Joseph Brodsky — A Song of Innocence, Also of Experience

                      "On a cloud I saw a child,
                      and he laughing said to me..."
	                            W. Blake


We want to be playing tag on the green,
wearing just shirtsleeves, tidy and clean.
If the weather is rainy rather than dry,
       while doing the homework we want not to cry.

We shall finish the textbook with exemplary zeal.
That of which we shall dream will always be real.
We shall love everybody, and they will love us,
       It's as good as it gets, like a plus and a minus.

We shall marry maidens with eyes full of soul.
And if we are maidens ourselves, then tall
youths we shall take to be our spouses,
       and love will reign in all our houses.

Because there's a smile on the face of the doll,
laughing, we'll stumble and take our fall.
And then the wise elders, long out of the strife,
       will pronounce gravely that such is life.


Our thoughts will be longer with each passing year.
With iodine we'll banish all illness and fear.
Our curtained windows, ajar for the season,
       will not have the black bars of a prison.

We'll be home from a pleasant job quite early.
At the movies we'll sit and blink but rarely.
Heavy brooches to dresses we'll pin with a thrill.
       If you're out of money, we'll foot the bill.

We shall build a ship, made out of steel,
with a steam turbine, with a bar and a grill.
We'll embark upon it, having gotten a visa,
       and shall see the Acropolis and the Mona Lisa.

As the number of continents (five, no more)
times the number of seasons, of which there are four,
having topped up the tank without fail,
       twenty places we'll get where we can sail.


Nightingales will sing for us in the green.
We shall not be thinking of the death unseen
more often than a bird draws a scarecrow's attention.
       Having sinned, we'll come forth and ask for detention.

Old age we shall meet in a comfy armchair,
grandchildren around us, merry and fair.
And if there are none, then with the neighbors
       over drinks we'll enjoy the fruits of our labors.

As the books, our friends and the epoch all tell us,
there is no way tomorrow can be any worse
than yesterday, which word, rather nutty,
       should in tempi be always written passati.

Because the soul in the body is mired,
life will be better than we desired.
Into the dough pure lard we'll fold.
       That way it's tastier: so we were told.


Part II
                   "Hear the voice of the Bard!"
                                 W. Blake


We never hold forth until someone winces.
We'll never decide to elope with a princess.
We'll accept a martini only if dry, 
	too ashamed to laugh and too bored to cry.

We'll never risk mésalliance in a marriage.
We don't ride a gray wolf ahead of the carriage,
and it won't turn out, when the moon is full,
	to be an enchanted prince or a ghoul.

Having known temptation, we tempt not our brothers.
We don't love our likes, and dislike those others
who encroach on our personal space.
	We detest the times, but more often -- the place.

As the north and the south are far apart,
Our thoughts form a tangle, never to part.
When the sun goes down we switch on the light,
	Rounding up the evening with a turkish delight.


We don't see our crops rising up from the soil.
The judge we despise, from defenders recoil.
We value softball much higher than playoffs,
	Give us a burger, and hold the mayo.

A star in our eye is a tear in the pillow,
We fear the crown on a frog under willow,
warts on our fingers, all disappointment.
	Give us a tube of some goodly ointment.

We are pleased with stupidity more than with cunning.
We don't know why the flowers appear in the spring.
And when Boreas returns to rewind the clock, 
	we feel nothing at all, except a shock.

Because the heat dissipates into cold,
our shirt is torn, but the jacket is bold.
Our judgment is fine, but the eyes are too weak
	to tell a duck's bill from an eagle's beak.


We fear death, and the torments ahead.
Alive, we know what it is that we dread:
Void is likelier and worse than Inferno
	We know not to whom we should say "hell, no".

Our lives, like excuses, exhausted a quota.
We shall never appear in a dream to a daughter
Or lean over to kiss a son in his bed.
	Our shadow is longer than the night ahead.

That's no solemn assembly convened by the bell!
The dark that awaits us we cannot dispel.
We roll down the flag and retreat to the keg.
	Let us have a last drink and a draw on the fag.

Why did this come to pass? It's a lie
to blame personality or Fate from on high.
Should it have ever been otherwise?
	We footed the bill, never mind the price. 

			Joseph Brodsky, 1972
                        [original here]

translated by Shimon Edelman <>


Last modified on Wed Apr 8 13:39:53 2015