* * *
Not by my mother, but by the Tula peasant woman
Yelena Kuzina was I reared. She would
warm my swaddling clothes above the stove-bench,
ward off bad dreams at bedtime with the sign of the cross.
She knew no fairy tales and did not sing,
and yet she always kept for me
in a cherished trunk covered in white tin-plate
either a Vyazemsky gingerbread or a mint gingerbread horse.
She did not teach me prayers,
but gave me absolutely everything she had:
both her bitter motherhood
and simply all that was dear to her.
Only once, when I fell from a window,
but rose alive (how I remember that day!)
she placed a penny candle
for the wondrous saving at the icon of the Iberian Virgin.
And so Russia, you "renowned power",
by pulling at her teats with my lips,
I sucked out the agonizing right
to love and curse you;
in that honorble feat, in that happiness of poetic song,
which I serve each moment,
my teacher has been your wonder-working genius
and my walk of life your magical tongue.
And still at times I can be proud
before your weak sons
that this language, bequeathed through the ages,
I guard more lovingly, more jealously...
The years rush by. I need no future,
the past is burned up in my soul,
yet still alive is the secret joy
that I too have one refuge:
There in a heart eaten by worms,
cherishing a love for me that is imperishable,
sleeping next to tsarist, Khodynka
is Yelena Kuzina, my nurse.
The following has only the first line for a title. N.B. The peasant woman in the poem, his nurse, had to give up her own child in order to nurse Khodasevich, and her own child died due to the deprivation.