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Turgenev: Two Autumn Poems

by John Cobley

Monday Aug 7th, 2023





Ivan Turgenev, of course, is much better known as a novelist, but for a few years before achieving fame, he wrote poems. From 1841 to 1844, when in his mid-twenties, he wrote 29 poems. At this time he completed university and began to work in the civil service. 


Two of these poems, written in 1842, used a favorite Russian topic—Autumn. In writing these poems, Turgenev would have known the celebrated poem on this theme by Pushkin. And more than likely he would have also read autumn poems by Lermontov, Baratynsky and Tyutchev.


Turgenev’s two poems don’t match those of these predecessors, but they do have some qualities.  “Autumn Evening” uses leaves (an almost essential ingredient of autumn poems) in a highly original way to expand on death. “Autumn” is a good early example of the theme of melancholy contemplation in autumn poems.



Autumn Evening


An autumn evening…A clear sky,

The coppice trees completely naked—          

In vain I search them with my eyes                

But see no forgotten leaves up there.             

They’re all below on the sandy paths,                        

Slumbering there peacefully,                

Just as in my melancholy heart,                     

The sad succession of distant days                 

Slumbers on in silence.                                    


Translated by John Cobley





I love the sad look of autumn.

On a still, misty day I often go

Out to the forest and sit there,

Looking above to the white sky

And the dark tops of the pines.

Chewing on a sour leaf and 

Lounging with a lazy smile,

I love to daydream and listen

To the woodpecker’s gentle call.

The grass is bone dry…a cold,

Calm brilliance pours over it…

And to the peaceful sadness

I surrender my whole soul…

What then can I not remember? 

What dreams won’t visit me? 

And the pines bend as if alive

And whisper so thoughtfully…

And like a flock of giant birds

The wind will suddenly rise,

And the dark, tangled boughs

Will rustle impatiently.


Translated by John Cobley

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