Listening time: under 4 minutes. I discovered this poem in my early twenties, possibly while first living and studying in China where I also got to know the poems of Osip Mandelstam. I loved its blithe life-loving adventurism, its disdain for danger and death, its saddlebags packed with essential books, and above all, the loyalty of these poetry-reading, desert striding characters to ‘our strong, our cheerful, our wicked planet’.
And note too the self-appointed role of the poet, to teach his readers to be unafraid. This could sound like schoolboy romantic bravado, until one realizes that Gumilyov (1886-1921) was shot by the Cheka, an early incarnation of the KGB, the same year he wrote the poem.
Source: ‘My Readers’ (1921), Nikolay Gumilyov – I copied this out decades ago, before I became systematic in sourcing and noting things. So I have no idea who translated it or where I found it. Sorry.
Photo credit: SteenJepsen at pixabay
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A man who shot an imperial
Ambassador amid a throng of
People came to shake my hand
To thank me for my poems …
There are many of these,
Strong, wicked, cheerful,
Who have killed elephants and men,
Who have died of thirst in the desert,
Frozen on the rim of the eternal ice,
Who are loyal to our strong,
Our cheerful, our wicked planet,
Who carry my books in their saddlebag,
Read them in a palm grove,
Leave them behind on a sinking ship,
When bullets whistle around,
When waves split the ship’s side,
I teach them to be unafraid.