Gavril Romanovich Derzhavin,“Felitsa” (1782)

God-like Tsarevna
Of the Kirgiz-Kaisatskii horde!
Whose wisdom matchless
Opened the true path
To young Prince Khlor
To go up on that high peak
Where the rose without thorns grows,
Where virtue dwells:
It takes my spirit and mind prisoner,
Tell me how to find it.

Tell me, Felitsa:
How to live opulently yet justly,
How to subdue the storm of passions
And be happy in the world.
Your voice wakes me,
Your son sends me;
But to follow them I am too weak.
Disturbed by everyday trifles,
Today I control myself,
But tomorrow am slave to desires.

Not emulating your courtiers,
You often go on foot,
And the most simple food
Is on your table;
Inexpensive is your rest,
You read, you write before the candle
And to all mortals from your pen
Bliss flows;
Just so at cards you do not play,
Like me, from morning to morning.

You do not much like masquerades,
And put not even a foot inside a club;
Guarding your habits and customs,
You do not act as a Don Quixote;
The horse of Parnassus you do not saddle,
To spirits in séances you do not go,
You do not go from your throne to the East,
But, walking on the path of meekness,
With gracious soul
You spend a stream of useful days.

But I, having slept until noon,
Smoke tobacco and drink coffee;
Changing into holidays weekdays,
I wander in the chimeras of my thoughts:
Now booty from Persians I steal,
Now arrows at Turks I send;
Now, having dreamt, that I am the sultan,
The universe I terrorize with a glance;
Now suddenly, captivated by an outfit,
I ride to the tailor for a caftan.

Or I am at a sumptuous feast,
Where a celebration for me is given,
Where shines the table with silver and gold,
Where there are thousands of varied dishes:
There the famed Westphalian ham,
There links of Astrakhan fish,
There pilaf and pies sit;
With champagne I wash down waffles
And everything on the earth forget
Among wines, sweets, and aromas.

Or, in a beautiful little grove
In a summerhouse, where a fountain speaks,
With the sounds of a sweet-voiced harp,
Where a little wind barely breathes,
Where everything presents me luxury,
To pleasures my thoughts entices,
Soothes and wakens my blood,
Resting on a velvet divan,
A young girl’s tender feelings,
I pour into her heart love.

Or with a splendid tandem
In an English carriage, golden,
With a dog, a fool, or friend
Or with such a beauty
I drive under the swings;
At pubs to drink mead I stop;
Or, when it somehow bores me,
Due to my inclination for change,
With my hat at a jaunty angle
I fly on a fast steed.

Or with music and singers,
With organ and bagpipes,
Or with fist-fighters
And the dance I delight my soul;
Or, all matters of care
Leaving behind, I go out hunting
And amuse myself with the howls of dogs;
Or over Neva banks
I amuse myself by night with horns
And the rowing of agile oarsmen.

Or, sitting at home, I horse around,
Playing “Fool” with my wife;
Now with her I climb to the dove-cote,
Now at Blind-Man's Bluff we frolic away the time;
Now we amuse ourselves at games
Now I love to delve into books,
My mind and heart I enlighten,
Polkan and Bova I read;
Over the Bible, yawning, I sleep.

In such ways, Felitsa, I am dissolute!
But all society resembles me.
However much one is known for wisdom,
But all men are liars.
We do not walk on paths of light,
We run after dreams of depravity.
Between the Indolent and the Choleric,
Between vanity and vice
One finds only by chance
The path to pure virtue.

It is found,--but how may we not blunder,
We, weak mortals, on that path,
Where reason itself stumbles
And must go after passions;
Where learned ignoramuses,
Like mist does to travelers, darken our minds?
Everywhere temptations and flattery live;
All pashas luxury oppresses.
Where does virtue live?
Where does the rose without thorns grow?

To you alone is it proper,
Tsarevna! to create light out of darkness;
Dividing Chaos into harmonious spheres,
With a union of wholeness to strenghten them;
From discord -- agreement
And from violent passion happiness
You may alone create.
Like a sailor, sailing across the sea,
Catching under the sail a raging wind,
Is able to guide his ship.

