You are currently viewing of plume and feathered fame
Pieter Claesz, Still Life with Peacock Pie, 1627.

Language: Russian
Poet: Gavrilla Derzhavin
Translator: John Hamel & Peter Orte
Region: Russia


of plume and feathered fame

A poem by Gavrilla Derzhavin, translated from Russian by John Hamel and Peter Orte

Gavrilla Derzhavin (1743-1816), arguably the most significant Russian poet before Pushkin, was born in the city of Kazan into a family of the minor nobility tracing its ancestry to the Tartar nobility of the city. Having won the favor of Catherine the Great through his honorable service in the Pugachev rebellion and for his poetry, he went on to become her confidant and gadfly, falling in and out of favor before retiring to his estate. Well acquainted with the precariousness of life, the turns of fortune, and capriciousness of authority, his poems contain some of the first subjective sensuous descriptions in the Russian lyric, a powerful summons to humanity, and a universal reminder of the mortality of human things. 

John Hamel grew up in New Jersey but now lives in Minnesota. He has been a school teacher all his life. He has published several poems and translations of poems in the past (Arion, Notre Dame Review, Atlanta Review, Forum Italicum, American Journal of Poetry). You can find him on Instagram @ johnerichamel.

Peter Orte grew up grew up in Minnesota and, having come by circuitous routes, currently lives in Maine. He teaches Russian language and literature. 


Какое гордое творенье,
Хвост пышно расширяя свой,
Черно-зелены в искрах перья
Со рассыпною бахромой
Позадь чешуйной груди кажет,
Как некий круглый, дивный щит?

На каждого конце пера,
Тенисты круги, волны новы
Струиста злата и сребра;
Наклонит — изумруды блещут!
Пове́рнет — яхонты горят!

Не то ли славный царь пернатый?
Не то ли райска птица Жар,
Которой столь убор богатый
Приводит в удивленье тварь?
Где ступит — радуги играют!
Где станет — там лучи вокруг!

Конечно, сила и паренье
Орлиные в ее крылах,
Глас трубный, лебедино пенье
В ее пресладостных устах;
А пеликана добродетель
В ее и сердце и душе!

Но что за чудное явленье?
Я слышу некий странный визг!
Сей Феникс опустил вдруг перья,
Увидя гнусность ног своих.
О пышность! как ты ослепляешь!
И барин без ума — павлин.

The Peacock

Round breasted creature of pride,
Extravagant bird, his chest the scales
           Of a wondrous shield.
And behind he pours his lashing tails
And fans his feathers black and gold
           In sparking fringes.

Azure and dove-breast dun, the eyes
With turquoise crescent underlid
           Atop each feather; greys
In circling shades, renewing tide
Of gold and silver waves. There blaze
           Emeralds when he bows,

Rubies flash and burn every time
He turns; mustn’t this be the Czar
           Of plume and feathered fame,
Must be that paradised bird of fire
Such opulent attire the realm
           Of nature stands astonished.

Wherever he treads the rainbows jostle.
Sunbeams coil wherever he stands.
           Of course there soars an eagle
In his strong wings, a swan’s song sounds
Its trumpet lip and sweet, in soul
           Of course the Pelican’s virtue.

But what this preternatural thing,
This bizarre shriek? Our phoenix drops
           His plumes, his flaccid fringe,
Whenever he sudden sees those stumps
And poles, his legs. O pomp unseeing:
           A brainless noble is a peacock.