Verse > Anthologies > Deutsch and Yarmolinsky, comps. > Modern Russian Poetry
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Deutsch and Yarmolinsky, comps.  Modern Russian Poetry.  1921.
 
Hymn to Fire
By Konstantin Balmont (b. 1867)
 
1
OH, fire who purgeth us
In fate-kindled strife,
Thy beauty ruleth us,
Shining with life!
 
2
Still and meek in the glow of a taper in church,
        5
But in riot—tumultuous-tongued,
Unmoved by wild prayers, multi-faced,
Shot with color in walls overthrown,
Mad with passion, and nimble and gay,—
So triumphantly beautiful        10
That my eyes are alight with thy joy
Though thou feed on my own,—
O fair Fire, all my dreams are devoted to thee!
 
3
Eternally changeful,
Thou art Protean-faced.        15
Thou art smokily crimson
In the bonfires’ roar.
Thou art as a flower of terror with petals of flame,
A bright mane of radiant hair.
In the tremulous flame of a taper thou burn’st        20
First in blue, then in shuddering gold.
In the silence of midsummer lightnings thou wak’st,
Burning coldly in storm-burdened clouds,
Eerily livid and dark.
In the thunder that crashes, the chanting of rain,        25
Thou art writ in the lightning’s brief hieroglyphs,
In a quick broken flash
Or a long mighty shaft,
Now a ball with a nimbus of air all aglow
Where the swift-running gold        30
Is with scarlet besprent.
Thou art in the crystal of stars, in the comets’ strong urge.
Sun-sent, thou dost enter the chambers of plants
With the gift of a quickening warmth.
Thou workest, thou wakest the secret of sap:        35
Flaming up in a scarlet carnation,
Pale gold in the whispering corn,
Or carelessly flung in a lithe drunken vine.
          Thou art lying in wait:
          As a spark in the night        40
          So thou leapest elate.
          Thou art still in thy flight.
          Soon thy glow shall abate,
          But alive thou art great,
Than thy beauty is nothing more strange or more bright.        45
 
4
I shall chant thy high praises forever!
O sudden, O subtle, O terrible Fire!
Thy work is the melting of metals;
By thy aid are they fashioned and forged:
The ponderous horse-shoes;        50
The resounding and bright-bladed scythes:
That mow and that reap,
That mow and that reap;
Many circlets for lily-white fingers,
For ring-bounded lives,        55
For ring-fettered years,
As with lips growing cold the word ‘love’
We repeat.
Thou createst the tools and machines
That shake mountains and shatter and smite,        60
The tools that find deep-buried gold, the keenness of weapons that kill.
 
5
Unto thee, omnipresent and sovereign, my dreaming I vow.
I am even as thou.
Thou dost light, thou dost burn, thou dost strive,
Thou art ’live, thou art ’live!        65
Of old a winged dragon thou wert, to the altar didst glide
Thence to ravish the bride.
And a fiery guest, a consoler who warmed to the bone
The young wife left alone.
O brilliant, O burning, O biting, O fierce,        70
In thy flame all the colors arise.
Thou art crimson and yellow, thy gleaming doth pierce
With the glow of chameleon gold and the scarlet that lights autumn skies.
Thou art as a diamond with facets that shine,
As the feline caress of soft eyes that are heady as wine,        75
As the wave in its ecstasy breaking, an emerald line.
Like the leaf’s iridescence agleam with reiterant Springs
In the dewdrop that trembles and swings.
Like the green dream of fireflies kindled at night,
Like the will-o’-the-wisp in the haze,        80
Like the dark, scalloped clouds the grave evening has gilded with light,
That have spread forth their mourning upon the dim face of the smoldering days.
 
6
I remember, O Fire,
How thy flames once enkindled my flesh,
Among writhing witches caught close in thy flame-woven mesh.        85
How, tortured for having beheld what is secret,
We were flung to the fire for the joy of our sabbath.
But to those who had seen what we saw
Yea, Fire was naught.
Ah, well I remember        90
The buildings ablaze where we burned
In the fires we lit, and smiled to behold the flames wind
About us, the faithful, among all the faithless and blind.
To the chanting of prayers, the frenzy of flame,
We sang thy hosannahs, oh strength-giving Fire:        95
I pledged love to thee from the pyre!
 
7
Oh, Fire, I know
That thy light with an ultimate splendor our being shall drench;
It shall flare up before eyes that Death fain would finally quench.
With swift knowledge it burns, and with joy heaven-high        100
At the vastness of vistas unfolding afar.
Who has summoned those visions to being? And why?
Who has rayed them in colors befitting a star?
Beyond life is the answer.
Oh thou heavenward heart of the element ever in flight,        105
On my twilight horizon, let Death, necromancer,
Shed perpetual light!
 
 
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