Milan Rúfus

To Bear the Burden and Sing

translated by John Minahane

Reprinted with generous permission of the copyright holders of Milan Rúfus’s works, represented by LITA.


as a baby bird,
and bold unconsciously,
like salt (I did not recognize its worth)
love offered pain to me.

And day grew dark:
its horses hurrying,
by a mad anguish whipped.
In empty lap the poem folded wings,
sinful rhymes upon her mournful lips.

And yet, from muddy streams
the summer rainbow drinks,
as peace now of my blood.
Forgive me,
if towards you I blasphemed
before I learned to love.


You’ve come to know what he is.
To change him who would venture,
who’d ever dare to meddle?
In the cruel mixture
of spirit and animal,
the angel with the devil?

Since he took fire from the gods
in the mythic far–off time,
his life is paying for crime:
welded into his self,
himself his punishment–giver,
without awe or shame
his own beak stabs his liver.

And yet the poem will find
you, human of two homes.
For you ’twill sing its song.

As a mother with her child
cannot be angry long.

For Laco Novomeský

There are roads deeply marked
by a man’s anger.
Roads where the cartload shifts
and threatens to founder.

Then the man
gets onto it
and bears the weight of all that he is
on the opposite side.
He offers
at that instant all he has to his name.
Till the load is righted that was skewed to slide.

Then he gets down and proceeds on foot.
Careless of praise, indifferent to reward.

And the track,
the track grooved into the earth,
tells his victory in a word.


Even stone sometimes feels like singing
and imagines:
it has given birth to a fool,
the merry bread.

Like rattles
from a fool’s cap
its flowers ring.

And the slim grain in its coarse shirt
that it will pass through a horse’s belly
like a rivulet underground.
That like a raisin from a cake
it’ll be pecked up on a wintry road
by the little sisters of song,
namely its sisters.

It sings and praises poverty
in the autumn wind,
the merry corn–ear.

Poverty, which from time immemorial knows
that from gut come the violin strings.

That the sated sleep and will no longer sing.

© Mullek and Sherwood