Russian Romantic Poet Mikhail Yurevich Lermontov, 1814-1840

I do not love you, this is the truth.
And not for me is your beauties splendor.
In you I love, instead, what I remember,
And the destruction of my youth.
— Lermontov, 1841

But just imagine: what a gigantic knowledge of life the twenty-six year old Lermontov had! And he’s all – creator, a real creator, and a genius! . . . Of course, art without suffering doesn’t exist.
— Vysotsky, 1980

Lermontov lived and suffered. And in the brief span of twenty-five years created a prolific archive of poetry and prose.

It’s difficult to explain the power of Lermontov’s poetry. There is a hidden attraction, one that reveals itself through the words of a genius. When one reads his poems it is more than a poem, it becomes something greater – it turns into a personal prayer. A question of life – “Why am I living? What use is this life, and what good has it brought?”

Throughout the whole of his poetry there is a constant strive towards peace and freedom. A rebellious nature that in itself has nothing rebellious – nothing more than a soul praying to be released from the burden of life; the stressful, yet beautiful, confession of tears; the heartache of separation. And Lermontov knew all these human traits to the fullest – he, in his brief existence, experienced too many tears and disappointments too early. Since his first exile he was always exiled, separated from friends, from the women he loved, from the country he loved. He traveled through the Caucuses and found the beauty of the wild and exotic land extremely enlightening. Most of his last poems deal with exile, the Caucuses, and the strive towards freedom. There is also, in his last poems, the frightening prophesy of perhaps a known and coming death. “And in your eyes a fire no longer flames . . .,” was written in his last poems. All hopes vanished? No more dreams? He no longer wants to experience the torturous feeling of love; the horrific knowledge of a separation; to battle; to live. All he wants is peace and freedom – nothing more. Also among his last poems, “I am in search of freedom and peace.” The amazing clarity of his poetry – one doesn’t need to master Russian to fullest to feel the sweeping power of the music that lives inside the lyrics. There is such an enlightment in each word that one feels a total understanding of all the pain and all the love of Lermontov. The thing about his poetry is that one right away feels a connection to Lermontov. A direct bond that is attained is one of the greatest aspects of his work. His poems are not timed to any age or generation. His poems are about the thing that each soul faces each day – especially a soul who searches for peace and freedom. A soul who is lost inside the depths of the agony and burden of life. The soul that is mad at fate. It is “tears”, “love”, “pain”, “happiness”, “sadness”, “tranquility,” and “peace” – that connects Lermontov to eternity. In the translations that I present of his poetry I tried with all I could to depict these feelings, to carry them out just as Lermontov tried and succeeded. There is, of course, no comparison in a translation to the original. It is especially difficult to translated a genius – for his words belong only to his work. Yet I think that my translations are so far the best produced in the English language. They are the most lucid and understanding. Still, translating Lermontov is just as trying to translate Mozart into stone.


I have translated some of his poems below:

A lone white sail gleams for an instant.
The fog is blue without an end, . . .
What does it search in lands so distant?
Abandoned what in his own land?

The billows play, the mast is squeaking,
Impatient wind moans, and moans, and screams . . .
It isn’t joy that he is seeking,
And not from happiness he flees.

Tremble the waves as they are dancing,
Suns golden rays caress the seas.
Yet its for storms it’s always asking,
As if in storms lurk calm and peace!




I am not Byron – not at all,
a different fate – yet still unknown.
Like him I’m haunted from my home,
But only with a Russian soul.
I started early, I’ll finish early.
Not much created in this life.
Inside the soul, like oceans fury,
All hopes destroyed abandoned lie.
Within the gloomy oceans hearts,
Who knows its dark mysterious soul?
Who’ll tell the people all my thoughts?
Me – or God – or nobody at all?




No, I don’t love you — this is the truth,
And not for me is your beauties splendor.
In you I love, instead, what I remember,
And the destruction of my youth.

And sometimes in your soul I seek,
Inside your eyes with a long sensation,
I’m bothered with a sacred conversation,
But not with you, it’s with the heart I speak.

I’m speaking with the girlfriend of old days,
In your features I seek other ones instead,
And in your lips I see living lips long dead,
And in the eyes a fire no longer flames.


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