Irony

The twentieth century has often fooled us.
We've been squeezed in by falsehood as by taxes.
The breath of life has denuded our ideas
as quickly as it strips a dandelion.

As boys fall back on biting sarcasm,
so we rely for safe defense
on an irony not too suppressed,
not too naked either.

It has served as a wall or dam
to shield us against a flood of lies,
and hands have laughed as they applauded,
and feet sniggered as they marched.

They could write about us, and we've allowed
them to make movies of this scribbled trash,
but we have reserved the right
to treat all this with quiet irony.

In our contempt we felt superior.
All this is so, but probing deeper,
irony, instead of acting as our savior,
you have become our murderer.

We're cautious, hypocritical in love.
Our friendships are lukewarm, not brave,
and our present seems no different from
our past, so cunningly disguised.

Through life we scurry. In history,
like any Faust, we've been prejudged.
With Mephistophelian smile, irony,
like a shadow, dogs our every step.

In vain we try to dodge the shadow.
The paths in front, behind, are blocked.
Irony, to you we've sold our soul,
receiving no Margaret in return.

You have buried us alive.
Bitter knowledge has made us powerless,
and our weary irony ironically
has turned against ourselves.


1961
Translated by George Reavey (revised)

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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