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The Opposite Shore

by Tomas Venclova

translated from the Lithuanian by Ellen Hinsey

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.


Tomas Venclova was born in Klaipeda, Lithuania, in 1937. He took part in the Lithuanian and Soviet dissident movements and was one of the five founding members of the Lithuanian Helsinki Group. In 1977 he was forced to emigrate, and since 1985 he has taught at Yale University. He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including the Lithuanian National Prize in 2000 and the 2002 Prize of Two Nations, which he received jointly with Czeslaw Milosz. Venclova’s poetry has been translated into more than twenty languages. (10/2008)

Ellen Hinsey’s collections of poetry include Update on the Descent (forthcoming), The White Fire of Time, and Cities of Memory. She edited and translated (with Constantine Rusanov) The Junction: Selected Poems of Tomas Venclova (Bloodaxe Books, fall 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 10/2008)

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