Prince Peter Andreyevich Vyazemsky lived a long life. Born in 1792, he fought in the War of 1812 & was a political reformist in his youth, petitioning the Tsar in 1820 to abolish serfdom. He spent some years as a private citizen after that but went back into government service under a new Tsar & had a long career in the Ministry of Finance.
Although he lived until 1878, this poem, written in 1837 has the weary voice of an old man. Vyazemsky was a close friend of Pushkin (there’s a poem of remembrance for Pushkin in this anthology) so maybe it was grief for the poet’s death in this same year that led to the writing of this subdued, very sad poem.
I have outlived most things and people round me
and weighed the worth of most things in this life;
these days I drag along though bars surround me,
exist within set limits without strife.
Horizons now for me are close and dreary
and day by day draw nearer and more dark.
Reflection’s dipping flight is slow and weary,
my soul’s small world is desolate and stark.
My mind no longer casts ahead with boldness,
the voice of hope is dumb – and on the route,
now trampled flat by living’s mundane coldness,
I am denied the chance to set my foot.
And if my life has seemed among the hardest
and though my storeroom’s stock of grain is small,
what sense is there is hoping still for harvest
when snow from winter clouds begins to fall?
In furrows cropped by scythe or sickle clearance
there may be found, it’s true, some living trace;
in me there may be found some past experience,
but nothing of tomorrow’s time or space.
Life’s balanced the accounts, she is unable
To render back what has been prised away
and what the earth, in sounding vaults of marble,
has closed off, pitiless, from light of day.