Poems by Joseph Brodsky


About a year has passed. I've returned to the place of the battle
to its birds that have learned their unfolding of wings
from a subtle
lift of a surprised eyebrow or perhaps from a razor blade
- wings now the shade of early twilight now of state
bad blood.

Now the place is abuzz with trading
in your ankles's remanants bronzes
of sunburnt breastplates dying laughter bruises
rumors of fresh reserves memories of high treason
laundered banners with imprints of the many
who since have risen.

All's overgrown with people. A ruin's a rather stubborn
architectural style. And the hearts's distinction
from a pitch-black cavern
isn't that great; not great enough to fear
that we may collide again like blind eggs somewhere.

At sunrise when nobody stares at one's face I often
set out on foot to a monument cast in molten
lengthy bad dreams. And it says on the plinth "commander
in chief." But it reads "in grief " or "in brief "
or "in going under."
1985 translated by the author.

Folk Tune

It's not that the Muse feels like clamming up
it's more like high time for the lad's last nap.
And the scarf-waving lass who wished him the best
drives a steamroller across his chest.

And the words won't rise either like that rod
or like logs to rejoin their old grove's sweet rot
and like eggs in the frying pan the face
spills its eyes all over the pillowcase.

Are you warm tonight under those six veils
in that basin of yours whose strung bottom wails;
where like fish that gasp at the foreign blue
my raw lip was catching what then was you?

I would have hare's ears sewn to my bald head
in thick woods for your sake I'd gulp drops of lead
and from black gnarled snags in the oil-smooth poad
I'd bob up to your face as some Tirpitz won't.

But it's not on the cards or the waiter's tray
and it pains to say where one's hair turns gray.
There are more blue veins than the blood to swell
their dried web let alone some remote brain cell

We are parting for good my friend that's that.
Draw an empty circle on your blue pad.
This will be me: no insides in thrall.
Stare at it a while then erase the scrawl.

Translated by the author.

May 24 1980

I have braved for want of wild beasts steel cages
carved my term and nickname on bunks and rafters
lived by the sea flashed aces in an oasis
dined with the-devil-knows-whom in tails on truffles.
From the height of a glacier I beheld half a world the earthly
width. Twice have drowned thrice let knives rake my nitty-gritty.
Quit the country the bore and nursed me.
Those who forgot me would make a city.
I have waded the steppes that saw yelling Huns in saddles
worn the clothes nowadays back in fashion in every quarter
planted rye tarred the roofs of pigsties and stables
guzzled everything save dry water.
I've admitted the sentries' third eye into my wetand foul
dreams. Munched the bread of exile; it's stale and warty.
Granted my lungs all sounds except the howl;
switched to a whisper. Now I am forty.
What should I say about my life? That it's long and abhors transparence.
Broken eggs make me grieve; the omelette though makes me vomit.
Yet until brown clay has been rammed down my larynx
only gratitude will be gushing from it.

1980 translated by the author.

A Polar Explorer

All the huskies are eaten. There is no space
left in the diary And the beads of quick
words scatter over his spouse's sepia-shaded face
adding the date in question like a mole to her lovely cheek.
Next the snapshot of his sister. He doesn't spare his kin:
what's been reached is the highest possible latitude!
And like the silk stocking of a burlesque half-nude
queen it climbs up his thigh: gangrene.

1977 translated by the author.

Dutch Mistress

A hotel in whose ledgers departures are more prominent than arrivals.
With wet Koh-i-noors the October rain
strokes what's left of the naked brain.
In this country laid flat for the sake of rivers,
beer smells of Germany and the seaguls are
in the air like a page's soiled corners.
Morning enters the premises with a coroner's
punctuality, puts its ear 
to the ribs of a cold radiator, detects sub-zero:
the afterlife has to start somewhere.
Correspondingly, the angelic curls
grow more blond, the skin gains its distant, lordly
white, while the bedding already coils
desperately in the basement laundry.


Tsushima Screen

The perilous blue sun follows with its slant eyes
masts of the shuddered grove steaming up to capsize
in the frozen straits of Epiphany. February has fewer
days than the other months; therefore it's morecruel
than the rest. Dearest it's more sound
to wrap up our sailing round
the globe with habitual naval grace
moving your cot to the fireplace
where our dreadnought is going under
in great smoke. Only fire can grasp a winter!
Golder unharnessed stallions in the chimney
dye their manes to more corvine shades as they near the finish
and the dark room fills with the plaintive incessant chirring
of a naked lounging grasshopper one cannot cup in fingers.

1978 translated by the author.

