждал конца́ с волне́ньем и тоско́ю;    5A
И ра́но встре́тил он коне́ц,    4c
Засну́л жела́нным сном моги́лы...    4D
Твой век был миг, но миг уны́лый,    4D
Бе́дный певе́ц!    2/3c

The last line runs - u u -, and can be read as a dimeter ternary or iambic trimeter with the second stress missing.

A TTS (text to speech) recording is:

Other Translations

Ruverses have an unrhymed version by M. Denner, I. Kutik and A. Wachtel. I give their first stanza:

My friends, can you descry that mound of earth
Above clear waters in the shade of trees?
You can just hear the babbling spring against the bank;
You can just feel a breeze that's wafting in the leaves;
A wreath and lyre hang upon the boughs...
Alas, my friends! This mound'ss a grave;
Here earth conceals the ashes of a bard;
Poor bard!

The Singer

It's not a difficult poem to translate if add an epithet to the singer or bard of the last line in the stanza. Otherwise we have to find six rhymes for 'singer' or 'bard', which is clearly impossible. Zhukovsky's diction is fairly conventional, and we can use words popular with our own Romantic poets:

Across clear waters, in the shade of trees,
you see his grave, down there, now do you, friends?
There is the bubbling sound spring-water sends,
and leaves are gently lifting with the breeze.
A lyre and crown are with the bough.
My friends, alas: this is the mound
conceals his ashes in the ground.
Sad the singer now.

A soul most gentle, and a simple heart,
but in the world no casual wanderer.
Far out of love of life he fell, and would prefer
to play a brief and yet unripend part.
All too early was his death,
the yearned-for grave, to which he came
with years undone, and sad the same
was this poor singer’s breath.

He sang of friends and friendship’s tenderness,
of faithful friend struck down about his prime.
He sang of love, but sadly, knew no time
when love produced few torments nonetheless.
Now that earthly race is run,
all striving in his soul can cease,
the grave is quiet, in sleep and peace
this poor singer won.

And sometimes in the evening, by the stream,
he sang a farewell song, and mournfully:
this world, which I delighted in, can be
a soul-deceiving if forgiving dream.
Of happiness? Those hopes are gone,
all’s perished: let my lyre be still,
but find that peaceful place, as will
this dreaming on.

What life is this if it can lack all charm?
The only bliss to fly on with the soul
to absences which are complete and whole,
from every hour of yearning and alarm.
O haven of the saddening hearts:
if grave’s the better path to peace:
so will you take it and increase
this poor soul’s parts?

The singer disappears, his lyre’s not heard:
no trace of him pertains to vale or hills
and then a full and mournful absence fills
the place where winds and silences are heard.
So shakes the old and the withered wreath
when winds will sometimes cross his grave,
and lyre echoes, with naught, save
how sad the soul beneath.


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) 75-84.

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

4. Анализ стихотворения Жуковского «Певец» Short article in Russian

Russian poem translations on this site: listing.