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Imitations of the Koran [Poem] Author(s): Alexander Pushkin and Ants Oras Source: The Sewanee Review, Vol.

80, No. 2 (Spring, 1972), pp. 276-283 Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/27542634 . Accessed: 30/07/2011 11:02
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IMITATIONS

OF

THE

KORAN1

By ALEXANDER
Translated

PUSHKIN
Oras

by Ants

I swear

this

oath

by near

and

far

And by the sword that kills and quickens, I swear it by the morning star
And by the prayer when darkness thickens:?*

I shall not leave thee: did I not Find for thy heart a quiet haven And guard thy head and save thy lot
From watchful malice, sly and craven?

And did I not in desert days


Assuage Empower thy thirst thy tongue and, gentle-minded, to show the ways

Of mighty
So go and

justice to the blinded?


follow truth and teach,

Despise the evil that dissembles, Be bold and, loving orphans, preach
My Koran while Creation trembles.
"The writes Mohammed the Koran "consider godless," (in the Sura "Reward"), a medley of new lies and ancient fables." This view held by the "godless" is doubt even are stated less correct; truths moral in the Koran with force and so, many are herewith A few free imitations to the reader. offered In the original poetry. Allah in his own name whereas Mohammed is referred to only in everywhere speaks the second or third person. are Pushkin's four footnotes (This and the following notes.) 2In other passages swears by the hoofs of mares, of the Koran Allah by the fruit of the fig tree, by the freedom of Mekka, and vice, and men, and so by virtue angels forth. turn occurs This odd rhetorical the Koran. constantly throughout

ALEXANDER

PUSHKIN

277

2
Oh, you, the Prophet's the shade women, of vice: and graced it smothers chaste. veil

With
Dread The Live

purity above all others,


even bliss of quiet, clear

modestly: reserved

the guarding for pure the

Of the unwedded tells the tale


Of minds embraces

And lawful joys, serene and shy;


And never shall cunning eye

Of
And

infidels behold your faces.


you, Mohammed's guests, who find

My Prophet quiet in devotion,


Beware, beware, lest word or motion

Of worldliness disturb his mind. Beware of empty talk and bridle


Immodest Respect and idle; tongues, profane the peace of thought he craves

And humbly share his feast, allowing Due deference and chastely bowing
Before his graceful women slaves.8
not tell you will These command

courteous adds Allah, and modest, s"My Prophet," "being most I should not be blunt with you." this; but there is no reason why ments blaze with Arab positively jealousy.

278

IMITATIONS

OF 3

THE

KORAN

The Prophet, deeply frowning, heard The blind man come. Disturbed and weary, He fled, lest Vice that doubts theWord, Assail his mind with idle query.4 The heavenly copy of the Book
not for scoffers: Is thine, but, Prophet, the Koran's Declare peace, but look Past those who spurn the truth it offers.

What does man boast of? Is he proud Of being born in naked meekness? Of lying helpless in his shroud? Of all his days and ways of weakness? Of dying by the will of God? Of resurrection at His leisure? Of owing Him these years that plod
In fear and hope, in pain and pleasure?

Of bread and dates and olives' oil And all the fruit his garden yielded Because God's blessing helped his toil In fields and vineyards thatHe shielded? Twice shall the Angel's trumpet call And lightning strike when horror smothers This crumbling world, till kin shall fall
From
*From

kin and
the Sura

sons
Blind

forsake
Man".

their mothers.

"The

ALEXANDER

PUSHKIN

279

And all, the just and the unjust, Shall stream to God and shrink with terror, And showers and clouds of flame and dust Shall drown iniquity and error. 4 With Thee, Almighty, an ambitious And powerful lord of kingdoms vied,
Consumed with madness, vain and vicious,

But, God, Thy word subdued his pride. Thou saidst: "My will gives life and takes it,
unmakes my wrath bounty makes, My I raise my hand to star and sphere.'5 it,

And he:
will

"I, too, give life and take it,

that grants My it, can unmake it, stand Thine I, godlike, equal here."

Thus spoke his pride. To crush and burn it,


Thine "I make And force answer the struck. His ceased:? boasting sun go westwards. Turn it to the east!" its glory 5

Earth Soars,

moves

not; Heaven, sea and overarching the Maker's,

the many-vaulted, land.

It does not crush or quell us, halted


By Thy, guarding hand?*

The hand that lit the day-star, sending Through Heaven and Earth its seas of light, Like oil in crystal cressets lending
Day's radiant
but

boon
what

to worlds
bold poetry!

of night.

"Bad physics;

280

IMITATIONS

OF THE

KORAN

Pray to the Mighty,


He rules the winds, shade He

the Creator:
guides to burning the rains

To
His

thirsty lands. No might


trees give

is greater:
plains.