Only you do not offend,
Do not insult anyone,
Stupidity through your fingers you see,
But do not allow evil;
Miscreants you right with leniency,
You do not stifle people like a wolf does a sheep,
You know their proper worth.
They are subject to the will of Tsars,--
But to the judgment of God even more,
Living in their laws.

You soundly think of merits,
To the worthy you give out honor;
A prophet you do not consider,
He who may only weave rhymes,
And for such amusement of the mind--
Honor and praise to good caliphs.
You are tolerant of the lyric key:
Poetry is pleasing to you,
Acceptable, sweet, useful,
Like in summer a tasty lemonade.

Rumor passes of your acts,
That you are not the least bit proud;
Kindly both in business and in fun,
Pleasant in friendship and firm;
That you are indifferent to misfortune,
And in glory so magnanimous,
That you refused to be called Wise.
They also say truthfully,
That it is always possible
To tell you the truth.

Such unheard-of matters
Are only worthy of you,
That you boldly allow the people
Of all, aloud or in secret,
Both to know and to think.
And of yourself you do not forbid
Truth and untruth to be said;
That you the very crocodiles,
The Zoiluses of all your mercies,
Always are prone to forgive.

Pleasant rivers of tears flow
From the depths of my soul.
O! how happy people who
Must be there with their fate,
Where a meek angel, a peaceful angel,
Clad in porphyry lightness,
Holds the sceptre sent down from heaven!
There it is possible to whisper in conversations
And, not fearing punishment, at dinner
To the health of the Tsar not drink.

There it is possible
To erase Felitsa's name
Or her portrait carelessly
Drop on the ground.
There joke weddings they do not celebrate,
They do not steam people in icy baths,
They do not pull at the moustaches of the belle monde;
Princes do not cackle like hens,
Favorites do not laugh at them
And smear their faces with soot.

You know, Felitsa! the rights
Of both men and tsars;
When you enlighten manners,
You do not make fools of men;
In your moments of rest from work
You write in tales to instruct
And teach the alphabet to Khlor:
"Do nothing bad,
And the most evil satirist
You will make a hated liar."

You are ashamed to be called Great,
To be terrible, unloved;
Only to a wild she-bear is it becoming
To tear animals and drink their blood.
Without the misery of extreme fever
Need one have recourse to the lancet
When one may get along without it?
And is it glorious to be a tyrant,
A great Tamerlane in cruelty,
For one great in goodness, like God?

Felitsa's glory is the glory of God,
Who pacified battles;
Who orphans and the needy
Sheltered, clothed, and fed;
Who with radiant eye
To jokers, cowards, the ungrateful
And the just gives its light;
Equally enlightens all mortals,
Calms and cures the sick,
And does good for good's sake alone.

Who gave freedom
To travel to other lands,
Allowed its people
To search for solver and gold;
Who opens the waters
And does not forbid the cutting of woods;
Who orders to weave, and knit, and sew;
Freeing the mind and hands
Orders to love trade, the sciences
And to find happiness at home.

Whose law and right hand
Give both mercy and justice.--
Announce, most wise Felitsa!
Where the villain is separated from the honest?
Where age does not wander through the world?
Merit finds its bread?
Where revenge does not drive anyone?
Where conscience dwells with truth?
Where virtue shines?--
Truly at your throne!

But where does your throne shine in the world?
Where, heavenly branch, do you flower?
In Bagdad? Smyrna? Kashmir?--
Listen, wherever you live:
My praises reaching you,
Think not that a hat or a coat
I wished to receive from you.
To feel the charm of goodness,
Such is wealth for the soul,
Such as Croesus did not possess.

I beg the great prophet,
That I may touch the dust of your feet,
That the sweetest stream of your words
And your look I may enjoy!
The heavenly powers I beg,
That unfurling their sapphire wings
They invisibly protect you
From all illness, evil and boredom;
That of your deeds in posterity reknown,
Like in the heavens stars will shine.

“the East”: a Masonic lodge
Astrakhan: a city at the southern end of the Volga river, famous for its fish (and caviar)
“Fool”: a popular Russian card game (in Russian, Durak)
Polkan and Bova: Russian translations of popular European novels

Source: Translated by Alison K. Smith