The Pillar of Fire: Selected Poems

The Pillar of Fire: Selected Poems - Nikolay Gumilyov, Michael Basker, Richard McKane

The only downside to this collection is that it isn’t bilingual – how I would’ve loved to compare the original and the translation. Knowing Russian poetry, I’m almost certain the originals would’ve rhymed, and comparing rhyme and free verse would’ve been wonderful. Nonetheless, even if I hadn’t encountered Gumilyov’s work before, I found that the translate versions were already mesmerizing. I can only imagine what they were like in their original Russian.


The earlier poems were my personal favourites, particularly from the collections “Romantic Flowers” and “Pearls”. They had the strongest mix of an exotic, fairytale quality with the modern, a style of poetry I’m particularly fond of. There are dark and startlingly beautiful images throughout all the poems, of brides and jaguars and stars, and the sense of longing for a lover is so tangible I had to put the book down at times because I felt the speaker’s voice influencing my own emotions.


For those not familiar with Gumilyov, the book is also wonderfully annotated, with biographical information and notes, as well as some of Anna Akhmatova’s own poetry that she wrote about Gumilyov. It’s a treat both in terms of Gumilyov’s creative power, which is overwhelming, as well as the scholarly side, the prefaces and notes that shine light on the complex and emotional life of a sadly not so well know poet.