Borís Godunóv – extracts from my translation

Borís Godunóv

Scene 5 (a cell in the Monastery of the Miracle, by night), lines 1-46

PIMEN (writing in front of an icon-lamp)
 Just one more entry, one last episode –
and then my chronicle will be complete;
the task assigned by God to this poor sinner
will be discharged.  No, not in vain did God
appoint me witness of these many years
and grant me knowledge in the art of writing;
one day some studious monk will come across
this conscientious, unnamed work of mine;
like me, he’ll light his icon-lamp, then shake
the centuries-old dust from off the parchments                       10
and copy out my faithful chronicles –
so Christian Russia’s future generations
shall learn the story of their native land
and call to mind the great tsars of the past
for their hard work, their glory and their goodness;
but for their misdeeds, for their darker doings –
for these they’ll humbly pray to Christ for mercy.
In my old age I live my life anew,
the expired years pass before me in procession –
was it so long ago that they swept by,                                              20
full of events, tempestuous as the ocean?
Now they are calm and silent; just a few
of the main actors live on in my mind,
just a few words of theirs I still recall,
all else has perished irretrievably…
But day is near, the lamp is burning low –
just one more entry, one last episode.   (writes)

 Always the same dream!  Can it be?  A third time!
Infernal dream!…  And the old man’s still sitting
by the icon-candle, writing – then he can’t                              30
have closed his eyes in sleep the whole night long.
How much I love that tranquil look of his,
when, heart and soul immersed deep in the past,
he’s working on his chronicle; and often
I’ve tried to guess the events he’s writing of –
the dark ages of Tatar domination?
Or Tsar Iván’s bloodthirsty executions?
The factious parliaments of Nóvgorod?
The glory of our homeland?  But – no use.
That lofty brow, those eyes, are hard to read,                                  40
one can’t make out the old man’s hidden thoughts:
always that same aloof, yet humble look.
Just like a clerk, greyhaired with years in court,
he views good men and bad without emotion,
listening impassively to right and wrong,
immune alike to pity and to anger.

Scene 20 (the Pretender conducting an interrogation), lines 16-36

Well, how are things in Moscow?

Quiet, thank God.

 What?  Are they expecting me?

                                                      God knows; these days
no one there dares to talk too much of you.
One man may have his tongue cut off; the next
his head as well.  “An execution daily” –                                20
that’s what they’re saying.  Prisons are chock-full;
and in the square as soon as three or four men
meet up, you’ll see an agent hovering near;
and in his leisure-time the Tsar himself
conducts the interrogation of his spies.
One’s soon in trouble; better to keep mum.

Enviable lives Borís’s subjects lead!
Well – and the army?

The army’s fine.  Well-clothed,
well-fed, quite happy.

                                       But how big is it?

God only knows.

                               But are there – thirty thousand?                        30

Oh, it’ll be more likely fifty thousand.

(The pretender pauses for reflection.  The bystanders
              look at one another.)

Well, well!  How do they judge me in your camp?

Oh, when they talk about Your Grace they say
that you’re – I quote (don’t take offence) – a fraudster,
a brave one though.

PRETENDER  (laughing )
                                  Then I shall prove it to them
in action.  

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