from A Double Life

We present this work in honor of the poet’s 215th birthday.

Karolina Pavlova
1807 – 1893


The stars shine menacingly above her,
The night is infinite, the valley barely visible;
She is alone… perhaps it is too late,
Perhaps the time of encounter has passed.

The midnight bird has taken wing…
The earth is silent like the grave;
From time to time the angry summer lightning
Flashes in the dusky distance.

And suddenly he stands beside her,
Lowering his gloomy brow,
Unmoving, with a hopeless look,
In heavy, silent meditation.

“You have come again!… and are we not in a dream?…
Why was our path so separate?…
Why are your lips so silent?…
Why is terror descending on my heart?…”

And he bent over, pale and grieving,
And he offered words of sadness:
“Let us say farewell today, my poor friend:
Let life claim its rights!

Go back to the realm of Earth,
Go to your earthly triumph—
I yield you over to the world,
With an anxious prayer to the Creator.

Sorrow has He given to all of us equally,
To all a measure of sad days;
Submit to His laws
The murmur of your pride.

Learn to live in outward agitation,
Forgetting the Eden of youthful dreams,
Share no more with anyone
The secret of inconsolable meditation.

Not in vain did your heart’s fantasies
Strive so eagerly toward existence,
Life will mercilessly fulfill
Your passionate request.

And the bright glow
Of enchanted mist will dissipate;
Too late, too soon,
You will know the gift you have awaited.

And fate will more than carry out
Its sentence over you:
But you will not lie down in cruel torment,
You will not fall in battle.

You will find amid the struggles
Of years illusionless and hard,
Many pure distractions,
Many joyful victories.

You will bear the insults of your friends,
The evil lies of angry words—
And you will raise the veil
From the mysterious goddess Isis.

You will understand earthly reality
With a maturing soul:
You will buy a dear blessing
At a dear price.

You will calm your heart’s hostility,
You will not avert your eyes from misfortune,
Neither moments of deception nor of hope
Will trouble you.

All that is today unconscious
Alien to all, will flower in you—
The burning agony of life
Will turn into rich fruit.

So, go as you’ve been sentenced,
Strong in faith only,
Not hoping for support,
Defenseless and alone.

Don’t disturb the heavens, transgressing,
Silence your own dreams.
And dare to ask of God
Only your daily bread.”

Translation by Barbara Heldt

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.