Gethsemane’s Garden

A poem by Boris Pasternak

Impassive shimmering of distant stars
Illumined the dim turning in the road.
The highway led around the Mount of Olives,
And down below the brook of Kidron flowed.

Cut short by half, the meadowland tailed off.
And there beyond it stretched the Milky Way,
And also straining to escape aloft
Were olive bushes, silvery and gray.

Beyond the meadow lay a garden plot.
And leaving His disciples by the wall.
He said, “My soul is sorrowful unto death.
Wait ye here, and watch with me a while.”

Now, without a struggle, He renounced –
Like so many borrowed things, dispensable –
Omnipotence and every work of wonder.
Now He was mortal, like the rest of us.

Night’s farthest reaches appeared like a realm
Of nothingness and void, annihilation.
Banished was the universe’s vastness;
Gethsemane remained the only habitation.

He gazed into the fathomless abyss –
Emptiness with neither source nor ending –
And sweating drops of blood, He prayed to the Father
That from this deathly cup He be exempted.

Then, taming His mortal agony by prayer,
He left the garden. There, among the roadside
Feather-grasses, the disciples lay,
Sprawled upon the ground and deeply drowsing.

And He aroused them saying, “The Lord ordained
That in my time you live – and yet you slumber.
For the Son of Man the hour has struck.
Into sinners’ hands He must surrender.”

Scarce had He spoken, suddenly appeared
A horde of slaves, a crowd of vagrants, glint
Of swords and torches, Judas at their head,
A treacherous kiss shaped ready on his lips.

Peter with his sword sought to repel them,
Smiting off one murderer’s ear. “Cold steel,”
The Master said, “can never solve a dispute.
Put up thy sword. Return it to its sheath.

“Were it His will, could not the Father send
A host of winged legions to my aid?
Not a hair upon my head would suffer.
My foes would all be scattered without trace.

“But in the Book of Life a page has turned,
More sacred and more precious than all else.
That which is written must now be accomplished.
Amen. So let it therefore come to pass.

“The progress of the ages, like a parable,
In mid course may suddenly take flame,
And faced by that dread grandeur, I’m prepared
To suffer and descend into the grave.

“And from the grave on the third day I’ll rise.
Then, like a fleet of barges down the stream,
The centuries will float forth from the night
And make their way before my judgment seat.”

This poem is a new translation by Christopher Barnes and is taken from theĀ  Toronto Slavic Quarterly