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The Tram That Lost Its Way

Cofounder of the Acmeist movement in Russian literature shares a poem

  • The Tram That Lost Its Way
  • I walked an unfamiliar street 
  • And suddenly heard a raven’s cry, 
  • And the sound of a lute, and distant thunder,— 
  • In front of me a tram was flying.
  • How I jumped onto its footboard, 
  • Was a mystery to me, 
  • Even in daylight it left behind 
  • A fiery trail in the air.
  • It rushed like a dark, winged storm, 
  • And was lost in the abyss of time... 
  • Tram-driver, stop, 
  • Stop the tram now. 
  • Too late. We had already turned the corner, 
  • We tore through a forest of palms, 
  • Over the Neva, the Nile, the Seine 
  • We thundered across three bridges.
  • And slipping by the window frame, 
  • A poor old man threw us an inquisitive glance — 
  • The very same old man, of course, 
  • Who had died in Beirut a year ago.
  • Where am I? So languid and troubled 
  • The beat of my heart responds: 
  • “Do you see the station where you can buy 
  • A ticket to the India of the soul?”
  • A sign... Blood-filled letters 
  • Announce: “Zelennaya,” — I know that here 
  • Instead of cabbages and rutabagas 
  • The heads of the dead are for sale.
  • In a red shirt, with a face like an udder, 
  • The executioner cuts my head off, too, 
  • It lies together with the others 
  • Here, in a slippery box, at the very bottom.
  • And in a side street a board fence, 
  • A house three windows wide, a gray lawn... 
  • Tram-driver, stop, 
  • Stop the tram now.
  • Mashenka, you lived here and sang, 
  • You wove me, your betrothed, a carpet, 
  • Where are your voice and body now, 
  • Is it possible that you are dead?
  • How you groaned in your front chamber, 
  • While I, in a powdered wig, 
  • Went to introduce myself to the Empress 
  • Never to see you again. 
  • Now I understand: our freedom 
  • Is only an indirect light from those times, 
  • People and shadows stand at the entrance 
  • To a zoological park of planets. 
  • And a sudden, familiar, sweet wind blows, 
  • A horseman’s hand in an iron glove 
  • And two hooves of his horse 
  • Fly at me over the bridge.
  • That faithful stronghold of Orthodoxy, 
  • Isaac’s, is etched upon the sky, 
  • There I will hold a service for Mashenka’s health 
  • And a Requiem Mass for myself.
  • And my heart goes on forever in gloom, 
  • It is hard to breathe and painful to live... 
  • Mashenka, I never would have dreamed 
  • That such love and longing were possible.
Nikolai Gumilyov

Nikolai Gumilyov (1886-1921) was a Russian poet, literary critic and one of the earliest victims of conscience in the Soviet Union. A cofounder of the Acmeist movement in Russian literature – which espoused compactness of form and clarity of expression as leading virtues in any literary endeavor – Gumilov was among the most renowned of the first generation of poets to live under Soviet oppression. The husband of fellow Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Gumilov was unequivocal in his disdain for communism and the Soviet regime which destroyed his country and suppressed Christianity. (He would publicly make the Sign of the Cross when such gestures were dangerous if not outright illegal.) On August 26, he was eventually canceled from Soviet culture when he and 61 other “conspirators” in a fabricated plot to overthrow the government were executed. “The Tram That Lost Its Way” is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

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  • The Tram That Lost Its Way
  • I walked an unfamiliar street 
  • And suddenly heard a raven’s cry, 
  • And the sound of a lute, and distant thunder,— 
  • In front of me a tram was flying.
  • How I jumped onto its footboard, 
  • Was a mystery to me, 
  • Even in daylight it left behind 
  • A fiery trail in the air.
  • It rushed like a dark, winged storm, 
  • And was lost in the abyss of time... 
  • Tram-driver, stop, 
  • Stop the tram now. 
  • Too late. We had already turned the corner, 
  • We tore through a forest of palms, 
  • Over the Neva, the Nile, the Seine 
  • We thundered across three bridges.
  • And slipping by the window frame, 
  • A poor old man threw us an inquisitive glance — 
  • The very same old man, of course, 
  • Who had died in Beirut a year ago.
  • Where am I? So languid and troubled 
  • The beat of my heart responds: 
  • “Do you see the station where you can buy 
  • A ticket to the India of the soul?”
  • A sign... Blood-filled letters 
  • Announce: “Zelennaya,” — I know that here 
  • Instead of cabbages and rutabagas 
  • The heads of the dead are for sale.
  • In a red shirt, with a face like an udder, 
  • The executioner cuts my head off, too, 
  • It lies together with the others 
  • Here, in a slippery box, at the very bottom.
  • And in a side street a board fence, 
  • A house three windows wide, a gray lawn... 
  • Tram-driver, stop, 
  • Stop the tram now.
  • Mashenka, you lived here and sang, 
  • You wove me, your betrothed, a carpet, 
  • Where are your voice and body now, 
  • Is it possible that you are dead?
  • How you groaned in your front chamber, 
  • While I, in a powdered wig, 
  • Went to introduce myself to the Empress 
  • Never to see you again. 
  • Now I understand: our freedom 
  • Is only an indirect light from those times, 
  • People and shadows stand at the entrance 
  • To a zoological park of planets. 
  • And a sudden, familiar, sweet wind blows, 
  • A horseman’s hand in an iron glove 
  • And two hooves of his horse 
  • Fly at me over the bridge.
  • That faithful stronghold of Orthodoxy, 
  • Isaac’s, is etched upon the sky, 
  • There I will hold a service for Mashenka’s health 
  • And a Requiem Mass for myself.
  • And my heart goes on forever in gloom, 
  • It is hard to breathe and painful to live... 
  • Mashenka, I never would have dreamed 
  • That such love and longing were possible.
Nikolai Gumilyov

Nikolai Gumilyov (1886-1921) was a Russian poet, literary critic and one of the earliest victims of conscience in the Soviet Union. A cofounder of the Acmeist movement in Russian literature – which espoused compactness of form and clarity of expression as leading virtues in any literary endeavor – Gumilov was among the most renowned of the first generation of poets to live under Soviet oppression. The husband of fellow Russian poet Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966), Gumilov was unequivocal in his disdain for communism and the Soviet regime which destroyed his country and suppressed Christianity. (He would publicly make the Sign of the Cross when such gestures were dangerous if not outright illegal.) On August 26, he was eventually canceled from Soviet culture when he and 61 other “conspirators” in a fabricated plot to overthrow the government were executed. “The Tram That Lost Its Way” is considered one of the greatest poems of the 20th century.

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