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February 25, 2010
Мне грустно, потому что я тебя люблю,
И знаю: молодость цветущую твою
Не пощадит молвы коварное гоненье.
За каждый светлый день иль сладкое мгновенье
Слезами и тоской заплатишь ты судьбе.
Мне грустно… потому что весело тебе.


The title seems spare for the era; “Отчего мне грустно” would obviously be too much, but “Отчего” by itself sounds ahead of its time.

The last line is formally something of a paradox, but by the time we get to it, its logic has been thoroughly explained. I’ve been trying to decide if it the poem would be more or less effective if it had the paradox first and the explanation second – say, if the order of the lines were 654123 (aaBccB) instead of 123456 (aaBBcc).

Less, no doubt, though it doesn’t help that I’m not Lermontov and my counterfactual line order isn’t as elegant a solution as he could have found if he had wanted to start with the last line.  That aside, this poem isn’t exactly built on surprises.  Which adjectives most often modify молодость, день, and мгновенье, for example?  Even коварное гоненье isn’t exactly shocking with молвы, though коварное does feel like le mot juste.

“Отчего” is similar to poems like Pushkin’s “Я вас любил: любовь еще, быть может” (1829).  Every word is common in both the poetic lexicon and ordinary speech; every word is thoroughly appropriate to the theme and goes with the words next to it.  The entire short poem builds up to a powerful last line that completes what came before it, but is by no means a surprising twist, nor does it particularly make us reevaluate the lines we have already read.

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