Boris Pasternak : Let’s drop words as gardens drop orange-peel and amber

The garden stood still and fragile, ready to drop golden leaves at the gentlest breeze. I woke up early and as I stepped out of the house, I didn’t anticipate the ethereal beauty of autumn. I too stood still, my hand outstretched to pick a red apple forgotten on a bare branch. Fall cast its spell on me, and I didn’t want to shake it off.

The last time I was in Ukraine in autumn was in 1993, but I don’t recall visiting Poltava, the place where my grandmother Valentina lives, at that time. When I still lived in Ukraine, I would usually be in school. Once I was already abroad, I would return only in spring or summer. This spontaneous visit happened because of a series of events out of my control, but as I stood in the orchard filled with golden light, I realized what a gift fate has given me. To experience perfect beauty when one least expects it is after all one of the greatest blessings in life.

Such moments aren’t grand. As Boris Pasternak (1890 – 1960) writes in one of his most moving poems, “life, like an autumn stillness, is all detail.” Noticing these details and capturing them is essential. When people ask me why I find the sense of smell so fascinating, I respond simply–it allows me to pay attention to details. If you notice the scent of fallen leaves, you will also notice the delicate etching of their veins, the lemon yellow hue, the silvery mist that turns the landscape into an impressionist painting, the sound your steps make in a quiet orchard. Your ability to slow down and pay attention to such things is the essence of enjoying life, of living it fully, of savoring every moment, whatever the circumstances.

So, I will share Pasternak’s poem with you in the marvelous translation by Professor Angela Livingstone of University of Essex

Let’s drop words . . . 

Let’s drop words as gardens
drop orange-peel and amber:
lavishly, diffusely,
and scarcely, scarcely.

No need to analyse
why with such ceremony
foliage is sprinkled
with madder and lemon –

who made needles tearful,
flooding between fences
to bookshelves and music
through venetian sluices –

who blackened the doormat
with rowan, with these hempen
lovely continuous
quivering italics.

Will you ask who orders
greatness for August,
to whom nothing’s trivial,
who’s plunged in trimming

each leaf of the maple,
and – since Ecclesiastes –
has stayed at his workbench
chiselling alabaster?

And lips of September’s
dahlias and asters:
who says they must suffer?
Or a small leaf of willow
must float from pilasters
down onto wet stone
of clinics in autumn?

You’ll ask who ordains it?
The omnipotent god
of details, of love,
of Iagailos and Iadvigas.

I don’t know if the riddle
of the grave is unravelled
but life, like an autumn
stillness, is all detail.

A.Livingstone, Pasternak on Art and Creativity, 1985, Boris Pasternak : What is Art if not Philosophy in a State of Ecstasy.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin

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21 Comments

  • rosarita: That’s so lovely to read this morning, thank you, V. October 18, 2019 at 8:04am Reply

  • OnWingsofSaffron: Courage, and best wishes! October 18, 2019 at 9:06am Reply

  • Madelyn E: Victoria – beautifully written as always … I could feel your emotion .. I hope your grandmother is ok ..
    thinking of you .. October 18, 2019 at 9:23am Reply

    • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

      Thank you for this sad but beautiful post, and poem. I always say that the angels are in the detail.

      A suggestion for those experiencing sadness: sit patiently with your feelings; let them fill you until you can taste them. As the apple trees and orange trees will bear fruit time and again, so you will smile again.

      All the very best to you.

      With kind regards,
      Tourmaline October 18, 2019 at 9:33am Reply

      • Tourmaline: Sorry I put my comment in the wrong place… October 18, 2019 at 9:35am Reply

  • Cyndi: Such a beautiful poem. Sorry to hear about any trouble or sorrow you’re experiencing. I hope all will be well for you and yours very soon. October 18, 2019 at 9:48am Reply

  • Gabriela: Very touching poem and words. Very beautifully put.
    Be brave Victoria, “everything passes, little bird” (Mario Quintana) October 18, 2019 at 10:04am Reply

  • Xiao hua mao: Such an evocative post, very beautiful October 18, 2019 at 10:16am Reply

  • Matty: A touching and beautiful poem October 18, 2019 at 11:32am Reply

  • Trudy: Lovely poem full of deep wonder and emotion. Thank you for sharing. Wishing you comfort and peace. October 18, 2019 at 11:36am Reply

    • Mayfly: Beautiful poem and thank you for sharing.
      My heart goes out to you, hoping all turns out well. October 18, 2019 at 11:52am Reply

  • Filomena: What a lovely poem and photo!
    Happy Friday. October 18, 2019 at 12:34pm Reply

  • Marian Penner Bancroft: thank you for this wonderful evocation of autumn and also Ukraine–a land of sorrows and beauty. October 18, 2019 at 2:17pm Reply

  • Klaas: Oh Victoria, this is one of the most beautiful poems I’ve ever read. The beauty of autumn, in all its splendor and all its sadness, is one of the biggest pleasures in my life. Thank you very much for sharing….

    For more autumn poetry, though more gloomy, look for Automne Malade et Adoré by Apollinaire (from Alcools, 1913). October 18, 2019 at 2:45pm Reply

  • D.D.: The TRUE poetry of this post is your leading paragraph. October 18, 2019 at 3:12pm Reply

  • rickyrebarco: Beautiful poem. Thanks so much for sharing. Wishing you peace and love. October 18, 2019 at 4:32pm Reply

  • Annag Chandler: Lovely. Your blog took on new meaning for myself and my daughter after reading about your connection to Ukraine — my father-in-law was from Poltava. October 18, 2019 at 8:20pm Reply

  • Aurora: What a beautiful post about the poignancy of autumn, glad it gave you some comfort, Victoria. October 19, 2019 at 4:46am Reply

  • Karen A: Beautiful poem and words. Unexpected beauty might be the best kind. Lots of love and hope that all is well. October 21, 2019 at 6:05am Reply

  • Inma: Thank you Victoria for this post, so touching. October 22, 2019 at 5:25am Reply

  • Lydia: So beautiful. Thank you. October 23, 2019 at 11:05pm Reply

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