Dec 24 2010

 

-Boris_Pasternak_cropped 
One of the greatest Russian writers of is Boris Pasternak (photograph). He is perhaps best known for his bestselling book "Dr. Zhivago". That movie became one of the all time box office champions. Less known for his poetry is nevertheless magnificent. In many Russian homes, the reading of his "The Star of the Nativity" is a long held tradition. Enjoy!

It was winter, and chill
Wind blew from the steppe,
And the infant felt cold as he lay in that den
On the slope of the hill.

And as he lay there, the child was kept warm
By the breathing of oxen,
And a haze hung over the manger,
For in that cave they kept beasts from the farm.

Shaking the bedstraw and granules of millet
From their sheepskins,
Bleary-eyed herdsmen
Gazed from their crag at the expanse of midnight.

Far away, beneath snow lay the burial yard,
Fields, fences, and tombstones,
Snow-drifted cart shafts,
And over the graves stood a sky full of stars.

And nearby, and unseen hitherto and more timid
Than candle-stub glow
In a night-watchman's window,
The star on the roadway to Bethlehem glinted.

It flamed like a hayrick, standing aside
From the heavens and from God,
Like a fire-raiser's flare,
A threshing-floor blaze, or a farmstead on fire.

Like an inferno of haystack or straw,
It soared up aloft and
Amid a whole cosmos
Alarmed at the sight of this new-risen star.

The aurora that glowed, overarching the orb,
Held a message: stargazers
In threesome sped forth
In response to that sign never witnessed before.

In train came their camels, loaded with gifts,
Together with donkeys
Harnessed in series,
Hooves stepping sedately, down from the hills.

And in a strange vision of time's future course
There rose up an image of things yet to come:
The thought of all ages, all dreams, and all worlds,
The future of galleries, museum collections,
Fairyland whimsies, feats of magicians,
All the world's Christmas trees, dream visions of children,

Shimmer of candlelight, chains of crepe paper,
And all the splendor of tinsel and foil…
… Yet wilder, more savage the wind from the plain…
… And all those apples, and all the gold baubles.

Part of the lake was screened by some alders,
But one of its reaches was plain to be seen
Between rookery nests set aloft in the trees.
Those guarding their flocks commanded clear outlook
As donkeys and camels skirted the water:
"Let us go with the others. Let's worship this wonder,"
Said they, drawing their fur coats about them.

The herdsmen they sweltered and trudged through the snow.
Beyond the shelter, across the bright clearing,
Glinting like mica, lay marks of bare feet.
And in the starlight sheepdogs grated and growled
At that crystalline trail with its candlelight gleam.
The frost-bound night was a fairytale picture.
And all the time from the blizzard-blown mound
Invisible strangers kept joining the crowd.
Hugging close to the shepherd and peering around,
The dogs ran, and fretted and feared some affliction.

And through that same country, along the same way,
Came angels processing and merged with the throng.
Incorporeal beings, they were seen by no eye,
But the ground showed their traces wherever they trod.

By the stone at the door of the cave they all gathered.
Dawn broke and the cedars emerged from the gloom.
"Who are you? Whence come you" Maid Mary demanded.
"We are shepherds, messengers of the Lord.
Singing praises and bringing our homage we come."
"But you are so many. Some must wait by the door."

Amid ashen darkness preceding the dawn
Shepherds and herdsmen paced up and down.
Pedestrians and riders groused at each other.
And at the trough where beasts of burden were watered
Donkeys kicked, camels bellowed and snorted.

Daylight was coming, and like flakes of cinder
Dawn swept the last stars from the heavenly vault.
From the numberless crowd just the Magi were admitted
By Maid Mary through the cleft in the rock.

In his manger of oak the Child slept, all radiant
Like a beam of moonlight glimpsed through tree hollow.
Instead of a sheepskin to warm him, the Infant
Had mere lip of donkey and nostril of oxen.

And they stood in the shadows, in the gloom of the barn,
And they whispered, scarce finding the phrases.
All at once, in the dark someone put forth an arm
And motioned the Magi aside from the manger.
One Wise Man turned round, and behold, like a guest at the gateway,
Observing the Maid was the Christmastide star.