Evgeny Baratynsky: The Skull

Departed brother, who has disturbed your sleep
And trampled on the sanctity of the tomb?
Into your house, all dug up, I stepped down —
I took your skull in my hands, dusty and yellow.

The remnants of your hair — it wore them still.
I saw the slow course of decay upon it.
Horrible sight! How powerfully it struck 
The sensible inheritor of that ruin.

Along with me a crowd of mindless youths
Above the open pit laughed mindlessly.
If only then, if only in my hands
Your head had burst forth into prophecy!

If only it had taught us — rash, in bloom,
And menaced hourly by the hour of death —
The truths that lie within the ken of tombs,
Uttering them in its impassive voice!

What am I saying? A hundred times is blessed
That law which has embalmed its lips in silence.
And righteous is that custom which demands
Respect for the solemn sleep of the departed.

Let the living live! Let the dead decay in peace!
O man, worthless creation of the Almighty,
Recognize finally that you were made
Neither for wisdom nor for omniscience!

We need our passions as we need our dreams.
They are the law and nourishment of our being:
You will not bring under the selfsame laws
The noise of the world and the silence of the graveyard.

Wise men will not extinguish natural feelings.
The answer they search for no grave shall supply.
Let life bestow its joys upon the living —
And death itself will teach them how to die.

1824, 1826


Translated by Ilya Bernstein 

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