The Black Man | Sergei Yesenin, 1925

Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925)

My friend, my friend,
How sick I am. Nor do I know
Whence came this sickness.
Either the wind whistles
Over the desolate unpeopled field,
Or as September strips a copse,
Alcohol strips my brain.

My head waves my ears
Like a bird its wings.
Unendurably it looms my neck
When I walk.
The black man,
The black, black,
Black man
Sits by me on the bed all night,
Won't let me sleep.

This black man
Runs his fingers over a vile book,
And, twangling above me,
Like a sleepy monk over a corpse,
Reads a life
Of some drunken wretch,
Filling my heart with longing and despair.
The black man,
Oh black man.

"Listen, listen"–
He mutters to me –
The book is full of beautiful
Plans and resolutions.
This fellow lived
His life in a land of most repulsive
Thieves and charlatans.

And in that land the December snow
Is pure as the very devil,
And the snowstorms drive
Merry spinning-wheels.
This man was an adventurer,
Though of the highest
And the best quality.
Oh, he was elegant,
And the poet at that,
Albeit of a slight
But useful gift.
And some woman,
Of forty or so,
He called his "naughty girl,"
His "love."

Happiness–he said–
Is a quickness of hand and mind.
Slow fools are always
Known for being unhappy.
heartaches, we know,
Derive
From broken, lying gestures,

At thunder and tempest,
At the world's coldheartedness,
During times of heavy loss
And when you're sad
The greatest art on earth
Is to seem uncomplicatedly gay.

"Black man!
Don't you dare!
You do not live as
A deep-sea diver.
What's the life
Of a scandalous poet to me?
Please read this story
To someone else."

The black man
Looks me straight in the eye
And his eyes are filmed
With blue vomit–
As if he wanted to say,
I'm a thief and rogue
Who'd robbed a man
Openly, without shame.

Ah friend, my friend,
How sick I am. Now do I know
Whence came this sickness.
Either the wind whistles
Over the desolate unpeopled field,
Or as September strips a copse,
Alcohol strips my brain.

The night is freezing
Still peace at the crossroads.
I am alone at the window,
Expecting neither visitor nor friend.
The whole plain is covered
With soft quick-lime,
And the trees, like riders,
Assembled in our garden.

Somewhere a night bird,
Ill-omened, is sobbing.
The wooden riders
Scatter hoofbeats.
And again the black
Man is sitting in my chair,
He lifts his top hat
And, casual, takes off his cape.

"Listen! listen!"–he croaks,
Eyes on my face,
Leaning closer and closer.
I never saw
Any scoundrel
Suffer so stupidly, pointlessly,
From insomnia.

Well, I could be wrong.
There is a moon tonight.
What else is needed
By your sleep-drunken world?
Perhaps, "She" will come,
With her fat thighs,
In secret, and you'll read
Your languid, carrion
Verse to her.

Ah, how I love these poets!
A funny race!
I always find in them
A story known to my heart–
How a long-haired monster
Profusing sexual languor
Tells of worlds
To a pimply girl-student.

I don't know, don't remember,
In some village,
Kaluga perhaps, or
Maybe Ryazan,
There lived a boy
Of simple peasant stock,
Blond-haired
And angel-eyed...

And he grew up,
Grew up into a poet
Of slight but
Useful talent,
And some woman,
Of forty or so,
He called his "naughty girl,"
His "love."

"Black man!
Most odious guest!
Your fame has long resounded."
I'm enraged, possessed,
Amd my cane flies
Straight across
The bridge of his nose.


The moon has died.
Dawn glimmers in the window.
Ah, night!
What, night, what have you ruined?
I stand top-hatted.
No one is with me.
I am alone...
And the mirror is broken.


Sergei Aleksandrovich Yesenin, 1925
tr. Geoffrey Hurley


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