“The Christmas Star”. Boris Pasternak
The whole Christian World
Boris Pasternak is one of the best Russian writers and poets who passed away in 1960. He is best known as the Nobel Prize winning author of Dr. Zhivago which was made into an epic MGM film by director David Lean. However, he was better known for his magnificent poetry. It was poetry more than prose that won Pasternak the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1958 – an award which the Soviets refused to allow him to accept in person.
The piece is so beautiful in its simplicity. Have a wonderful holiday!
A winter’s day.
The winds came howling in across
the plains, and it was
cold in the cave in the hills where the child lay.
The breath of an ox kept the cold at bay
for the beasts of the farm
had been stabled there and a warm
haze wafted over his bed of hay.
Still half asleep on their rocky protuberances
shepherds brushed off the chaff and seeds which stuck
to their furry coats and looked
out into the midnight distances.
Far away a field lay white beneath the snow, with a chapel nearby,
and gravestones and fences, and the shaft
of a cart sticking out of a snowdrift,
and over the cemetery the star-encrusted sky.
But one star till now unknown to them
seemed to twinkle close at hand, hesitant as the light
behind the window of a watchman’s hut in the night,
and it showed the way to Bethlehem.
Suddenly, as if it would aspire
to rival god and heaven
it flared up like a haystack, like a haybarn,
flared up like a whole farm set on fire.
This blazing straw-bundle broke free
and rose up, crossing all the firmament,
which in turn regarded the ascent
of this new star rather nervously.
Shading their eyes from the glowing flame,
summoned by this fire without precedence
which clearly had to have some significance
three astronomers hurriedly came.
Behind them were camels laden with gifts, and then small
donkeys in harness, followed by even smaller ones,
came trotting down the hill.
And in a strange way one could see the whole
of the future somewhere in the distance,
the thoughts, dreams and worlds of all the centuries, all
future art galleries and museums,
all elfin pranks and wizards’ schemes,
all the Christmas trees in the world, all
children’s dreams, all trembling candle-flames, all paper-chains,
all the magnificence of coloured tinsel …
… how bitter and vicious the wind that blew in from the plains …
… all the apples, the golden balls …
Though part of the pond was obscured by alder trees
the shepherds had a clear view of the rest between
the topmost branches and the rookeries,
and the camels and donkeys could be easily seen
as they passed the water’s edge. “Let’s travel with these
others, and find this miracle we mean
to worship,” they said, tightening their furs against the icy breeze.
But all this tramping through the snow helped keep
them warm. The prints that their bare feet were marking
shone like mica-slivers in the deep
snow, gleamed like candles, set sheepdogs barking
and made a path which led up to the hut.
The frosty night was a fairy tale where some
unnoticed figure every now and then
stepped from the snows to join the rows of men.
The dogs stood by the sheep-boy, nuzzled him,
– yapped, nervous, as though worse was yet to come.
And mingling with the crowds in that same land
on those same roads walked many an angel – who,
being bodiless, could not be seen and so
their footprints were all that they left behind.
Crowds had gathered by the entrance stone,
as day’s first light revealed the trunks of cedars.
“And who are you?” asked Mary of each one.
“A band of shepherds: the heavens have led us here
to offer both you and your child our praise.”
“You won’t all fit in here: wait by the door.”
In the grey and ashy gloom of early morning
the shepherds and the herdsmen stamped about,
Horsemen and men on foot began to shout
And curse each other round the waterspout,
While asses kept on kicking, camels groaning.
Day broke, and like hot cinders brushed the last
stars from the sky. Of all the motley crowd
that hoped that Mary would permit them past
the threshold, none but the Magi were allowed.
He slept, all radiant, shining like a moonbeam
in some dark hollow, in his oak hay-box.
He needed no furs over him to warm him
for he had donkey’s muzzle, snout of ox.
The Magi in the shadows scarcely dared
to speak, until a hand reached from the darkness
on the left side of the little bed of hay
and nudged one of them aside – he turned and saw,
gazing at the Virgin from the doorway
like some special guest, the Christmas Star.
* Translated from the Russian by Peter Oram