I read this poem a number of times over before I realised just how gentle and lovely it is. It reminds me now vividly of opening the shutter windows of a most homely home in Sardinia and, overlooking the early rural morning below, I heard the sound of waves of tinkling bells. (The shepherds were herding their sheep.)
When in some coastal townlet, on a night
of low clouds and ennui, you open
the window – from afar
whispering sounds spill over.
Now listen closely and discern
the sound of seawaves breathing upon land,
protecting in the night
the soul that harkens unto them.
Daylong the murmur of the sea is muted,
but the unbidden day now passes
(tinkling as does an empty
tumbler on a glass shelf);
and once again amidst the sleepless hush
open your window, wider, wider,
and with the sea you are alone
in the enormous and calm world.
Not the sea’s sound . . . In the still night
I hear a different reverberation:
the soft sound of my native land,
her respiration and pulsation.
Therein blend all the shades of voices
so dear, so quickly interrupted
and melodies of Pushkin’s verse
and sighs of a remembered pine wood.
Repose and happiness are there,
a blessing upon exile;
yet the soft sound cannot be heard by day
drowned by the scurrying and rattling.
But in the compensating night,
in sleepless silence, one keeps listening
to one’s own country, to her murmuring,
her deathless deep.
- from ‘Collected Poems: Vladmir Nabokov’ (2012), translated by Dmitri Nabokov, edited by Thomas Karshan aa-and published by Penguin Classics, London, pp. 86-87!