His mind
Mohammed

ismerciful;
and His

we owe Him
Koran's gift.

Oh may we see the light to know Him And may the mists that blind us, lift! 6 No, not in vain I dreamed of late:
Heads shaved all over, wall weapons and gate. flushing

With

blood, you fought your battle, rushing


and turret,

At moat

So, children

of our flaming

spaces,

Hear now this voice of triumph : Slake Your thirst for warlike spoils, and take
The captive maids you have and share their graces!

For But The

is fame. yours conquered: shirking those, too faint of heart, who, wonder-working, call, distrusted

Prophetic dreams, shall writhe with


Now They, that they the spoils before to erase the blot, see

shame.
you

craving shall

Beg:
But

Take us with you!


you answer: We

They
will

implore you,
not.

ALEXANDER

PUSHKIN

281

Blest he who fell in fight: forever Shall Eden's heavenly bowers be his, And he shall drown in joys, and never Shall any pain disturb his bliss. 7
Rise, See, The timid here lamp one, in thy spreads sleep cave not:

its sacred

Delight until dawn. Unburden, O Prophet, With prayers from thy heart Thy mind of all sadness, All cunning of dreams. Pray humbly, till morning Brings day to the world,
Read long, until morning,

The office of Heaven! 8


No, never haggle with your conscience to deceive it:

Faced with pale poverty, give freely to relieve it.


Heaven Then wants your bounty full and all your gifts unscored. keeper, on the Day You, of Doom, your blessed sower, shall acres' generous

be reaper:

The Lord will multiply His

grace for your reward.

282

IMITATIONS

OF

THE

KORAN

But if, too mindful of your days of toil and drudging, You stint the beggar's dole and if your alms are grudging, You, tightening your fist in jealousy and greed, Know: all you ever give will be like chaff that moulders! Like dust that cloudbursts wash from boulders, It all shall vanish?God will scorn your gift indeed. 9 And faintly the wanderer muttered to God With thirst and despair in the desert he trod. Three noondays had lingered, three midnights
On wastes, and his eyelids were burning a well. and

had hovered
covered

With
When

dust, and his anguish too heavy to tell,


under a palm tree he noticed

And straight to that palm tree he hurried, and drenched


His The His And eyes in the quickening coolness, that numbed fever and torment and by his and quenched and encumbered . . .

tongue,

lay down number years without

she-ass, and slumbered passed over his sleep.

Thus ordered the Lord of the height and the deep.


At to wake, last, at the hour he was destined A voice from on high made the slumberer quake:

"How long hast thou slept in these desolate places?"


He Of My answered: desert, slumber some has "The hours lasted sun shone after on yesterday's was born. daylight until morn." spaces

from morn

ALEXANDER He Look: heard: "No, thou, friend, then thou wert youthful,

PUSHKIN hast slept more and now thou than a day.

283
art grey.

The palm tree is gone with the well that it shaded, The sparkle of whispering water has faded; It died of the sand storms, the glare of the sky.
The bones of thy she-ass are whitened and dry."

old And, His head

in a moment, the wanderer shook with weakness, and,

shrank, sobbing, it sank . . .

But see! of a sudden a miracle


His

lightened

and the past, resurrected and brightened, gloom, Shone and the palm tree waved, forth, shady and cool,

Protecting

the spring and its whispering pool.

Life thrilled through the bones of the she-ass, and made Them cover with flesh, and they shuddered and brayed.
Exultant, the wanderer rose, and, bestowing

New vigor of youth, a high rapture shot glowing And fresh through his bloodstream; and, deeply restored,
Devoutly he went on his way with
Note

the Lord.

Translator's

first published in the 1826 collection of the Koran", Pushkin's nine "Imitations of on the country were estate of Trigorskoye in November, his Poems, 1824, composed a period The from the larger centers. title is somewhat of banishment mis during use motifs in places for although these poems and the leading, from, paraphrase, in the late eighteenth-century knew translation which Pushkin of M. Veryov Koran, as be in may They kin, they are essentially original work. autobiographical, part seem to suggest. verses certain in them appear Several to reflect passages suppressed the poet's in the years the abortive Decembrist feelings immediately preceding revolt, seem to be colored with whose leaders he had been not associated. closely They of personal but by his hopes for something like a only by his awareness persecution for his country, here of course in Oriental dis political miracle expressed guardedly, But that vein of deep, often guise. they also, and above all, impressively anticipate was soon to culminate which in one of his most celebrated vatic, religious devotion a tautening "The Prophet". and intensification of pieces, represent Stylistically they the manner so similar to that of the prophetic of the Koran, books of the Old Testa ment. Soviet criticism has tried to minimize the religious of these aspect poems, on their possible almost No earlier ver dwelling exclusively political implications. sions of this cycle appear to exist in English.