Unrequited Love

Love unrequited is a crushing yoke;
but if you see love as a game,
a trophy,
then unrequited love’s absurd, a joke-
like Cyrano de Bergerac’s odd profile.
One day a hard-boiled Russian in the theater
said to his wife, in words that clearly hurt her:
'Why does this Cyrano upset you all?
The fool!
Now I, for instance, I would never
allow some bitch to get me in a fever...
I’d simply find another one-
that’s all.'
Behind his wife’s reproachful eyes there gleamed
a beaten, widowed look of desperation.
From every pore her husband oozed,
it seemed,
the lethal sweat of crude self-satisfaction.
How many are like him-
great healthy men,
who, lacking the capacity to suffer,
call women 'chicks' or 'broads';
it sounds much tougher.
Yet am I not myself a bit like them?
We yawn
and play at shabby little passions,
discarding hearts as though they’re last year’s fashions,
afraid of tragedy,
afraid to pay.
And you and I, no doubt, are being weaklings
whenever we so often force our feelings
to take the easier,
less binding way.
I often hear the inner coward whining,
from murky depths my impulse undermining:
'Hey, careful now;
don’t get involved...'
I weakly take the line of least resistance,
and lose, who knows, from sheer lack of persistence,
a priceless chance of unrequited love.
A man who’s clever and can use his head
can always count on a response from women,
for poor Cyrano’s chivalry’s not dead:
it is not men who show it now, but women.
In love you’re either chivalrous
or you
don’t love.
All men of one law stand indicted:
if you can’t love with love that’s unrequited,
you cannot love-no matter what you do.
God grant us grace that we may know the pain
of fruitless longing,
unreturned emotion,
delightful torment as we wait in vain:
the hapless happiness of vain devotion.
For secretly I’m longing to be brave,
to warm my ice-cold heart with passion’s burning;
in lukewarm love affairs enmeshed,
I rave
of unrequited love and hopeless yearning.


1971
Translated by Michael Glenny

by Yevgeny Yevtushenko

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