in Translation


by Yevgeny Zamyatin

Translated yesterday and this morning by me. It’s been a while since we had one of these, so here you go!

* * *

Everyone knows what cherubim are: head and wings, that’s the whole of their being. So it is written in all churches. 

And grandmother had a dream: cherubim were flying in her room. They flapped their wings like swallows, fluttering just beneath the ceiling. She read them the Cherubikon, and any other prayer she remembered about cherubim, she read it—and they were all fluttering beneath the ceiling. 

She felt sorry for the cherubim. And she said to the nearest one: “Oh, father, won’t you sit down and rest? You must be quite worn out, always flying.” 

And the cherub, from above her, pitifully: “I would be glad to sit for a while, grandmother, but I have nothing with which to sit!” 

It is true: head and wings are the whole of their being. Such is their cherubic lot: they cannot sit down. 

In the ridiculous dream, the cherubim flutter over old grandma Russia. Their wings are quite worn out, they look down: they would like to sit for a while. But down there it is scary: bayonets gaze up at the cherubim from every direction. 

“Abolish laws—without exception.”

They are fluttering just beneath the ceiling, there is nowhere further to go, but they must keep going: such is their function as cherubim, to keep on fluttering. 

“Cut off heads with a guillotine.” 

“Oh, father cherub, won’t you rest, sit down?” 

“I would be glad to, grandma, but there is no way…” 

And soon the cherubim will spread their wings further. 

“Question on the rack. Lash with the whip. Tear apart the nostrils.” 

Poor cherubim, such is their unhappy lot: fluttering without rest in a ridiculous dream, butting their heads against the ceiling until their wings tire themselves out and they thunder downward headfirst. 

And below there are bayonets.