Home > Poetry > The Opposite Shore
Translated from the Lithuanian by Ellen Hinsey
Published: Wed Oct 15 2008
Salman Toor, Fag Puddle with Candle, Shoe, and Flag (detail), 2022. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, N.Y. Photo: Farzad Owrang.
The Opposite Shore

Under an uproar of lindens, before the stone
embankment, by a fast current like the Tiber,
I am drinking Gilbey’s with two bearded men.
In the twilight—the jingle of glasses, smoke.
But we have never met. I knew their parents.

A generation overtakes another. The tape-recorder
warbles and crackles. My two interlocutors
want to know about questions I once pondered:
whether there is meaning to suffering and mercy—
whether art can survive if it obeys no rules.

I was the same as them, but destiny accorded
me a strange fate: this, of course, is no better
than any other. I know evil never disappears,
but one can at least strive to dispel blindness—
and poetry is more meaningful than dreams.

In summertime, I often wake before dawn,
sensing, without fear, the time is drawing
close when others will inherit the dictionary,
along with clouds, ruins, salt and bread.
And freedom is all that I will be granted.

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Tomas Venclova was born in Klaipeda, Lithuania, in 1937. Because of his outspoken membership in the Lithuanian Helsinki Group, which monitored Soviet violations of human rights, Venclova was threatened with sanctions and, in 1977, forced to emigrate. Since 1980 he has taught at Yale University. Collections of his poems have been published in English as Dialogue in Winter (1999) and The Junction: Selected Poems (2009), and he has won numerous awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize and the Prize of Two Nations, which he received jointly with Czesław Milosz. Venclova’s poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages. (updated 4/2013)

Ellen Hinsey’s collections of poetry include Update on the Descent (University of Notre Dame/Bloodaxe Books 2009), The White Fire of Time, and Cities of Memory. She has completed a prose memoir on Exile, The Encyclopedia of Exile. She edited and co-translated The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova (Bloodaxe Books, 2008). Her translations of contemporary French literature and memoir are published with Riverhead/Penguin Books. She has received a Lannan Foundation Award and a Berlin Prize Fellowship from the American Academy in Berlin. She lives and teaches in Paris. (updated 7/2009)
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