Vladimir Vysotsky. Service to the Elements.

A Ballad of the Abandoned Ship.

On that day each one said to the captain “Hey, man!”,
The ship’s boy was a match for the skipper.
Disengaging their hands and removing the bands,
On the shrouds my sailors were skipping.

We went crazy in order
To see visions of our tracts
We reached phantoms of shores and
Saw the blankets of lands,

Those lands we set our hopes on and reckon
Of Columbus, and of Magellan.

But it seems that I won’t
See those lands and those shores
At the speed of nine knots
I did strand ’mongst the rocks.
While our brave lads are bound
To the glorious aim...
Yes, for running aground
It’s but me who’re to blame.

And they left me behind, all my brothers, my fleet;
Those who sensitive swallowed a tear.
Her great cruise the Armada just had to complete,
And no ship had the freedom to veer.

Cursing bad luck, the weather,
The treacherous sea,
All my shipmates together
Sailed on out of me.

They saluted me twice or they set out
From Columbus, and from Magellan.

I drink foam when hot
Water’s way goes too low,
And my starboard and port
Are off water and glow.
Both they’re dirty, of course,
And my decks are unclean;
All my wounds, all my sores
Can be easily seen.

Here’s a cannonball furrow, quite close to the frame;
Here are scars left by ramming and fire;
One can see where I was in preceding days maimed
By a sea-rover’s honed grappling irons.

Look, my keel is uneven,
As if gnawed by huge teeth
It’s my belly was cleaved
Long ago by a reef.

I’m decaying, forlorn and forgotten
Even well-salted things may become rotten.

And my blood with the winds
Through big crannies does flight,
They give me pain and kinks,
I’m quite but at first sight,
Being open to the winds
Nights and days, nights and days...
Into my soul these winds
With no ruth hammer nails.

They behave like the rakes, evil, cheeky and bold,
And mess everything up, play the goat;
Wish they’d choke with the wine keeping deep in my hold,
Or, rampaging, would set me afloat.

Of this chance I’m convinced
What a desperate creed!
No, it’s not evil winds
What at present I need.

My sails droop like the breasts of old slatterns,
And my masts look like creaky, thin battens.

I’m to bide for my time
The eighth wonder will come,
And a merciful tide
Will wash off all the scum,
God’s dew will strip the spell
For all time of myself,
And will readily swell
As in old days my sails.

I’ll rush after my fleet, catch them and I’ll forgive
The Armada that badly remembers;
I don’t hold them a grudge, I’ll be glad to receive
Back aboard all my former crew members.

But they don’t want to let
Me inside their dense ranks.
Shut your mouth, corvette,
Don’t sting me with your pranks!
I’m your twin, don’t ye see?
I’ve escaped from the blight.
Bro, we aren’t short of sea,
Take a little to the right!

Won’t ye lend me a hand?
Do ye mean I must go?
If I was on the strand
Then I’m out of the row?!
Let me be at my ease
Aren’t we ships, aren’t we pals?
Bros, we aren’t short of seas,
And we aren’t short of lands!

Those lands we set our hopes on and reckon
Of Columbus, and of Magellan.

1971.

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