28 December 2022

Be a Good Beaver

This is an Andrei Voznesensky poem that appeared in the New York Times fifty years ago, on New Year's Eve, 1972. I've treasured it ever since.

— [Translation by Theodore Shabad, NYTimes Moscow Bureau]

Be a Good Beaver

by Andrei Voznesensky

My strongest impression of 1972 was an encounter with a beaver who barred my way and began to weep. I don't know about your beavers, but ours have two dark-red front teeth.  I wish the beavers of all countries well and a Happy New Year.

On a swampy path one evening

I met a beaver.  He broke into sobs.

His red enamel front tooth

  protruded dejectedly like an emergency brake.

They've found a way, those crafty sobbers, 

Just try to approach their lodge, 

  and they will come out and sob before the bulldozer, 

  causing the driver to take pity and retreat.

They'll come out in crowds and hold their paws.

They'll come out in crowds and hold their paws pleadingly

  to protect their homes against the engine:

  "You've got the power - 

  but we've got our tears."

Our sobs against your engines roar!

In the eyes of this aging child

  tears stand in my way.

What do you think you are?  A village pump?

Come on, let me pass.

Are you crying to save your stream?

What else would you be pleading for?

Are you avenging your domain's ruination?

Tears are standing in my way.

Why are my knees now giving way?

I have never been stopped so far

  either by women weeping on the phone 

  or by a fool's raging arrogance.

Or is it that the river reeds and grasses

  have edged in to block the road, 

  bearing the weeping holy icon

  to make me repent, me, the sinner.

Be a good beaver, you New year, 

  and bring us not grief, but the will to fight.

You splendid, reproachful weepers,

  be good beavers, be good beavers.

Be a good beaver, and your conscience,

  silent and fearless as it awakens in the dawn, 

  will become a teary, though defiant demonstrator:

  "no pasaran, no pasaran."

The way is barred to intrusions,

  the way is barred,

  barred, oh lord,

  barred by tears …


  1. I like this poem, too, and beavers as well, the engineers of the wilderness

  2. WOW! What a fantastic poem. Thank you so much!

  3. I had not encountered this before, David. For a small poem, it's very powerful.


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