We live, dying is not our business,
shame is another lost episode,
but like an unseen madonna, conscience
is standing at every crossroad.
And her children and her grandchildren,
the torments of conscience-strange torments-
with vagrant’s crutch and bag are wandering
a world which is everywhere dishonest.
From one gate once more to the next gate,
once again from doorstep to doorstep,
chanting like old Russian beggars,
they travel with God for their heart’s help.
Surely it was they who always haunted
the serfs, tapping with one finger
secretly on their windows, and who pounded
with their fists in the palaces of the Tsars?
Surely they hurried off dead Pushkin
on a sledge in the snow from a black sky,
it was they who drove Dostoievsky to prison,
it was they who whispered to Tolstoy: ‘Fly! ‘
The executioners understood it thus:
‘He who torments himself is a troublemaker.
Torments of conscience-this is dangerous!
Conscience itself must be liquidated! ‘
But like the clanging of an alarm bell
rattling their houses at night time,
torments of conscience-terrible-
frightened the executioners with their crimes.
For even the guardians of injustice,
who abandoned all honor long ago,
may no longer know the meaning of conscience,
but the torments of conscience they do know.
And if in this wide world where no one,
no one is guiltless, someone has heard
within himself the cry ‘What have I done? ‘
then something can be done with this world.
I do not believe in the prophets construing
the coming of the Second or the Thousandth Rome,
I believe in the words ‘What are you doing? ‘
in ‘What are we doing? ‘ bitterly spoken.
And on the slippery edge of lost faith
I am kissing your dark hands,
for you alone are my last faith,
torments of conscience-fierce torments!
Translated by Geoffrey Dutton with Igor Mezhakoff-Koriakin