Joseph Brodsky

(24 May 1940 – 28 January 1996 / Leningrad)

Letters To The Roman Friend


From Martial
Now is windy and the waves are cresting over
Fall is soon to come to change the place entirely.
Change of colors moves me, Postum, even stronger
Than a girlfriend while she’s changing her attire.

Maidens comfort you but to a certain limit —
Can’t go further than an elbow or a kneeline.
While apart from body, beauty is more splendid —
An embrace is as impossible as treason.


I’m sending to you, Postum-friend, some reading.
How’s the capital? Soft bed and rude awakening?
How’s Caesar? What’s he doing? Still intriguing?
Still intriguing, I imagine, and engorging.

In my garden, I am sitting with a night-light
No maid nor mate, not even a companion
But instead of weak and mighty of this planet,
Buzzing pests in their unanimous dominion.



Here, was laid away an Asian merchant. Clever
Merchant was he — very diligent yet decent.
He died suddenly — malaria. To barter
Business did he come, and surely not for this one.

Next to him — a legionnaire under a quartz grave.
In the battles, he brought fame to the Empire.
Many times could have been killed! Yet died an old brave.
Even here, there is no ordinance, my dear.



Maybe, chicken really aren’t birds, my Postum,
Yet a chicken brain should rather take precautions.
An empire, if you happened to be born to,
better live in distant province, by the ocean.

Far away from Caesar, and away from tempests
No need to cringe, to rush or to be fearful,
You are saying procurators are all looters,
But I’d rather choose a looter than a slayer.



Under thunderstorm, to stay with you, hetaera, —
I agree but let us deal without haggling:
To demand sesterces from a flesh that covers
is the same as stripping roofs of their own shingle.

Are you saying that I leak? Well, where’s a puddle?
Leaving puddles hasn’t been among my habits.
Once you find yourself some-body for a husband,
Then you’ll see him take a leak under your blankets.



Here, we’ve covered more than half of our life span
As an old slave, by the tavern, has just said it,
«Turning back, we look but only see old ruins».
Surely, his view is barbaric, but yet candid.

’ve been to hills and now busy with some flowers.
Have to find a pitcher, so to pour them water.
How’s in Libya, my Postum, or wherever?
Is it possible that we are still at war there?



You remember, friend, the procurator’s sister?
On the skinny side, however with those plump legs.
You have slept with her then... she became a priestess.
Priestess, Postum, and confers with the creators.

Do come here, we’ll have a drink with bread and olives —
Or with plums. You’ll tell me news about the nation.
In the garden you will sleep under clear heavens,
And I’ll tell you how they name the constellations.



Postum, friend of yours once tendered to addition,
Soon shall reimburse deduction, his old duty…
Take the savings, which you’ll find under my cushion.
Haven’t got much but for funeral — it’s plenty.

On your skewbald, take a ride to the hetaeras,
Their house is right by the town limit,
Bid the price we used to pay — for them to love us —
They should now get the same — for their lament.



Laurel’s leaves so green — it makes your body shudder.
Wide ajar the door — a tiny window’s dusty —
Long deserted bed — an armchair is abandoned —
Noontime sun has been absorbed by the upholstery.

With the wind, by sea point cape, a boat, is wrestling.
Roars the gulf behind the black fence of the pine trees.
On the old and wind-cracked bench — Pliny the Elder.
And a thrush is chirping in the mane of cypress.

Submitted: Monday, April 19, 2010

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