Secret Signs

In preparing to lecture about, and perform, the Seven Poems of Alexander Blok—Shostakovich's great suite for soprano and piano trio—I have found some of the existing English translations to be unsatisfactory.  So I am creating my own translations. For example, in No. 6 ("Тайные знаки"), only in the intoxicating combination of the musical building-blocks of this poem and its rendition—however abstract—of anguished foreboding, can the full measure of its greatness perhaps be felt by a non-Russian speaker. In other words, I hew exactly to the meter and rhyme, and then as closely as possible to the meaning:


Secret signs smolder brighter and brighter,
On the windowless, wan, wakeless wall.
Crimson poppies of gold and of amber
On my sleep cast a tormented pall.

I take shelter in caves of the nightfall,
I remember stern marvels no more,
And at dawn there appear blue chimeras
In the mirror athwart heaven’s door.

I take refuge in moments forgotten,
Out of fear I shut closely mine eyes,
On the page of a book growing colder,
A fair maiden’s gold braid slowly dies.

Up above me the firmament falters,
A black dream overspreads my bleak breast,
My predestined collapse is upon me,
And ahead all is war, fire, unrest.