Night, A Streetlight, A Street, A Chemist’s (Alexander Blok)

This poem by Alexander Blok, one of the seminal poets of the Russian fin-de-siecle, is greatly loved all over the world: so much so that in 1990s it was chosen, along with the poems by Tsvetaeva, Akhmatova, Mandelshtam, and Khlebnikov, to represent Russian poetry in the Leiden-centred project, Poems and Walls (1992-2005). I decided to translate it, as well.

Night, a streetlight, a street, a chemist’s,
All in a dim and useless light.
In the next twenty-five years
They’ll still prevail, against one’s plight.

And you may die but then, returning,
You’ll see again the same old night,
The icy canal waters running,
The street, the chemist’s, the streetlight.

Original Russian text

Ночь, улица, фонарь, аптека,
Бессмысленный и тусклый свет.
Живи еще хоть четверть века –
Все будет так. Исхода нет.

Умрешь – начнешь опять сначала,
И повторится все, как встарь:
Ночь, ледяная рябь канала,
Аптека, улица, фонарь.

1912.