Disbelief in Yourself Is Indispensable
by Yevgeny Yevtushenko
[English translation by Albert C. Todd from The Collected Poems: 1952-1990, published by Henry Holt in 1991]
While you’re alive it’s shameful to put yourself into
the Calendar of Saints.
Disbelief in yourself is more saintly.
It takes real talent not to dread being terrified
by your own agonizing lack of talent.
Disbelief in yourself is indispensable,
indispensable to us is the loneliness
of being gripped in the vise,
so that in the darkest night the sky will enter you
and skin your temples with the stars,
so that streetcars will crash into the room,
wheels cutting across your face,
so the dangling rope, terrible and alive,
will float into the room and dance invitingly in the air.
Indispensable is any mangy ghost
in tattered, overplayed stage rags,
and if even the ghosts are capricious,
I swear, they are no more capricious than those who are alive.
Indispensable amidst babbling boredom
are the deadly fear of uttering the right words,
and the fear of shaving, because across your cheekbone
graveyard grass already grows.
It is indispensable to be sleeplessly delirious,
to fail, to leap into emptiness.
Probably, only in despair is it possible
to speak all the truth to this age.
It is indispensable, after throwing out dirty drafts,
to explode yourself and crawl before ridicule,
to reassemble your shattered hands
from fingers that rolled under the dresser.
Indispensable is the cowardice to be cruel
and the observation of the small mercies,
when a step toward falsely high goals
makes the trampled stars squeal out.
It’s indispensable, with a misfit’s hunger,
to gnaw a verb right down to the bone.
Only one who is by nature from the naked poor
is neither naked nor poor before fastidious eternity.
And if from out of the dirt,
you have become a prince,
but without principles,
unprince yourself and consider
how much less dirt there was before,
when you were in the real, pure dirt.
Our self-esteem is such baseness . . .
The Creator raises to the heights
only those who, even with tiny movements,
tremble with the fear of uncertainty.
Better to cut open your veins with a can opener,
to lie like a wino on a spit-spattered bench in the park,
than to come to that very comfortable belief
in your own special significance.
Blessed is the madcap artist,
who smashes his sculpture with relish,
hungry and cold–but free
from degrading belief in himself.