The earth was warm, no frost, no ice, Bright-red were guelder-rose’s berries2. It seemed ail wrong, when one of us in Novodevichye3 was buried. He did not know the signs, they say, But simple people know the menace; "Death goes for those of us in earnest Who play at death, and die in play." If that is true - relax, Vasily, The real game is to survive. Film it again, and don’t be silly - Rewrite it all, and stay alive! But, driving grown-up men to tears, He hugged the dear earth as he bled, And looked up, fainting, nearly dead, Towards a guelder-rose bright-red - It was all red, it was so near... Death marks out but the best and pluckiest And plucks them out, one by one. Ah, what a man this time is gone In outer darkness, having run Clean out of luck in the earthly ruckus.       This year, your Razin would be shot - You chose locations near Lake Naroch. What was that other film, Makarych4? There Lives a Lad - but he does not.         After a second’s hesitation Fate angrily let loose a yell: "Come on, let’s close in for the kill - The fellow said he’d see in hell All requiems and lamentations. Him with the soul so great and warming, And on his back a load so great, That he might no more tempt his fate - Drag from the warm bed in the morning!" After a steam-bath, like all honest Folks, clean and sober before God, He up and died, like someone shot, Not on the screen this time - in earnest.            
1 Vasily Shukshin - Vysotsky’s friend, film actor, director, and a superb realistic writer.
2 Red Guelder-rose (lit. Guelder-rose Red) was the title of one of Shukshin’s films. The poem is full of allusions to it.
3 Novodevicheye - a cemetery on the grounds of the Novodevichy Monastery in Moscow.
4 Makarych - Shukshin’s patronymic (Vasily Makarych). This is a curious Russian form of address combining respect and familiarity.
© Sergei Roy. Translation, 1990