They stood, almost blocking the pavement,
by Boris Pasternak
As though at a window display;
The stretcher was pushed in position,
The ambulance started away.
Past porches and pavements and people
It plunged with its powerful light
Through streets in nocturnal confusion
Deep into the blackness of night.
The headlights picked out single faces,
Militiamen, stretches of street.
The nurse with a smelling-salts phial
Was rocked to and fro on her seat.
A drain gurgled drearily. Cold rain
Was falling. The hospital-clerk
Took out a fresh form of admission
And filled it in, mark upon mark.
They gave him a bed by the entrance;
No room in the ward could be found.
Strong iodine vapour pervaded
The draught from the windows around.
His window framed part of the garden,
And with it a bit of the sky.
The newcomer studied the floorboards,
The ward and the objects nearby,
When, watching the nurse's expression
Of doubt, in her questioning drive,
He suddenly knew this adventure
Would hardly release him alive.
Then, grateful, he turned to the window
Behind which the wall, further down,
Was breathing like smouldering tinder,
Lit up by the glare of the town.
There, far off the city was glowing
All crimson-aflame; in its swell
A maple-branch, ragged, was bowing
To bid him a silent farewell.
'0 Lord,' he was thinking, 'how perfect
Thy works are, how perfect and right;
The walls and the beds and the people,
This death-night, the city at night!
'I drink up a sedative potion,
And weeping, my handkerchief trace.
0 Father, the tears of emotion
Prevent me from seeing Thy face.
'Dim light scarcely touches my bedstead.
It gives me such comfort to drift
And feel that my life and my lot are
Thy priceless and wonderful gift.
'While dying in fading surroundings
I feel how Thy hands are ablaze,
The hands that have made me and hold me
And hide like a ring in a case.'