Thursday, April 12, 2012

Gumilev's 'As we were leaving Southampton' (Titanic Premonition)

Titanic leaves Southamptom
The sinking of the Titanic a hundred years ago this week was a powerful blow to the prevailing self-assured mood of the time, the feeling that nature is finally conquered and the human is king. The largest man-made moving object, the unsinkable ship was destroyed by the forces of the unforgiving nature.

For many, it was also an omen for more tragedies to come in the new century. Two years later the first world war started and empires fell.

The feeling was shared by the great Russian poet of the time Nicolay Gumilev. In the middle of 1917, after the collapse of Russian monarchy but before the bolshevik takeover in October, he wrote this poem, sometimes published under the title 'The Omen'.

As we were leaving Southampton
The depths of the sea were blue.
But as we approached Le Havre
Its colours had darkened to black.

Oh yes, I believe in omens
As I do in waking dreams.
Lord, show mercy, save our souls.
Disaster, it's coming our way.

Translated by A.Anichkin

Gumilev took part in an officers' anti-Soviet conspiracy and was shot by the Bolsheviks in 1921. His wife, the poet Anna Akhmatova, and son, the historian Lev Gumilev survived. The poem was not published until 1950s but is now widely known in russophonia – the Russian-speaking world.

In Russian:


Мы покидали Соутгемптон,
И море было голубым,
Когда же мы пристали к Гавру,
То чёрным сделалось оно.

Я верю в предзнаменованья,
Как верю в утренние сны.
Господь, помилуй наши души:
Большая нам грозит беда.

Titanic actually sailed from Southampton to Cherbourg in France, not Le Havre, then to Queenstown in Ireland and then across the Atlantic.
Gumilev's text from here
Photo from Wikimedia.

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