Letter to an Archaeologist

Citizen enemy mama's boy sucker utter
garbage panhandler swine refujew verrucht;
a scalp so often scalded with boiling water
that the puny brain feels completely cooked.
Yes we have dwelt here: in this concrete brick wooden
rubble which you now arrive to sift.
All our wires were crossed barbed tangled or interwoven.
Also: we didn't love our women but they conceived.
Sharp is the sound of pickax that hurts dead iron

still it's gentler that what we've been told or
have said ourselves.
Stranger! move carefully through our carrion:
what seems carrion to you is freedom to our cells
Leave our names alone. Don't reconstruct those vowels
consonants and so forth: they won't resemble larks
but a demented bloodhound whose maw devours
its own traces feces and barks and barks.

1983 translated by the author.

Stone Villages

The stone-built villages of England.
A cathedral bottled in a pub window.
Cows dispersed across fields.
Monuments to kings.

A man in a moth-eaten suit
sees a train off heading like everything here
for the sea
smiles at his daughter leaving for the East.
A whistle blows.

And the endless sky over the tiles
grows bluer as swelling birdsong fills.
And the clearer the song is heard
the smaller the bird.

1975-6 translated by the author.


Darling you think it's love it's just a midnightjourney.
Best are the dales and rivers removed by force
as from the next compartment throttles "Oh stopit Bernie "
yet the rhythm of those paroxysms is exactly yours.
Hook to the meat! Brush to the red-brick dentures
alias cigars smokeless like a driven nail!
Here the works are fewer than monkey wrenches
and the phones are whining dwarfed by to-no-avail.
Bark then with joy at Clancy Fitzgibbon Miller.
Dogs and block letters care how misfortune spells.
Still you can tell yourself in the john by the spat-at mirror
slamming the flush and emerging with clean lapels.
Only the liquid furniture cradles the dwindling figure.
Man shouldn't grow in size once he's been portrayed.
Look: what's been left behind is about as meager
as what remains ahead. Hence the horizon's blade.

1983 translated by the author.

Seven Strophes

I was but what you'd brush
with your palm what your leaning
brow would hunch to in evening's
raven-black hush.

I was but what your gaze
in that dark could distinguish:
a dim shape to begin with
later - features a face.

It was you on my right
on my left with your heated
sighs who molded my helix
whispering at my side.

It was you by that black
window's trembling tulle pattern
who laid in my raw cavern
a voice calling you back.

I was practically blind.
You appearing then hiding
gave me my sight and heightened
it. Thus some leave behind

a trace. Thus they make worlds.
Thus having done so at random
wastefully they abandon
their work to its whirls.

Thus prey to speeds
of light heat cold or darkness
a sphere in space without markers
spins and spins.

1981 translated by Paul Graves.

Belfast Tune

Here's a girl from a dangerous town
She crops her dark hair short
so that less of her has to frown
when someine gets hurt.

She folds her memories like a parachute.
Dropped she collects the peat
and cooks her veggies at home: they shoot
here where they eat.

Ah there's more sky in these parts than say
ground. Hence her voice's pitch
and her stare stains your retina like a gray
bulb when you switch

hemispheres and her knee-length quilt
skirt's cut to catch the squal
I dream of her either loved or killed
because the town's too small.

translated by the author

To Urania

To I.K.

Everything has its limit including sorrow.
A windowpane stalls a stare. Nor does a grill abandon
a leaf. One may rattle the keys gurgle down a swallow.
Loneless cubes a man at random.
A camel sniffs at the rail with a resentful nostril;
a perspective cuts emptiness deep and even.
And what is space anyway if not the
body's absence at every given
point? That's why Urania's older sister Clio!
in daylight or with the soot-rich lantern
you see the globe's pate free of any bio
you see she hides nothing unlike the latter.
There they are blueberry-laden forests
rivers where the folk with bare hands catch sturgeon
or the towns in whose soggy phone books
you are starring no longer; father eastward surge on
brown mountain ranges; wild mares carousing
in tall sedge; the cheeckbones get blueer
as they turn numerous. And still farther
east steam dreadnoughts

or cruisers
and the expanse grows blue like lace underwear.

translated by the author

A list of some observation

A list of some observation. In a corner it's warm.
A glance leaves an imprint on anything it's dwelt on.
Water is glass's most public form.
Man is more frightening than its skeleton.
A nowhere winter evening with wine. A black
porch resists an osier's stiff assaults.
Fixed on an elbow the body bulks
like a glacier's debris a moraine of sorts.
A millennium hence they'll no doubt expose
a fossil bivalve propped behind this gauze
cloth with the print of lips under the print of fringe
mumbling "Good night" to a window hinge.

translated by the author